Volume 18 Number 2 Fall 2001



Alumni Profile:
Tina Seelig
Cooking up a career

by Grace Hammerstrom

A sociable neuroscience PhD finds happiness in entrepreneurship

From scientist to published author to company founder, one theme resonates throughout Tina Seelig’s career: the spirit of entrepreneurship. And that’s clearly the philosophy behind her newest venture, directing the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, the entrepreneurship center within Stanford’s School of Engineering.

The program is founded on the premise that engineers need to understand the business environment to be successful, whether they play a technical role or start a company, Seelig explains. “It’s like being at ground zero in Silicon Valley,” she says of her current role. “I work with fascinating students, amazing professors and enthusiastic entrepreneurs.”

But how did this PhD in neuroscience end up directing an entrepreneurship program in the School of Engineering? Take a seat. It’s a fascinating tale.

When she was a child, Tina Seelig, PhD, imagined she’d grow up to be a doctor. As an undergraduate, she had her first taste of neuroscience and, as she describes it, fell in love. She pursued her graduate degree in the field, earning a PhD from Stanford in 1985. But the traditional path of a neuroscience graduate led to the lab, and that didn’t appeal to the people-oriented Seelig. “I’m a very social animal,” she admits. “And as such, I need to work with others rather than work by myself in a lab.”

After finishing her degree, Seelig worked on the initial team at the then yet-to-be-opened technology museum in San Jose. She also worked as a technical consultant for several biotechnology firms, hoping to land a strategy-related job in that field. But it was a hard road for a scientist with no business background. Thanks to an introduction by a friend, Seelig found herself interviewing with the management-consulting firm Booz, Allen and Hamilton. When asked why she might succed as a consultant, Seelig argued that analyzing a company and doing scientific research had much in common, listing the similarities one by one. At the end of the day she had a job offer.

When she started a family, Seelig left the intense pace of her management-consulting career and pursued a dream she’d had since graduate school — to write a book. Her interest in the chemistry of cooking gave her the idea for her first two books: The Epicurean Laboratory, published in 1991, and Incredible Edible Science, published in 1994. In the children’s book, Incredible Edible Science, Seelig answers questions like: Why does popcorn pop? Why do onions make you cry? Why do eggs solidify when boiled? And she does so in a way that’s easy to understand and teach.

Going through the arduous process of publishing a book gave Seelig another idea, one that spawned her next venture, BookBrowser. A new way to market books, this multimedia system matched books with potential buyers. After developing the product and the business, Seelig sold the company in 1992. She then spent a year working at Compaq Computer Corp. as a producer of multimedia titles.

However, her long-standing passion for science led Seelig back to the creative drawing board, this time developing a series of educational card games for children, called “Games for your Brain.” These colorfully packaged sets come in four different versions — Space, Ocean, Active Earth and Wild Weather — and the series won the Parents Guide to Children’s Media Outstanding Achievement Award in 1999.

The process of writing, like working in a lab, is solitary — and that’s not ideal for Seelig. Her current position — executive director of Stanford’s Technology Ventures Program — is far more suitable for a “people” person, she says. In the Stanford office, Seelig has a role in just about everything — from developing, planning and marketing the program to managing projects and evaluating new opportunities. She is also the co-director of the Mayfield Fellows Program, a comprehensive entrepreneurship education program that combines intensive coursework with interning at a start-up company and ongoing mentoring and networking activities.

“This job is perfect,” she says of her work at Stanford. “It feeds my innate interest in entrepreneurship, and it focuses on teaching, research, science and technology.”