Shawna Brinkerhoff

“In classes like Technology Entrepreneurship and Management of Technology, I learned how to stay on top of a trend and I gained some basic rules for managing the challenges a new company faces.”


Shawna Brinkerhoff, EMTM’05
Executive Consultant, Environmental Solutions Group
CGI
Mechanicsville, VA

Shawna Brinkerhoff, EMTM’05

EMTM: An Incubator for Entrepreneurial Ideas

With an undergraduate degree in finance, Shawna started her career in real estate development then moved into telecommunications, working at first for Dial Call Communications, Inc. and later, after a merger, at Nextel Communications, Inc. (now Sprint). In nine years at Nextel, she held a variety of positions, helped build and launch wireless networks (voice and data) in two markets, and eventually moved into positions at corporate headquarters in Virginia. During this time, she managed programs and personnel, gained experience in network engineering and operations, and expanded her knowledge in IT application development and maintenance.

After a few years in the corporate environment, she had two revelations. "I realized that one of things I really like is the energy of working on a team that is creating and building something." And when the telecommunications bubble burst in 2001, she anticipated large impacts on the company and its organization, and she knew it was time to investigate other career options. "At that point I'd had both field and corporate experience, but I saw that the industry was changing and I wanted to know what was going on outside it," she says. "Going back to school would give me that opportunity."

Why EMTM?

Shawna knew from the start that she wanted a degree that would increase her credentials in both the financial and engineering realms. She got a firsthand account of the EMTM program from a VP at Nextel and realized it was exactly what she was looking for. "EMTM captured everything in one fell swoop, and the strength of the school meant that my degree would always have good standing in the marketplace." Philadelphia was a manageable, half-day commute from northern Virginia, yet, she says it was "far enough that I wasn't constantly thinking of work while I was at school."

Career Impact

At EMTM Shawna explored the latest technologies and economic trends in telecommunications and beyond. "In classes like Technology Entrepreneurship and Management of Technology, I learned how to stay on top of a trend and I gained some basic rules for managing the challenges a new company faces." With classmates coming from a diverse array of backgrounds, she was able to benefit from the "mindshare" and learn about different industries and their common language and concepts. "That interaction is what you need to be able to participate in global business, and EMTM gives you that."

The program — and her involvement with the Wharton Business Plan Competition (an annual competition open to all Penn students) — was an incubator for her own entrepreneurial ideas. Shawna ultimately chose to move away from the corporate path at this point in her career, and instead decided to start a telecommunications solutions firm, Silver Star Communications, LLC, with a partner in 2004. Currently, Shawna is focused on telecom projects in the public sector and plans to branch out eventually into IT. Shawna is also involved with strengthening and growing another company, Discovery Solutions LLC, a pharmaceutical and biotech executive search firm. And in her free time, she continues to work with real estate, rehabbing and developing residential properties. "My path is not typical: EMTM gave me new license to expand my options and explore the value out there. In the past two years, I've been able to break out of the standard mold and really challenge myself."