Master's student Rick Priester finds Georgia Tech fertile ground for cultivating potential startup businesses.
Entrepreneur Rick Priester hadn't planned on starting over professionally when he enrolled in Georgia Tech College of Management's Master of Science in Management of Technology (MS-MOT) program in May 2006.
But within a few weeks of starting the executive-format program, he accepted a surprise offer from a publicly traded company to buy his business, an Internet-based marketer of individual health insurance called 1-800-Healthplan.com. So Priester's goals for his master's education expanded beyond improving his entrepreneurial skill set to finding his next business opportunity.
"It's not like I can go off into the sunset and be rich for the rest of my life, but making the sale was lucrative enough to buy me the time to take a sabbatical from traditional work and soak up all the great resources available at Tech," says Priester, whose classes meet every other Friday and Saturday, giving him plenty of time to explore the possibilities.
Finding Georgia Tech fertile ground for cultivating potential startups, Priester has taken advantage of such opportunities as Georgia Tech's Business Plan Competition and Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER®) program. Through participation in both, he's identified technologies developed by university researchers that hold great commercial promise and worked on plans to bring them to market. He's optimistic that one of these technologies will lead to his next career.
For the annual Business Plan Competition, which is open to all Georgia Tech students and recent alumni, he teamed with fellow MS-MOT students John Daniels and Shanker Subramaniam as well as MBA student Crystal Gilpin. Their team, Pharmaceutical Intelligence, won third place for their plan to form a bioinformatics company around software technology that can expedite the drug discovery process. They also won the Best Overall Sales and Marketing Strategy prize as well as 2nd place in the challenge round at the prestigious Rice University Business Plan Competition this spring.
The team learned of its bioinformatics technology through VentureLab, which helps commercialize the work of university researchers. "This software mathematically does things that could once only be done through chemistry experiments," Priester explains. "It really is revolutionary."
In addition to his many extracurricular activities, Priester says he's benefiting greatly from the MS-MOT program, which is designed to prepare leaders to excel in the rapidly changing world of high-tech business. The 19-month program's foundation consists of a business core like that found in MBA programs, but students also learn how to leverage technology for sustained competitive advantage, manage innovation, and hone their entrepreneurial skills.
"I regard it as a terrific update because of the length of time since I've been in a formal educational environment," says Priester, who earned a bachelor's in accounting from Clemson University in 1982, then worked in banking and insurance until 1995, when he started 1-800-Healthplan.com.
"I ran my business as many entrepreneurs do, where you're kind of run by your circumstances," says Priester, who grew his company into 43-person call center. "Now I'm learning a more formal approach, where you're certain you've covered all the bases appropriately before moving down a particular path. My courses can all be tied back to what a small business owner needs."
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