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A group of graduates in their caps and gowns.

The Meta

Kenny Van Zant wants to diversify entrepreneurship through fellowships

Kenny Van Zant was voted most likely to become a professor by his high school classmates. This prediction nearly came true when Kenny joined UC Santa Barbara’s Technology = Management Program (TMP) as a guest lecturer and judge of the annual New Venture Competition. A successful entrepreneur, Kenny felt drawn to the campus incubator that prepares students for the tech ecosystem. His support of graduate fellowships for TMP’s Masters in Technology Management (MTM) helps prepare students for startups.

Kenny Van Zant and family.
Kenny Van Zant and family

“I enjoy explaining things to people, maybe to a fault,” Kenny laughed, admitting that he would have been a teacher if entrepreneurship didn’t pan out. “In my career building and running startups, you spend a lot of time explaining “the meta,” or the culture, models, and details you need to make decisions.”

Within TMP, Kenny supports MTM because the graduate program mimics the way companies are organized around projects. It captures the momentum of excitement, the lull of hard work, and the punctuation of presentation. In particular, graduate students are at a critical moment.

“You can get this experience in school, or you can roll the dice at Google and hope it works out,” said Kenny, who believes that graduate experience can boost those without connections and bring together students from diverse backgrounds. “Opening doors for more people at the beginning of their career, giving them experience that they wouldn’t otherwise get: that is how you achieve a shift in the diversity of tech management and entrepreneurship.”

“By supporting graduate student fellowships, Kenny helps prepare students for the rapid pace of innovation and organizational change that he navigated as an entrepreneur,” said Kyle Lewis, chair and professor of Technology Management at UC Santa Barbara. “Through his mentorship and generosity,Kenny helps students from all backgrounds succeed.”

The 2019-2020 Van Zant Family Fellowship in Technology Management supported Michael Curtis ’20 and Allison Van Dorsten ’19, ’20. Michael and Allison collaborated on their field project for Apeel Sciences, whose founder earned an MTM certificate at UC Santa Barbara. Apeel won TMP’s New Venture Competition in 2012, securing funding for a thin layer of plant material on the surface of fruit that slows decay. Like Apeel’s founder, Allison and Michael credit MTM with how quickly they found fulfilling work — despite graduating into an economy overshadowed by COVID-19. Now roommates, Allison works for a local industrial design company and Michael works for Apeel.

“This graduate fellowship not only affects an individual, but a whole venture,” said Michael, whose background in chemistry and parfumerie drew him to MTM. Apeel was able to recruit a top student without needing the capital of a big company like Amazon or Google. “I could confidently accept the job I wanted without worrying about student loans.”

Thanks to MTM, Michael will realize his vision to create a more sustainable future.

“There’s a fire lit under everyone that I’ve met at UC Santa Barbara,” said Kenny.