The magazine for Western Washington University

Smart Money

WWU's Young Alumnus of the Year leverages a career in international shipping into a life as an investor and business advisor

Story by Mary Lane Gallagher

Get the PDF Print this story
Bicoastal commuter: Jonathan Main pauses at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport before hopping on an early morning flight to Philly for his job as the COO of a nanotechnology company. | Photo by Niki Desautels

2009 WWU Alumni of the Year

Frank "Moose" ('50) and Vi Zurline, Larry "Go Vikings!" Taylor Alumni Service Award

"Moose" Zurline learned a lot of important life lessons on Western's football and basketball teams in the 1940s, and he and his wife, Vi, have supported Western athletics ever since. The Zurlines, now retired, have funded many scholarships for Western student athletes.

John Wolfe ('74), College of Business and Economics Distinguished Alumnus

A leading white-collar criminal defense attorney in the Puget Sound region and a member of the CBE Dean’s Advisory Board.

Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus ('74), Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies Distinguished Alumna

President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, an organization of 1,800 Reform rabbis.

Steven Arnold ('79, '81), College of Fine and Performing Arts Distinguished Alumnus

A motion picture art director whose work can be seen in "Bewitched," "Van Helsing," "Solaris," "Spider-Man," "Unbreakable," "Get Shorty" and "Face/Off."

Kevin Jackson ('92), College of Humanities and Social Sciences Distinguished Alumnus

Four-time Emmy Award-winning vice president and executive editor for

Mike Town ('84, '85), Huxley College of the Environment Distinguished Alumnus

An environmental science teacher who spearheaded a grassroots effort to establish the 106,000-acre Wild Sky Wilderness.

Kathleen Grega Digges ('71), College of Sciences and Technology Distinguished Alumna

A physician in Northern Virginia whose financial support established four endowments in the Geology Department, including one creating a field trip program.

Ronald H. LaFayette ('69, '71), Woodring College of Education Distinguished Alumnus

President of North Seattle Community College who has played a critical role in creating pathways for nontraditional students to become teachers.

Bill Kalenius ('74), Alumni Community Service Recognition

The driving force behind the volunteer-run Vancouver Lake Crew program, who rallied the community to help the club recover from a destructive tornado in early 2008.

The Bowman-Frazier Family, Legacy Family of the Year

Jack Bowman ('54) and his wife, JoAnne, head a family with eight decades of Western alums whose contributions to academics support student leadership development activities.

Jonathan (Min-Wook) Main (‘94) carries two cell phones. And today, both their batteries are dead.

It’s easy to understand why Main’s cell phones sometimes have trouble keeping up. The International Business graduate maintains a bicoastal career when he’s not traveling to Asia or Europe on business.

And when he’s not orchestrating his far-flung business dealings, he’s draining his cell phone batteries researching new angel investment opportunities or talking strategy with business owners hungry for advice.

Main, 36, was selected as Western’s Young Alumnus of the Year for his success in building both businesses and relationships. A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Main is the owner and managing director of his own investment company, the SARAME Corp., as well as chief operating officer of the Pennsylvania-based Carbon Nanoprobes Inc., one of SARAME’s portfolio companies, where he’s helping the young CEO build the operation.

Carbon Nanoprobes builds carbon nanotube tips, which enable atomic force microscopes to take three-dimensional, digital images of very, very small things. How small is a nanotube tip? Imagine a strand of human hair, Main says, then imagine splitting it 10,000 times.

Carbon nanotubes will play a critical role in the emerging field of nanotechnology, Main says.

“As transistors and computer chips get smaller and smaller, we have to have an imaging device to look at them,” Main says. “Nano is the next-level generation that everything’s moving to, but we can’t move to it until we can image it and see it.”

He first became familiar with Carbon Nanoprobes as an early-round angel investor. But CEO Brian Ruby soon realized that Main’s business know-how was as valuable as his investment capital and asked Main to join the company as a fulltime executive.

Main is also a mentor to Ruby, 25.

“Jonathan’s old enough to have some real experience, but young enough to understand how to work with a 25-year-old,” Ruby says. “You have to have a lot of patience to work with somebody you know is going to probably make certain mistakes you probably made.”

Main built his own business knowledge through several years in the international logistics and shipping industry. After helping to build other companies and watch them be sold and profit someone else, he decided he wanted to build his own companies.

So by his late 20s, Main participated in a management buyout of the company he worked for, Kamino International Logistics. He later introduced a Southern California capital company to the firm and played a key role in buying out the firm’s remaining investors. He liquidated his position in 2008 – prior to the economic tsunami that has hammered the transportation industry.

Meanwhile, Main began aggressively building his own investment company in the early 2000s through real estate investments. Today, his portfolio includes businesses in technology, life sciences and professional services.

He’s also a member of the Seattle chapter of the Keiretsu Forum, a large and influential network of accredited angel investors who provide early money and advice to promising start-ups.

Despite the troubles in the economy, Main says now is actually a pretty good time to be an investor.

“As bad as the market is, for investors everything’s on sale,” he says.

It’s also true in angel investing, where the risks are always higher with a promising, but unproven, company. But the potential for rewards may be greater in a time when financing is hard to get. What might have been simply a financial investment two years ago might now be a chance for better terms and valuations or even executive or board positions, he says.

Sarah O’Brien Parker, CEO of Spacecraft Clothing, first met Main years ago when he worked in the logistics industry. Like Ruby, she also counts Main among her mentors.

There hasn’t been a question that Main couldn’t answer, Parker says, even if he couldn’t answer right away.

Main is interested not only in business, but in the people who make up the business – what drives them and interests them, Parker says.

“Jonathan doesn’t judge people based on experience, because he sees that everyone has something to offer,” she says. “I know I’m not the only phone call he is answering right before he boards the plane.”