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Conversations with Entrepreneurs - Speaker Series

Conversations with Entrepreneurs speaker series is a forum for renowned guest speakers to share their experiences from the world of entrepreneurship with both students and the UC Merced community. We welcome speakers from sectors such as tech, media, entertainment, business and social good.

Upcoming Speakers

Denise Watkins

Owner, Washington Stealth - Professional Lacrosse Team

 After 18 years as a software and systems engineer and director in the satellite and wireless telecommunications industry, Denise Watkins launched her second career as a community volunteer, mother of three and owner of the Stealth. She holds a BS in Mathematics from UC-Irvine.

Watkins’ experience in sports management began as a co-founder and owner of the Primal Quest Adventure Racing organization. Primal Quest (PQ) is an expedition-length adventure race that has been called one of the most difficult athletic events in the world and was cited as the most prestigious expedition event in North America. The race once featured the largest prize purse in adventure racing.
Inspired by their children’s interest in lacrosse, Watkins and her husband, Bill, became season ticket holders with the San Jose Stealth when the team was relocated to San Jose from Albany, NY in 2003. From the very first game, they were hooked. In June 2007, Watkins and a small group of investors purchased the team from Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment (SVSE). Watkins is committed to proving that lacrosse has a place in the western United States, and not just as a sport, but also as a tool for child development.
Watkins is on the board of the Stealth companion charity, Sticks-2-Schools. Under her leadership, the Sticks-2-Schools program delivers lacrosse to local schools and communities to get kids active and to fight childhood obesity. Schools are provided sticks, balls, curriculum and on site support from a player representative so that “soft” lacrosse can be integrated into the schools PE curriculum at no cost to the schools. Sponsors are found to underwrite the costs of the program. Sticks-2-Schools continues to provide support in California but has recently started to expand to support schools in Washington State.
In addition to her responsibilities as an NLL owner, Watkins is active in the community as co-founder and president of the Pleasanton Schools Educational Enrichment Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to heighten and maintain art, science, and other learning programs for Pleasanton Unified School District. She also serves as a board member and chair of the education committee for the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center (LVPAC). LVPAC has a community art incubator, a state of the art 500 seat theater that opened in fall of 2007, and has plans for a 2,000 seat theater that will be able to host high profile artists and traveling Broadway shows. Watkins is also a trustee of the University of California-Merced Foundation. UC-Merced is the newest addition to the prestigious UC system and opened in Fall 2005. Since that time UC-Merced has grown to over 5,200 students. The first new American research university in the 21st century, with a mission of research, teaching and service. A majority of the UC Merced students are the first in their families to attend higher education.

Past Speakers

John de Lancie

Co-founder, Alien Voices / Actor / Symphony Composer


John de Lancie has had an eclectic career due, in no small part, to his entrepreneurial skills. As co-founder, with Leonard Nimoy, of Alien Voices; a production company devoted to the dramatization of classic science fiction. He produced, co-wrote and directed dramatizations of: “The Time Machine,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “The Lost World,” “The Invisible Man” and "First Men in the Moon;” as well as three television specials for the Sci-Fi Channel.
Mr. de Lancie directs operas. His latest were “Tosca” and “Cold Sassy Tree” in Atlanta and Madame Butterfly in San Antonio.
He  has made eighteen films and has appeared in numerous television shows including “Torchwood,” “Breaking Bad,”“The Unit,” “Hill Street Blues,” "West Wing," “Shark,” “Without a Trace,” "Sports Night," “Judging Amy,” "The Closer," “Star Trek,”“Legend,” “LA Law,” “Picket Fences,” “Civil Wars,” “The Practice” and “Touched by an Angel.”
Mr. de Lancie has written and directed 10 Symphonic Plays: 90-minute programs fully staged productions with orchestra. Titles include “Romeo and Juliet,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Korngold score), “Bourgeois Gentleman,” “The Abduction from the Seraglio” and a vaudeville — “Carnival of the Animals.” They were produced with the Milwaukee, St. Paul Chamber, Ravinia, Los Angelese and Pasadena Orchestras.
 Mr. de Lancie was also the writer/director/host of "First Nights,” an adult concert series at Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic that explored the life and music of Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mahler, Schumann and Prokofiev. These were fully integrated, fully staged productions with orchestra.
He has been a member of The American Shakespeare Festival, The Seattle Repertory Company, The South Coast Repertory, The Mark Taper Forum and the Old Globe where he recently performed Arthur Miller’s “Resurrection Blues.” His favorite performances include: “Man and Superman,” “The Common Pursuit,” “Childe Byron,” “Art,” and the world premiere of Richard Greenburg’s “The Naked Lady on the Appian Way” and the world premiere of Alan Alda’s “Radiance.”
In the world of music, Mr. de Lancie has performed with Kurt Masur, Sir Colin Davis and the New York Philharmonic; Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Cleveland Orchestra and National Orchestra; Esa Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic; and Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra and The Montreal Symphony. His repertoire includes "Peer Gynt" "King David," "The Bourgeois Gentleman," "The Lincoln Portrait," "St. Joan," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Oedipus Rex," "Young People's Guide to the Orchestra," “The Nightingale,” “Egmont” and "Peter and the Wolf."
For Star Trek fans Mr. de Lancie and Robert Picardo have created a Trek Concert Experience that has been performed with the Dallas, Toronto, Cincinnati, Denver and Calgary orchestras.
 Mr. de Lancie has performed or directed numerous plays for L.A. Theater Works, the producing arm of KCRW, KPCC and National Public Radio where the series, "The Plays the Thing," originated. He recently returned from a national tour of the “Scopes Monkey Trial” with Ed Asner where he played Clarence Darrow and currently has an adaption of “The Lost World” — which he wrote and directed —  touring the country.
Mr. de Lancie is a graduate of Kent State University and The Juilliard School.


Rani Yadav-Ranjan

Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Gray Cloud Technology

Moderated by: Jan Andow Mendenhall, Associate Vice Chancellor for Development, UC Merced

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Rani Yadav-Ranjan is co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Gray Cloud Technology — an advertising/media delivery platform company.

Yadav-Ranjan has 12 years experience as an entrepreneurial executive, coupled with more than 10 years of experience in data crawling and parsing in a cloud environment, e-commerce, banking, finance and construction puts her in a unique vantage point to provide insight into these fast-growing markets. She is an author and a sought after speaker on innovation and technology, and has filed and been issued multiple key patents.
Prior to founding Gray Cloud in 2010, Yadav-Ranjan was the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Navigator Technology — a cloud-based data mining company From 1999 to 2002, Yadav-Ranjan served as chief executive officer of — an ecommerce payments company. She has also held various leadership roles at DCI consulting group in Denver, Colo.

Yadav-Ranjan has served on multiple for-profit and non-profit boards and currently serves as chairwoman of the membership committee and executive committee member for UC Merced’s Foundation Board of Trustees.

As co-founder of the UC Merced Mobile App Challenge, she has formed initiatives that apply technology to enhance socio-economic impact and to create positive outcomes for students while providing valuable industry knowledge and experience. In 2012, Yadav-Ranjan founded the Conversations with Entrepreneurs Speaker Series.

Julie Wainwright

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The

Moderated By: Rani Yadav-Ranjan, CEO Gray Cloud Technology


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Julie Wainwright has more than 25 years of consumer and consumer Internet experience. She started her career at the Clorox Company in brand management. In 1982, she joined Software Publishing, one of the first personal computer software companies, and spent two years running a major product line ($100 million+) and three years living in London as the international sales and marketing director. She returned to the U.S. to join a spin-off company, PowerUp Software, as vice president of sales and marketing. She built the company's worldwide retail business.

As president and chief executive officer of Berkeley Systems, Wainwright restructured the company, hired a professional management team and launched "You Don't Know Jack," the company's first entrance into the gaming market. After the company was sold, she became chief executive officer of, the first online ecommerce site to sell movies online. Wainwright built the management team, raised venture capital and sold the company for more than $100 million.

In 1999, Wainwright founded, which became one of the top brands in the U.S. beating out established competitors. Later, she was an executive in residence at HummerWinblad, a venture capital firm, chief executive officer of Bellamax, and general manager at a large automotive lead-generation company.

Wainwright is currently the founder and chief executive officer of, the first luxury designer consignment store online. The is backed by prominent angel investors including 500 Startups.

Wainwright has spoken at Harvard University and Purdue University and has been recognized by various media sources as a leader and pioneer of the Internet. Her board experience includes Wizards of the Coast ($100 million gaming company) and Baker and Taylor ($800 million distribution company), the San Francisco Art Institute, Magic Theatre and Headlands Center for the Arts.

Dan Gordon

Co-founder of Gordon Biersch

Moderated by:   Rani Yadav-Ranjan, CEO, Gray Cloud Technology

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Dan Gordon, co-founder of Gordon Biersch, has earned a reputation as one of America's leading brewing engineers. As the director of brewing operations for Gordon Biersch, he supervises the state-of-the-art brewing and bottling facility in San Jose, CA.

Gordon is the first American in more than 40 years to graduate from the prestigious five-year brewing engineering program at the world-renowned Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan, West Germany. Before earning his brewing engineer's degree there in 1987, he interned at Spaten Brewery in Munich and served as a technical translator at Lowenbrau Consulting.

Gordon, who was born in San Jose in 1960, entered the program after earning a resource economics degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1982 and spending a year as an exchange student at the Georg August University in Gottingen, Germany. He also worked for at the Anheuser Busch brewery in Fairfield, CA to gain the brewing experience he needed to apply to the Technical University of Munich.

After completing the world's most advanced brewing program, Gordon returned to California and joined forces with restaurateur Dean Biersch to take advantage of a new state law allowing brewery restaurants. In 1988, the partners opened their first Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif.

In the decade since, Gordon Biersch and the concept it pioneered have both expanded dramatically. But Gordon still makes sure his beloved lagers Pilsner, Märzen, Hefeweizen, and Blonde Bock plus seasonal beers are brewed in strict accordance with the German purity laws. He uses only the finest ingredients, including Hallertauer hops and a pure strain yeast culture from the Weihenstephan yeast bank.

Gordon lives in Redwood Shores, CA, with his wife, Melissa, and their three children. Although he spends most of his time brewing fine lagers for a living, he never tires of talking about his work. Gordon frequently lectures at the Stanford University School of Business, the Anderson School of Management at UCLA and the University of San Francisco. His hobbies include cooking and trap shooting. Dan is also a serious jazz trombone musician having performed professionally in the past and is still currently performing in various groups in the Bay Area.


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For more information contact: Brian O'Bruba, Career Services Center - Email: - 209-228-7272

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