How a business degree can bloom in a startup

Catherine Zixin (left) and Susie Baklini both graduated from GCU in April and now are working for Naya Energy.

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Susie Baklini graduated from Grand Canyon University last spring as a marketing major.

Catherine Zixin was part of the same commencement exercises as a finance and economics major.

So what are these two alumni of the Colangelo College of Business doing working for a company that uses data to help reduce energy costs?

That’s why they were in the Engineering Building on Tuesday to talk to current students about their experiences with Naya Energy and owner Ketan Patel – in both cases, it’s hardly the career path they envisioned. But the way they got to their destination was dramatically different.

Ketan Patel loves being an entrepreneur -- and also loves having Zixin and Baklini on his team.

Baklini, who played on the tennis team at GCU, had targeted the Phoenix startup at a Canyon Angels event last spring after Patel did a presentation and then she heard about it from one of her mentors, CCOB assistant professor Tim Kelley. It sounded like something she’d like to do, so she boldly approached Patel after the event.

Was a move like that a bit out of character for her?

“It was a little bit,” she said. “I am actually outgoing, but to throw my feet in the water with a random company, it’s surprising. But I really loved what he had to say. I loved the idea. It’s spectacular, and I want to be a part of it.”

And Patel quickly decided that he wanted her to be part of it, too. When she asked if he had an internship program, his response was, “Of course we do!”

Then he created one. Just like that. Such is life with a startup, and he was determined to have her role mean something.

“We don’t have our interns fetch dry cleaning or go for coffee,” he said.

Instead, Baklini became a full-time account executive and soon was knocking on the doors of potential clients – even though she never had done sales. And you know what? She loves it.

“Naya has changed my life,” she said.

It has been a similar experience for Zixin, who was in the Honors College at GCU. But, unlike Baklini, she had gotten other offers at job fairs before Patel told her he wanted to hire her, too. He brought her in for an interview (although she didn’t know that’s what it was) and showed her a Tasmanian Devil cartoon just to give her an idea how turbulent a startup can be.

She took some time to weigh the pros and cons – she’d like to own a company someday and had to decide if this fit her plan – before deciding it was the right move.

Now she likes the turbulence.

“If you don’t like what you’re doing,” she said, “it’ll change.”

And what does she do? A lot of everything. At a startup, you have to be versatile.

“She’s a rock star,” Baklini said.

Naya is Patel’s sixth startup, and he still is fascinated by the process. “There’s no better job in the world than to be an entrepreneur,” he said.

He discovered GCU by working with Seed Spot, the Phoenix business incubator. He quickly saw that the University stood for the same principles of capitalism that are a key part of his business practices.

“I’m a huge advocate of developing entrepreneurship in the Southwest, especially in Maricopa County,” he said. “I think it’s one of the best places to have and grow a business from a cost perspective.

“I loved the people that I was meeting in the west Valley in terms of their work ethic, and GCU is this massive, shining light. When you want to build a values-based company, why not learn from the best? I think GCU is a spectacular example of that.”

Now he’s a member of the CCOB advisory board, and last spring he was one of the judges for the Canyon Challenge entrepreneurial competition.

“My goal in life is to help people,” he said. “You can’t go into a startup with a desire to make money. It’s like raising children – you want the child to become independent and eventually not need you.”

He’s “raising” Baklini and Zixin to do just that.

Zixin advises students to take classes that interest them, even if they aren’t in their desired field. She was the only CCOB student in her math classes at GCU, and it paid off.

But the main thing is to be willing to expand your search beyond a specific job type – and then be aggressive.

“If you want something, you should go after it,” Baklini said. “Sometimes, it just does work out.”

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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Jesus taught his disciples, saying: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

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