Tech Alumnus Inspires Entrepreneurial Students

SOCORRO, N.M. July 1, 2013 – A core group of ambitious New Mexico Tech students took a crash course on entrepreneurship in June with a Tech graduate who has made a career out of launching successful companies.

Dr. Raul Deju, a two-time Tech graduate who leads a business program at JohnF.KennedyUniversity in San Francisco, returned to his alma mater in Socorro to lead the course and offer his insight to Tech students who have a “big idea” that could be commercialized.

“I’m a facilitator,” Deju said. “I focus on taking ideas and turning them into a business.”

Eight students, including undergraduates, graduates and recent Ph.D.’s, started the weeklong class with a “big idea.” Each day of the class focused a different aspect of entrepreneurship, such as building a team and polishing a presentation. On the fifth day, each student presented their company business plan pitch as if they were talking to potential investors.

Dr. Peter Anselmo, the chair of the Management Department, said Tech is fortunate to have an alumnus with Deju’s experience who is willing to share his knowledge with current Tech students.

“Raul Deju represents the pinnacle of what can be done with a degree – or degrees – from New Mexico Tech,” Anselmo said. “He is a brilliant scientist and has the leadership skills and the vision to identify great new ideas. This workshop was immensely successful and the students lapped up everything Dr. Deju said.”

Les Edwards, a recent graduate with a bachelor’s in biology, presented his research and plans for a new concept that pairs anti-cancer drugs with light to attack malignant cells.

“This class helped to map out the steps that need to be taken in order to start a company from scratch,” Edwards said. “Dr. Deju is excellent in relaying his real world experience to the classroom. The range of services and products that his companies have been involved in, past and present, is vast.”

In 1960, Deju emigrated from Cuba as a barely14-year-old – without his parents. He learned English and found his way to New Mexico Tech. Deju earned his bachelor’s in physics at Tech, then earned his doctorate in geosciences (hydrology) at Tech in 1969 at the age of 23. His career took him around the world in a variety of industries and at a variety of major universities. Along the way, he started – or helped start – dozens of companies, including five that are listed on various stock exchanges, mainly the NYSE.

Since “retiring,” he took a post in academia, serves on several corporate boards and teaches entrepreneurship and leadership at San Francisco Bay Area universities – and now is helping Tech launch their entrepreneurship program.

“Since I started teaching entrepreneurship three years ago, I’ve had more than 100 students who have started a company,” he said. “That’s over 100 companies that wouldn’t exist otherwise. When I see an entrepreneur who is working and doing well … that’s why I get up in the morning.”

Throughout the weeklong course, Deju shares stories of his former students who have found success. He displays their websites, shows their videos and relates the students’ back story.

Edwards said, “Dr. Deju's updates of his former students, some of whom have been very successful and are currently heading up multi-million dollar enterprises, served as great inspiration to us.”

Deju’s success stories aren’t just scientists and engineers. He has instructed students who have a “big idea” in photography, painting, and fashion as well.

Deju sprinkles metaphors amidst his concrete advice and motivational anecdotes. One of his go-to metaphors is “blue ocean.”

“If you are from Cuba, you see beautiful blue water, sandy beaches, no sharks – that’s blue ocean,” he said. “You want to create a business where no one else competes. Instagram, Youtube, Facebook … no one had those ideas before they started. That’s blue ocean. We want to focus on new things, new ideas.”

During final presentations, Deju more than once lauded the concept, praised the presentation format and encouraged the student presenter to find a mentor, a support team and get started.

Dr. Ram Basnet, a recent Ph.D. graduate in the Computer Science and Engineering Department, brought his “big idea” to the class – a software-as-a-service product that he wants to market to large industries as a cyber-security safeguard.

“Overall, the workshop experience was phenomenal and extremely powerful,” Basnet said. “I've not experienced anything like this before. I was moved each and every second of time I spent both in class and outside class with Dr. Deju. I do not know what you'd learn in an MBA, but I feel like I've received an MBA in a week.”

Basnet said the workshop helped him realize that entrepreneurship is neither easy nor for everyone. A “big idea” alone is not enough; a start-up company needs a solid team, leadership, financing, accounting, legal assistance and sharp presentation skills.

“The class helped me mature and sharpen my ideas to be able to present it in a more meaningful and easy way,” he said. “Dr. Deju's highly constructive feedback and suggestions helped me improved my confidence and overall presentation skills. By the end of the workshop, the fuzzy idea became much more crisp and I was able to articulate it much better in business terms.”

Basnet said Deju was so inspiring that he is embarking on his business plan.

“I have now already begun the process of starting my company,” he said. “Wish me luck!”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech