Sharing the rewards of a culture of innovation

ASU Thunderbird Investor Network connects ASU investors with the university’s entrepreneurs

March 21, 2018

Magical things can happen when innovative minds connect with forward-thinking investors.

So Arizona State University is combining the strength of its research commitment and entrepreneurial spirit with the Thunderbird School of Global Management's Angel Network of investors to create unique opportunities for the ASU family. As part of ASU’s Founders Day observance for 2018, President Michael Crow announced the creation of the ASU Thunderbird Investor Network (ATIN). ATIN will give ASU supporters unique access to investment opportunities that arise from ASU’s status as the most innovative university in the nation. student speaking in microphone Pat Pataranutaporn presents the pitch for his group, Humanity X, as part of the ASU Spark Tank startup pitch event for the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, Feb. 4, 2016, at the Galvin Playhouse. The group developed software to scan social media for key words that flags people who may be planning suicide. All Walks won the $20,000 prize and mentorship, with 33 Buckets and Humanity X earning $10,000 seed money as runners up. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now Download Full Image

The ASU charter recognizes the university's importance as a comprehensive public research university, calling upon it to advance research and discovery of value to the community. Simultaneously, the university undertakes a fundamental responsibility for the overall health of the communities it serves. That health includes economic welfare, and those communities encompass not only the geography of metropolitan Phoenix and the state of Arizona, but also the communities of ASU-affiliated citizens wherever they live, and of startup businesses that begin as part of ASU’s culture of innovation.

Since 2000, Arizona State University’s investment in research has grown from just over $100 million to $550 million, making ASU one of the fastest-growing research enterprises in the U.S. During that same period, more than 120 startup companies based on ASU discoveries have attracted more than $700 million in private investment capital. And many hundreds of startups have been launched by ASU alumni.

Thunderbird School of Global Management, a unit of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise since 2015, also has a long history of engaging in innovation and entrepreneurship. For more than 70 years, it has been a training ground for leaders in international business. And its Thunderbird Angel Network of accredited investors has become an ever-more valuable resource for early-stage companies with the potential to grow rapidly.

“As a top-tier research university, ASU provides a tremendous amount of support for our students to gain the experience in entrepreneurship and innovation they need to become leaders in industry," said Jeff Mindlin, vice president of investments for the ASU Foundation. "Similarly, Skysong Innovations provides ASU faculty with intellectual property management and technology transfer, allowing ASU’s ecosystem of discovery to have broad societal impact. However, we’ve never had an organized pathway to support ventures by alumni after they’ve left the university.”

Mindlin said the ASU Thunderbird Investor Network will invite ASU-affiliated investors (alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents) to become part of that ecosystem of discovery, connecting them with the university’s most promising entrepreneurs and visionary ideas as they enter the marketplace.

“Our foundation operates on a model of finding out what our alumni and advocates are passionate about, and connecting them with an ASU college, center, or initiative that can help them explore that passion,” Mindlin said. “But we recognize that these members of the ASU community, and many other people affiliated with the university in some way, have personal financial goals in addition to philanthropy. The ASU Thunderbird Investor Network is a nexus where these potential investors can interface with investment opportunities born out of university research and innovation, to the benefit of both.”

Building the network

To maintain credibility and trust within the network, investors must be accredited and have an affiliation with ASU or Thunderbird. They may be donors, alumni or their parents and grandparents, and faculty or staff. Similarly, a startup applying to be considered for funding must have a direct ASU connection: a founder, board member or C-level executive who is an ASU or Thunderbird alumnus or alumna. Based on this shared connection, the ATIN provides a mechanism for introducing these ASU-affiliated ventures to network members.

Establishing trust

The ASU Thunderbird Investor Network relies on a robust infrastructure of qualified individuals to support its mission of fostering innovation in the ASU community.

• Operating Team — Dedicated, expert personnel and resources are in place to manage the network. The team assists with company research as well as with coordination between investors and companies.

• Advisory Board — Board members are representatives of the Thunderbird School of Global Management and Thunderbird Angel Network, the ASU Alumni Association, ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation, SkySong Innovations, and ASU Enterprise Partners. The board provides high-level expert strategy, governance, and mentorship.

• Student Teams — Using the latest in academic research and techniques, graduate students from ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business and Thunderbird assist the Operating Team in evaluating companies. The students benefit from real-world experience in the venture capital market, while providing potential investors with state-of-the-art vetting services and unique, fresh insights.

Confidence through connection

The strength of the network is the connections it creates between the best-qualified advisors and managers and the most up-to-date investment research, amplified by the national and international footprint of ASU and Thunderbird.

• The process begins when a prospective company submits a proposal for consideration.

• The ATIN Operating Team will review the proposal to ensure it meets applicable investment criteria and weigh its viability against the appetite for investment.

• A student team, supervised by university faculty and working under the direction of the Operating Team, carries out intensive research on the prospective company.

• The Operating Team uses this analysis to assemble an investment report which is then distributed to the ATIN.

• The company is invited to present to the ATIN. Network members may attend in person or live via webex, or may watch a recording of the presentation at their convenience.

• Members will have the ability to ask for additional information before deciding for themselves whether to invest directly in the prospective company.

• If a prescribed number of members invest and/or capital is raised, a sidecar fund from the ASU Foundation will co-invest with members to provide additional funding to the company. 

ASU’s mission statement lays the foundation for the ATIN.

“Our university has a mandate to advance research and discovery of public value,” said Rick Shangraw, CEO of ASU Enterprise Partners. “ASU would not be where it is, at the forefront of America’s research universities, without the support of our community of alumni, donors, and friends.

“The most exciting aspect of the ASU Thunderbird Investor Network is its ability to bring multiple stakeholders together — researchers, alumni, investors, the foundation and Enterprise Partners — to advance ideas that were incubated by the university’s energy and encouragement,” Shangraw said. “We see those ideas taking shape every day at ASU, and we watch as their creators prepare to become leaders in their fields. As these inventors and innovators will tell you, their time in ASU’s ecosystem of discovery thoroughly prepared them for success outside the university. And our own experience with the Startup Mill offered by our division of Entrepreneurship and Innovation demonstrates how ASU matches accomplished entrepreneurs with promising discoveries to help them advance in the marketplace. We’re delighted to now be able to make the benefits of their entrepreneurship available to the ASU community through the ASU Thunderbird Investor Network.”

Recommendations of candidate firms and the sharing of their information via the ATIN Investment Platform, and investment in them via the sidecar fund, do not imply a fiduciary responsibility or relationship for the ASU Foundation, the ATIN Operating Team, or Advisory Board.

For information on the ASU Thunderbird Investor Network, now called InvestU, visit

ASU alumna is using her communication skills in all aspects of life

March 21, 2018

Arizona State University alumna Lindsey Petersen, a graduate of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, says that the skills she learned in the communication program are applicable to any profession.

"Knowing effective communication strategies has elevated my professional relationships and connections, enriched my personal relationships, and allowed me the opportunity to articulate my feelings adequately and respond to different situations and people in my life with much more understanding," she said. Lindsey Petersen Download Full Image

Here she talks about how her education has helped her in all aspects of her life. 

Name: Lindsey Petersen
Graduation year: December 2016
Major: Communication
Minor: Nonprofit leadership and management
What's your current job? I am the lead marketing and events coordinator for Summit Health Management Oregon-BMC. It is a large healthcare organization in Bend, Oregon.

What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? I entered ASU as a marketing major and switched to nonprofit leadership and management before arriving at communication. I always knew I wanted to pursue something that involved people, as I love human interaction and establishing meaningful relationships. As I progressed through the degree program, I knew I had made the right choice, as communication is so all-encompassing. The skills that I learned in this program are applicable to any profession. 

What made you choose ASU? At first the numbers of students at ASU intimidated me. I come from a small town in Oregon that did not yield much diversity, so I knew that ASU would provide me with opportunities to meet new people with different perspectives. I will be forever grateful to ASU for this, as the varied perspectives and backgrounds vastly enriched my educational experience. Additionally, the number of opportunities and majors that ASU provided was exceptional. There is a club or organization for every interest, that can be paired with any major or minor.  I was able to take classes on various subjects outside of my comfort zone, including public lands management, art, and astronomy. They all contributed to a very well-rounded education. And hey, for a snow gal the sunshine and palm trees were nothing to complain about.

Lindsey Petersen

Is there a particular faculty member at ASU who was influential?  

I had many influential faculty members at ASU. In the Hugh Downs School my most influential faculty were Graduate Teaching Associate Bailey Oliver and Instructional Professional Clark Olson.

Bailey Oliver — her COM 310: Relational Communication course was one of my favorite classes in the COM program, and within ASU as a whole. A lot of the COM material has the potential to be very dry, but she always presented information in fresh, relevant ways. She was professional but so endearing that I wanted to come to class and listen to what she had to say. She made sure to tie each lesson to real life experiences for college students. I loved coming to her lectures each week and can say that the information I learned I have used countless times in my life.  It has helped me navigate situations and become a better communicator. She deserves much recognition for her teaching style and commitment to the material.

Clark Olson — I took his COM 494 class, and also interned for him at Bonner David Art Gallery through a COM 484 internship. I saw him pursue his interest in art, all while devoting his time to higher education. Becasue of him, I have decided to pursue a master's in education with the hope of becoming an art teacher in a low-income school. He was never afraid to open the discussion to heavy or thought-provoking topics. I really valued this because it was a way for my peers and I to discuss things that really mattered, and showed us we had the  potential to impact society. Some teachers shy away from such heated debates, but I felt that he was always open to discuss them.  

When you were interviewing for your first job out of college, what experiences at this school did you talk about?  Internships? Group projects? Study abroad? I studied abroad at Dublin City University in Ireland offered by ASU and CIEECouncil on International Educational Exchange. This was a great way for me to put my textbooks to use and see how communication styles varied in different countries. Although many times I was not able to speak the local language in the different places I visited, it made me rely on nonverbal communication, which can be quite impactful. I was surprised at how far a smile and open body language took me.

In job interviews, I was able to translate the skills I learned through my internship, and articulate what I bring to an organization, thanks to my degree in communication.

Were you involved in any student organizations or clubs? Or athletics? I was the president of the Special Event Planner’s Association at ASU for two years, where I had the opportunity to really grow the program and increase its presence on campus. I was a College of Public Programs Council Member as well as a W. P. Carey Business School Council Member. I also played intramural basketball.

What advice do you have for students who may be following your path?  The communication program opened so many doors for me. After graduation, I felt overwhelmed by all of the possibilities available to me, because I knew that the skills I developed during the course of my communication degree could be applicable to any career. Although having so many options seemed crippling at the time, I think that being able to articulate your strengths and your feelings will get you far in life. The great thing about communication is that there is no single path that is necessary for success. After college, it is easy to get fixated on finding a job and becoming an adult. I've learned that it's also important to slow down and enjoy your current situation, because your future will come soon enough.

What's something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, or that changed your perspective? I always knew I wanted to pursue a career where I felt I was really helping people and impacting society. Initially, this led to me to pursue non-profit. However, my public lands management Professor Dave White said something that really changed my perspective. He was referring to his passion for alleviating the impacts of climate change on our world, to which he dedicated his career. He basically said, “Do I think that I am going to solve climate change in my lifetime? No, probably not. But my findings might help someone else discover something and that will help someone else and slowly we can all chip away at a large problem together. I might be just a cog in the wheel, but I know that my efforts are not for nothing.” This really changed the way that I viewed progress and the way I could contribute. No matter where I end up, I know that by using my communication skills I have the potential to touch peoples lives and add value. Although it might not seem as grand as I had initially dreamed, I think that we often overlook how impactful small, everyday actions can be over the course of time. It is amazing what individuals can achieve when they feel supported and understood.  

What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? My favorite spot on campus for studying was the second floor of Hayden Library that looks out over the lawn in one of the orange, plush chairs. Since this is a "no talking" zone, I was able to be alone with my thoughts or studies and look at the sunshine and bright pink bougainvillea plants that lined the palm trees. It made me feel really peaceful. I was able to cultivate appreciation for the stillness of each moment by simply being in touch. 

If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? I am very passionate about alleviating homelessness. I know it is a very complex problem, and that ultimately homelessness is the symptom of other root causes. I think that I would spend my $40 million dollars addressing those causes and lessening their effects. Not enough people realize how close poverty is for a lot of the population. You don’t have to have to be anyone really important or have any special accolades to help someone out in this type of situation.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication