Consumer Internet companies haven’t fared too well at the University of Washington Business Plan Competition in recent years, with judges typically leaning toward upstarts with more advanced technologies in the fields of medical devices, electronics or clean tech. But that changed tonight at the 13th annual gala as YongoPal — an online English language education service designed for South Korean students — took home the top prize. The YongoPal founders — Darien Brown, Daron Hall, Jon Hickey and Kyung Hee Yun — appeared almost shocked as they hoisted the giant $25,000 check at an awards ceremony tonight at the Bell Harbor Conference Center in Seattle.
Other than to commend a member of our community, why am I blogging about this?
Well first, Jon partly credits his MCDM education for his success. He actually worked on his business plan in our newly-formed Business Fundamentals in Digital Communications, taught by adjunct faculty Rick McPherson (who also teaches in the UW’s MBA program). We made a conscientious decision to bolster our business-related curriculum this year for three reasons:
(1) In this economic crisis, many of our students are looking to hone their business skills, and even start their own companies.
(2) Several students who apply to the MCDM say that they consider it a strong alternative to an MBA. Indeed, a few of our students already have MBA’s (Jon has a graduate degree from the Evans School of Public Affairs). And we actually have a couple of MBA students in our Gaming, Virtual Worlds and Communication class.
(3) Surviving the technological maelstrom that is ravaging the communication professions requires the creative, business-savvy heart of an entrepreneur.
And BusinessWeek’s Teaching the Facebook Generation has done much to inspire me on the shotgun wedding between business and technology education, and how social media has forced a need for a wholesale curricular upgrade:
Today, marketing students also need to know basic HTML, design software such as the Adobe Suite, how to run a Google adwords campaign, how to optimize a Web site for search engines, how to analyze Web analytics data, develop a keyword strategy, and manage e-mail marketing campaigns. A basic knowledge of how social media including sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Twitter can be used to leverage a marketing message isn’t optional—it’s a requirement.
Students also must be familiar with online gaming and trends in mobile communication technologies. PR students must now write news releases that are search-engine friendly, pitch bloggers, “listen” to a continual flood of consumer-generated content on multiple social sites from YouTube to Facebook to Twitter, generate social media news releases, and engage with blogs, Facebook fans and multiple other sites. As this is happening, these two professions, one in business and one that is often located in communication schools, are becoming more and more integrated and reliant on the other. One cannot talk about social media without considering both the marketing and PR implications.
For more thoughts on where we’re headed with our program in the near future, see MCDM Year 0.