Author: Alexander Sadowski

Alternative Sabbaticals In Industry Develop Skills, Says Associate Dean Suresh Nair

Suresh NairHow do credit card companies decide when to boost your credit line or send you a new-card solicitation in the mail?

And how do banks save millions by carefully managing their cash reserves?

Professor Suresh Nair has worked on these, and other pivotal business-research issues, as a means to enhance his knowledge as an educator and as the associate dean for graduate programs at the UConn School of Business.

A project-based, research-focused sabbatical at a large company can be a wonderful alternative to a more traditional academic sabbatical experience, Professor Nair said.

Not only did his sabbaticals in industry save tens of millions of dollars for companies, he has also received research awards, started a company with seed funding from the National Science Foundation, and transformed and strengthened his teaching.

“This is a largely unexplored opportunity for our faculty,” Professor Nair said following his well-received presentation to more than 50 colleagues this fall. “I’ve participated in sabbaticals at General Electric, Merrill Lynch and Booz & Co., and have had excellent experiences.

“I wanted to use my sabbaticals to pick up new skills. Going back to industry helped me stay on top of current issues in financial services, healthcare and entrepreneurship, and also gave me the opportunity to help these companies achieve their goals,” he said. “I left each of my three sabbaticals with new topics to research, and many ‘war stories’ to share in the classroom.”

To a consumer, credit-card solicitations by mail (sometimes derisively called junk mail) may seem like a random process, Professor Nair said. In fact, it is very complex. Who gets offered a credit card, and at what rate, involves complicated analytics, Professor Nair said.

“A company may start out with 10 million contacts and narrow them down to a million or fewer,” Professor Nair said. “The marketing experts want more customers and the risk experts want fewer. If you go to a store and you’re close to your credit limit, and you want to buy furniture, how does the bank determine if it should increase your credit line? If they don’t, you’ll use another card. If they hike it up too much, they risk higher losses if you become delinquent.”

Professor Nair helped create an algorithm—using credit scores and other factors—to determine who would qualify for a credit increase. His work was so sophisticated and unique that it won the coveted Wagner Prize.

During another sabbatical, Professor Nair worked at Merrill Lynch, delving into research of banking reserves.

“The Federal Reserve requires banks to set aside about 10 percent of your checking account balances as reserves. The bank cannot invest these funds and gets very little interest on it from the Fed,” Professor Nair said. “This rule comes from the Depression era, to prevent a run on banks. However, it means that banks have millions of dollars that they can’t invest.”

Professor Nair helped Merrill Lynch optimize its “sweeps” program to save $4 million a year.

The program was so successful that Professor Nair wanted to develop a similar product for smaller banks. He began a successful start-up in South Windsor using a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation.

“It gave me a good experience, the satisfaction of making payroll and creating and commercializing a new product,” he said. “It never would have happened without my sabbatical. It gave me a unique perspective as the founder of a company.”

Professor Nair said he began searching for sabbatical opportunities about a year prior to his leave, and that he was selective in the ones he considered. He found that industry was very welcoming, and wondered why more faculty don’t take advantage of similar opportunities. Industry is happy to host sabbaticals, since they are inexpensive to the firm, as long as an educator can demonstrate a skill that will complement and add value to the company.

Professor Nair worked on his sabbaticals without pay from the firm, since UConn continued to pay salary, asking that the corporations only cover his lodging and travel expenses. At the completion of his sabbatical, some of the companies asked that he continue his work as a paid consultant.

“It is difficult work,” he said. “I asked to be treated like an employee, with the badge, the email, the off-site meetings and everything. Sometimes I worked very long hours and I was away from home at least four days a week. It may not be for everyone. But the opportunities you get, and the real-life exposure to business problems and issues, really can’t be experienced any other way.”

After his presentation, many UConn colleagues said his work was eye-opening and that they would consider a similar, alternative sabbatical.

Professor Nair acknowledged that there is some trepidation on the part of faculty, who are under pressure to publish and might find an industry sabbatical a distraction. But Professor Nair has demonstrated that excellent published papers in top journals can result, and allayed some of those fears through his presentation.

“I felt I could navigate a path which would provide both research expertise, topics for publication, and also improve my teaching,” he said. “To me, it hit all the sweet spots I wanted.”

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Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Sustainability in Business

The UConn Chapter of Net Impact and the Honors in Business Association are co-sponsoring an informational program titled, “Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Sustainability in Business,” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Dodd Center’s Konover Auditorium.

The panel discussion will be of great interest to students who envision merging their careers with their passion for social improvement. Continue Reading

School of Business Awarded $1.1M CIBER Grant To Focus on Manufacturing & Global Opportunities

The University of Connecticut School of Business has been awarded a four-year U.S. Department of Education CIBER grant in excess of $1.1 million, to produce a series of programs and partnerships that center around manufacturing.


The CIBER—Center for International Business Education and Research—award comes following an extremely competitive application process in which only half of applicants had their awards renewed.Continue Reading

7th Annual Undergraduate Networking Skills Forum

Undergraduate Skills Forum
The 7th Annual School of Business Undergraduate Networking Skills Forum on Sept. 24 gave freshmen from the University’s Business Connections Learning Community (BCLC) the opportunity to meet and mingle with Connecticut business leaders, many of them UConn alumni.

Some 40 business people spent time encouraging the 87 freshmen, and sharing career advice, insight and suggestions about how to make a good first impression.

“Our alumni said they were very impressed,” said Fran Graham, manager of alumni relations for the School of Business. “They also commented that the students didn’t appear to be nervous, and that they were surprised that incoming freshmen could be so poised.”

“This is my second year attending this event and it is one of my favorites,” said Kirstin Ferreira ’12, a business analyst at Cigna. “I am heavily involved in the UConn Recruiting team for Cigna’s Technology Early Career Development Program (TECDP). I think it is incredibly important to teach these kinds of skills as early as possible, as I know the impact of a first impression.

“I got to where I am with the support of UConn’s Career Services department, and I want to do what I can to continue to help students find opportunities,” said Ferreira. “I was so impressed with the students, from their sharp attire to their career aspirations.”

Alyssa Kafka ’11, a business and technology senior analyst at Accenture, agreed.

“I come to the undergraduate networking forum because I know how intimidating it is to speak with professionals,” she said. “At any stage of your career, there’s always going to be someone more senior than you. And the more practice you have, the more comfortable and prepared you will be to speak to them. It’s my job as an alumna to help UConn business students find success and best represent our school. After all, I’m proud to call myself a Husky and I want them to be too!”

Among the pointers that the mentors offered included: encouraging students to make eye contact, present a firm handshake, wear comfortable shoes and, in some cases, be a bit less formal, Graham said.

photos by Aileen Tobin

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Women’s Entrepreneurship Conference in Stamford Jam-Packed with Advice, Perspective, Humor

Push yourself out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid of spreadsheets, never let your professional network grow cold, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed.

That was some of the advice that close to 400 women entrepreneurs and executives heard during the second annual, sold-out, Connecticut Celebrates Women Entrepreneurs conference Sept. 19 at the UConn Stamford campus. Continue Reading

UConn Makes A-List: Best Business Schools of 2015

CollegeAtlas.orgFuture MBA students seeking high-quality programs without the price barrier of an Ivy League institution should consider UConn among their top choices, according to the latest College Atlas rankings.

The university’s MBA program placed among the top 100 MBA Programs in the country, putting UConn on the A-List for College Atlas’ Best Business Schools 2015.

“This list is for bright and ambitious students that are looking to find a school that has a reputation for high-quality education, marketable degrees, tuition they can quickly pay off, and reasonable acceptance qualifications that make getting into graduate school a possibility,” according to College Atlas.Continue Reading

Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Honored as One of Best Military Programs

Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for VeteransThe School of Business’ Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities was recognized as one of the nation’s best and most innovative programs for improving the quality of life for U.S. military personnel.

General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided remarks at the 15th Annual Newman’s Own Award Ceremony at the Pentagon on Sept. 24. In addition to the honor, the UConn program will receive a $37,500 award.

“I was really surprised and extremely flattered,” said Program Director Michael Zacchea, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. “There are 400,000 organizations in this country that work with veterans. To be one of five selected for this incredibly prestigious award was truly an honor.”

The UConn Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) is offered at no cost to participants, who typically come from across the Northeast. The program taps the talent of the UConn School of Business faculty to provide veterans, disabled due to their service, with cutting-edge training in entrepreneurship and small business management.

Zacchea hopes the award will bring greater recognition to the EBV program and further develop the network of services available to returning veterans. Despite its U.S. Navy sub base and the Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut isn’t known for embracing the military culture in the way that other states have, he noted.

“Historically the veteran population hasn’t had the attention here that it has in other states like Florida, Texas, California and the South,” he said. “We feel some of our award was due to our unsung work in an underserved area.”

Yet Connecticut offers many advantages to returning veterans, including educational and business opportunities, he said.

Unlike other entrepreneurship programs, the EBV addresses reintegration issues beyond just business. For instance, the veterans are offered a free business suit, courtesy of Brooks Brothers, to help ensure their business success. In addition, the program graduates have access to intense mentorship services for a year, so whether they want to start an IT business or a company that specializes in personal training, they have assistance identifying and overcoming business barriers.

UConn alumni Mitchell Strauss ’79 MBARay Gustini ’65, ’65 JD, General Joseph Went ’53Barbara Went and John Welch ’80 MBA, also attended the ceremony.

Newman’s Own, Fisher House Foundation, and Military Times sponsor the competition, which seeks to reward ingenuity for programs that benefit service men and women and their families.

“Improving lives for the military is the cornerstone of this program. Newman’s Own is proud to be part of an initiative that helps serve a crucial segment of Americans, those who serve our country,” according to Tom Indoe, president and chief operating officer of Newman’s Own.

Over 250 entries were submitted for the 2014 program. Seven judges evaluated each entry based on the organization’s impact to the respective communities, creativity and innovation.

View photos from the 2014 Newman’s Own Awards here.


Pictured: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; Michael Zacchea, Lt. Col. U.S.M.C. Ret, Program Director, Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities; Tom Indoe, President & Chief Operating Officer, Newman’s Own, Inc.; Suzie Schwartz, Trustee, Fisher House Foundation; Peter Lundquist, Vice President & General Manager, Military Times. Photos by Ashley Estill.

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From Contest to Success: Following iQ Startups

Something that gives me* an immense amount of enjoyment is the advising that I do with student start-ups from the UConn Innovation Quest program. This program is a contest with real cash awards as well as a six week incubator program that puts the student teams directly in touch with start-up experts as well as investors. Just having a cool or innovative idea isn’t enough to compete. The purpose of the iQ program is to create real businesses that have the potential to generate revenue, jobs and growth.

The UConn program is run by Richard Dino, a professor from the School of Business with an endless amount of enthusiasm and encouragement. Keith Fox ’80, an alumnus of UConn, provides iQ support from the national program level. In addition to Rich and Keith, there are twenty or more individuals both inside and outside the University who provide mentoring and other program support.

There are many success stories that have emerged out of the program, but here is a handful of the companies with whom I have regularly stayed in touch. Congratulations to all of these business founders who are now working on their companies full-time!

Macroscopic Solutions

“Whoa, that is cool…” is what I typically hear when I show people images produced from the Macropod. No one can deny that the high resolution photos rank high on coolness.

Macroscopic Solutions, founded by Connecticut-based Mark Smith ’13 MS (CLAS), provides high-resolution imaging products for scientific researchers. Although their primary focus is to enhance scientific discovery, their product is also very popular among manufacturers, fabricators, machinists and mechanical engineers for quality, control and failure testing. Along with Mark, the team includes Daniel SaftnerAnnette Evans and Jake Bellaire.

The Macropod is an automated photomacrography system that can rapidly capture and assemble multiple images. The images are post-processed so that only the areas in focus will appear in the final image. The result is an ultra-high-resolution, color image that is completely in focus and rivals that of a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).

The technology used in the Macropod was invented while Mark Smith was still in high school. Through his program of donating one Macropod to a school for every 10 that they sell, Mark is giving back by encouraging kids to pursue careers in STEM-related fields.

The Macropod is currently available and Mark is busy selling his product by attending trade shows and providing demos to organizations in a number of scientific and research-oriented industries.

I suppose it is no surprise that I share a bond with other fellow entrepreneurs like Mark that emerged from the UConn Department of Geology and Geophysics (now known as the Center of Integrative Geosciences).

Macroscopic Solutions can be found at and an amazing treasure trove of images can be found here.


After a successful launch to six universities to help college students find a safe ride home after a night of partying, Dashride made a brilliant pivot of their business concept: their technology is now a software platform that allows independent taxi and limo companies to compete with the big on-demand taxi and ride-share services.

Founded by Nadav Ulman ’12 (CLAS) and Tom Bachant ’13 (ENG), Dashride is following a start-up pattern that involves building a solid product while courting the angel and VC investor community. They have successfully completed a round of angel funding (I am among those initial investors) and are close to closing a seed round that will net them close to $1MM in working capital.

Dashride’s platform allows independent taxi and limo companies to take advantage of the ever-expanding rideshare industry. They accomplish this by providing a SaaS-based platform with minimal up-front investment. They currently have 5 employees and are based in New York City.

Dashride was recently featured in the New York Times business section in an article highlighting tech companies who are enabling small businesses to compete in larger markets. You can read that New York Times article here.

Smpl Bio

Another company that successfully emerged from the first iQ program at UConn was Smpl Bio, founded by James Lindsay ’07 (ENG), ’09 MS and Ed Hemphill. Their company simplifies the process of biomarker selection for scientific researchers through the design and use of their proprietary algorithms.

Biomarkers are used in the bio-medical world to infer the existence of a particular disease, infection or condition. The Smpl Bio team is developing a software platform to allow researchers world-wide to more quickly identify biomarkers for the diseases or conditions that are being studied. The ability to quickly identify the existence of a condition or disease has obvious benefits in terms of speed to treatment.

The team has successfully raised funds through the Connecticut Innovations Challenge Grant program as well as the University of Connecticut Third Bridge Grant. With those funds they have expanded the full-time team to include three new programmers who are doing web development and scientific programming.

James tells me that they are planning on bringing on a full-time technical sales person and veteran bio-science CEO by year end. They also have an impressive and experienced team of scientists and business advisors backing them up.

They are currently finishing up their scalable, cloud-based solution. They are targeting a Q1 2015 date for the general availability of their platform both in the US and internationally.

More Businesses On Their Way!

The 2014 iQ program recently wrapped up and I’m optimistic about the potential success of that next round of new, emerging businesses. I’m also looking forward to the next round of entrepreneurs and their ideas this coming fall!

*This article was written by Rick Kollmeyer ’82 (CLAS), alumni mentor for the UConn Innovation Quest program, and first appeared on the Blue Edge Labs blog on August 12.

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Mark Schneider Wins Award for Solo-Authored Paper

UConn School of Business doctoral student Mark Schneider has won the 2014 Decision Analysis Society Student Paper Award for a work he solo authored. His paper is titled, “Frame Dependent Utility Theory” and it presents a model of decisions under risk which is based on emerging evidence from the neuroscience of decision making. The model generalizes expected utility theory by explicitly modeling how choices are framed and how different frames systematically elicit different preferences. A simple preference foundation for the model is provided, and it is demonstrated that the model resolves important empirical violations of rational choice theory. Schneider, a resident of Mansfield, will receive his award at a meeting in San Francisco in November.

Professors Gilson, Mathieu Win Best Paper Awards

Faculty and Ph.D. students in the School of Business’ management department have been selected for two prestigious awards in recent weeks.

Gilson, MathieuThe Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (JOOP) recently recognized a paper titled “Unpacking the Cross-level Effects of Tenure Diversity, Explicit Knowledge, and Knowledge Sharing on Individual Creativity,” as Best Paper for 2013. The paper was co-authored by UConn graduate students Margaret Luciano and Hyoun Sook Lim and Professor of Management Lucy Gilson. Continue Reading