Alumni Profile: Caralynn Nowinski, MBA/MD 2007

Concentration: Entrepreneurship

Post-Degree Industry/Field of Work: Technology Startups & Economic Development

Undergraduate Degree: Human Communication Sciences and Disorders

Undergraduate Institution: Northwestern University

Current Employer: Associate Vice President for Innovation & Economic Development, University of Illinois; Interim Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer, UI LABS

LinkedIn Profile: Caralynn Nowinski


Why did you return to school to obtain your Graduate Business Degree?

My original intent was to learn the basics of business to better prepare me for a future role within hospital administration. I didn’t expect my MBA experience to drastically alter my future career goals and change my career path from medicine to business. 

What impact has the UIC Liautaud MBA had on you?

The MBA program cultivated my spirit of entrepreneurship. Reflecting on my experiences prior to graduate school, I suppose that spirit was always present, but the Liautaud program inspired the confidence that I needed to explore it deeper. Along with several fellow students and professors, I founded a biotechnology company, SanoGene Therapeutics, which I managed for several years post-graduation. This company was what first introduced me to the world of technology and innovation. 

What were some of the opportunities that became available to you once you received your UIC Liautaud MBA?

As a joint degree student in medicine and business, I chose to postpone a medical residency after graduation and instead joined an early-stage venture capital firm, ARCH Development Partners, as an Associate. Without the entrepreneurial experiences that I encountered at UIC, I would not have been exposed to venture capital and may never have realized my passion for building companies and developing technology.

What course proved to be most useful in your current position?

Nearly my entire MBA experience pivoted around the Technology Ventures Program and ENTR 555: New Venture Formation. Through this program, SanoGene Therapeutics became an independent entity focused on developing novel biologic therapeutics for cancer. Furthermore, this course and my subsequent participation in the Concept2Venture Business Plan Competition introduced me to venture capital and sparked my interest in exploring a career in VC that eventually led to my first post-graduate position at ARCH Development Partners.

Which professor changed the way you think?

Professor Rod Shrader pushed me to not only think like an entrepreneur, but to act like one. His guidance was instrumental in my quest to find a career path that melded my love of science and technology with my drive to succeed in business.

What did the UIC Liautaud MBA offer you that you would not have received elsewhere?

Flexibility. From the start, I thought I was at a disadvantage trying to squeeze my MBA experience into one year as part of the dual degree program.  My schedule became even more complicated as SanoGene Therapeutics began competing in (and winning) business plan competitions as UIC’s representative. Yet, in every instance, the administration, advisors and professors were willing to allow me the flexibility that I needed to make the most of my MBA experience. It was a fantastic year and much of it is attributed to the flexibility that I am not sure would have been possible elsewhere.

What was your favorite aspect of the UIC Liautaud MBA program or the Liautaud Graduate School of Business?

I am continually impressed with the energy and vision of the deans and faculty and their drive to build on the unique aspects of the program. Not only is entrepreneurship evidenced in the students, but it is exemplified in the program as a whole – and not just in the formal entrepreneurship program. You feel this energy in every aspect from marketing to management to finance. 

How would you define the Liautaud student?

The Liautaud student is tenacious in their pursuit to build a successful career.  They take creative steps in their journey and are not deterred by inevitable setbacks. 

If you were to come up with a tagline for the UIC Liautaud MBA, what would it be?

Fostering a spirit of curiosity, creativity and determination

What advice would you provide to current or incoming UIC Liautaud MBA students?

Take initiative. Anyone can get their MBA, but it’s the path that you choose to fulfill your requirements that defines your experience. Push yourself to navigate a less chartered path, and take advantage of your professors’ and advisors’ energy to help guide you. You won’t fully realize the opportunities that the UIC Liautaud MBA program has to offer until you seek them out – and then the possibilities are limitless.