As part of an Oregon Tech entrepreneurship class, students met with innovators and business owners from around the world, including Oregon Tech’s own alumni. These entrepreneurs included individuals from a wide variety of industries such as fitness, automotive, coffee shop, educational services and medical devices. The experience inspired both the students and alumni.
Business professor, Sharon Beaudry, has previously incorporated weekly field trips into the class to visit local businesses. Despite the impacts of COVID-19, she saw an opportunity to continue to meet with business owners but to expand the reach through Zoom. “I realized that this was an opportunity to reach out to entrepreneurs throughout Oregon, the U.S., and even around the world,” shared Professor Beaudry. “It was a great chance to use technology to connect with several alumni entrepreneurs who are passionate about staying connected and giving back to Oregon Tech, while also encouraging and educating students, many of whom have entrepreneurial aspirations.”
One of the most impactful guest speakers was Chris Duffin, who graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in 1999. After he graduated from Oregon Tech, he went on to have a highly successful career as a corporate executive working in the automotive, high-tech and aerospace fields, while also pursuing a world-class powerlifting career. In 2008, he started his entrepreneurial venture, Kabuki Strength, where he designs, engineers and manufactures innovative fitness equipment, and provides research-based education and coaching services. Today he owns several successful businesses, many of which support professional athletes around the world. In 2019, Chris also authored an inspiring book about his life story titled The Eagle and the Dragon: A Story of Strength and Reinvention.
With such a busy career, Chris continues to stay connected with Oregon Tech and its students. “Oregon Tech had a huge impact on preparing me for the needs in my field and the success of my ventures,” he shares. “I stay engaged with Oregon Tech to give back and help students be prepared for the rapidly changing economic, social, and entrepreneurial environments they will be entering.”
The students also found inspiration from K.C. Crawford, 2018 mechanical engineering graduate, who is the owner of MOG Metalworks and Design located in Klamath Falls. KC began his business after winning second place in Oregon Tech’s Catalyze Klamath Contest in 2017, where he used the prize money as startup capital for his fabrication shop. After years of work in the off-road vehicle field, he currently spends most of his time on contracts with automotive innovator, Tesla. K.C. also makes time to teach at Oregon Tech, where he works with students on the Formula and Baja competition cars.
K.C. shares why it is important to stay connected with Oregon Tech’s current students, “As a student at Oregon Tech and business owner, I looked up to several successful businesses owned by Oregon Tech graduates. The connections I made with those alumni inspired me to work harder at not only my own business but my studies as well. By staying engaged at Oregon Tech I hope I can be that connection for someone else.”
Other alumni entrepreneurs who joined the class this fall included 2018 business graduates, David Murphy & Seth Gretz of Brevada Brewhouse, who started their popular Klamath Falls coffee shop and wine bar business a year before they graduated. Also, John Grieser, a 2011 renewable engineering graduate, met with the class to share how his senior project turned into the spark for his business. Today, John and his partner, 2010 graduate Brandon Little, own Elemental Energy, a solar PV system design and installation firm based in Portland. They also founded Twende Solar, a nonprofit organization that drives solar projects for energy-deficient populations around the world.
Students were asked to reflect on some of the most impactful messages from the alumni entrepreneurs. Victor Rios, Operations Management student, noted, “I found myself greatly enjoying my online Zoom courses this year. Especially the Entrepreneurship class, where I got to interview, learn from, and interact with highly successful and influential entrepreneurs from a wide array of industries.”
Several students noted that each of the entrepreneurs pursued their passion. Many of these passions started as a senior project while still in school and expanded post-graduation. The students also noted that many of the entrepreneurs mentioned the importance of having a strong network around them. Several students recognized that entrepreneurs also are willing to sacrifice and work long hours in pursuit of their goals. For this group of alumni entrepreneurs, their diligence has paid off in highly successful businesses.Oregon Tech Business degrees include nine programs: Accounting, Business Management, Cybersecurity, Information Technology, Health Care Management, Health Informatics, Marketing, Operations Management, and Technology & Management. These programs are offered at the Klamath Falls campus, and many are also offered in the Portland-Metro campus as well as online.