Smith Soc Featured Member
Questions and Answers with Adam Smith Society Members.
James Dudley | C.U. Boulder Chapter
James is an MBA student studying entrepreneurial finance at the CU Boulder Leeds School of Business and is interested in operating and investing in early- and growth-stage technology companies. In addition to being inaugural president of the Adam Smith Society (Leeds) chapter, he’s also managing director of the Deming Center Venture Fund, a student-run venture-capital fund making investments in local startups. Prior to business school, James worked as a mechatronics engineer for six years, including an early stint at Tesla. He earned an M.S. in mechanical engineering (mechatronics) from Stanford University in 2011 as well as a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a B.A. in archaeology in 2010. After graduating, James spent several years living in Wyoming as a professional brewer and ski instructor. He grew up in Durango, Colorado.
What attracted you to early-stage investing? What are some of the sectors you see as most interesting right now?
The biggest thing for me is the variety—at such an early stage, each company requires a different approach in order to understand and evaluate it. A series of creative challenges keeps the work exciting, along with being in a position to help people build companies that they’re passionate about. Even when we don’t invest, we can usually help in some way, especially when we've spent time taking a close look at the business.
There’s a lot of excitement around autonomous technologies right now, particularly drones and automobiles. But there’s a huge opportunity in improving systems and infrastructure that we take for granted but that haven't really changed much in decades, such as food production (agriculture) and distribution. Personal health care is also a big opportunity: it’s becoming increasingly easy to gather massive amounts of data, but effective means of using that data to improve lives on a day-to-day basis have been lagging.
Tell us more about mechatronics.
Mechatronics is the integration of mechanical, electrical, and software engineering disciplines; you can think of it as automation or robotics engineering. I was drawn to it by the opportunity to approach problems with a systems-based mind-set, which can lead to more creative and more efficient solutions than a segmented approach. I particularly liked being able to work in all three areas, which kept the work interesting. I’m drawn to entrepreneurship and early-stage investing for similar reasons.
How did you get involved with the Adam Smith Society? What was your experience like launching a new chapter?
During my first year at the CU Boulder (Leeds) MBA program, one of my finance professors, who’d been approached by the Adam Smith Society about starting a chapter, asked me if it was something I'd like to do. I was primarily interested in becoming involved because of the emphasis on bringing people together for constructive dialogue and debate. It’s important to listen to and learn from other ideas, particularly when they challenge your own. Starting a new chapter has certainly had exciting moments but mainly requires a lot of legwork. Luckily, I have five great VPs who have stepped up to help with recruiting, community engagement, and planning speaker events, all while educating faculty, staff, and classmates on what the Adam Smith Society is and why we're bringing it to CU Boulder. The response from the school has been terrific. Typically, 15%–20% of the MBA student body attend each of our events.
What are some of your other interests outside of your professional life?
I grew up in Colorado and came back for a reason: my free time is usually spent in the mountains skiing, climbing, mountaineering, biking, hunting, and fishing. Living in Boulder, I have the opportunity to do all of that nearby. I also play hockey and will still take on an engineering project or two for fun!