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Leading the Pack: Steve Wilcenski

Steve Wilcenski is a 2007 Jenkins MBA alumnus. Wilcenski, a co-founder of BNNano, says that his time in the program helped him round out his knowledge base and prepare him for to be an executive at a high tech start up. Jenkins prepared him to take on the responsibility of all of the business aspects, from accounting/finance, to Legal, to human resources and communications.

In the following Q & A, Wilcenski goes into more detail about why he decided earning an MBA was the right fit for him, advice for prospective students, and the highlights of his student experience during his time at NC State.

Q: Why did you choose the NC State Jenkins MBA program for your graduate education? 

A: I chose the NC State Program because I knew that I was pursuing an MBA to supplement my experience and education. I was not trying to make a career change. My background is Materials Science and Engineering (BS NC State, ’89) and Chemistry (MS Clemson, ’98) and I knew I would be staying in a technical field. NC State’s MBA program was the perfect fit for what I was trying to achieve and the focus on innovation was perfectly aligned with the work I was doing in the early 2000’s and for my future plans.

Looking back it was the right choice. Over the past decade I have worked with a number of people who got their MBA’s at Duke and UNC, and it is clear the quality of the education I received is on par with theirs.

Q: How did your experience in the program contribute to your professional achievements and successes? 

A: MBA’s teach you a little about a lot and gives you the ability understand and find solutions to business challenges. My time in the program helped me to round out my knowledge base and prepare me for becoming an executive in a high tech start up.  

We have a small team and we all have technical backgrounds but I am the only one with business experience. My time in the MBA program prepared me to take on the responsibility to handle all business aspects, from accounting/finance, to legal, to HR to communications. Often, I do not have the answers but NC State’s MBA gave me the knowledge to find the answers and understand how to solve the problems.

Q: What advice would you give for prospective and current students who are interested in your industry/profession? 

A: It is critical to understand that business is still about relationships. Treat everyone you meet as a potential customer or like someone that can be an advocate for you. All conversations are important and it is just as likely that who the person you are talking to knows is the key contact. So even if the person you are speaking to does seem to be the right one, treat the like they are.  Do not underestimate the value of soft-skills.

Be sure you understand all aspects of intellectual property protection. It is critical not to disclose proprietary information in any setting. Improper disclosures can jeopardize your intellectual property.

Q: Is there anything you would have done differently looking back at your experience? 

A: The one thing that I would change is that I would have done a better job of keeping in touch with the people I was in the program with. I was working full-time and enrolled in the part-time program so I did not have too much time to get to know my classmates. I also have to admit that I did not do the best job of keeping in touch with those that I did work closely with.

Q: Could you give a brief explanation of your current line of work and how COVID-19 has impacted it? As well as how the MBA has helped prepare you navigate during these times?

A: I co-founded BNNano, an advanced manufacturing company that produces a  nanomaterial called a Boron Nitride Nanotube. BNNano is innovating in cutting edge materials science to transform, revitalize, and revolutionize industrial commodities. We pioneered the patent pending NanoBarb™, a unique and enhanced Boron Nitride Nanotube. When added to common materials, the NanoBarb™ improves their natural properties, changing them into extraordinary materials.  We are working to make aluminum like steel, polyester like Kevlar and turning commodity materials into high value products. 

We are the only company in the world that has the capability to mass produce this material  and we are planning for an expansion in 2021.

COVID did cause a slowdown for us and from a revenue planning perspective 2020 was pretty much a lost year but we were able to use this year to develop and file some additional Intellectual Property. We were also able to make good use of the time and contact a lot more potential customers to help plant seeds for 2021 and beyond.

We are preparing for an expansion in 2021 that will include increasing capacity, hiring some people and potentially relocating. My MBA gave me the understanding to start developing this plan internally. Being able to have the ability to do this without having to pay people outside your organization is critical in a time when there is so much financial uncertainity.