When avid skiers Marc Barros and Jason Green were entrepreneurship undergraduates at the University of Washington, they tried to share videos of the thrills and spills of their downhill adventures with their friends. Their initial attempts were dismal. “A frozen mountaintop is a grueling and unforgiving environment for video camcorders,” said Barros. “And when you’re zooming downhill, crashing through trees with ski poles in your hands, it’s just not smart to hold a camera.” The two devised a simple helmet camera to make action video easy to shoot and easier to share. That was in 2003. Their newest product, the Contour HD, was named a Top 20 Holiday Product for 2009 by Time Magazine and a 2009 Top100 Gadget by Wired Magazine.
Barros and Green entered the 2003 UW Business Plan Competition with that first helmet camera and took third place, winning “just enough money to afford the rent on a chilly warehouse,” Barros said. But that seed funding gave them the foothold they needed: the two friends began building and selling their cameras and introduced a series of innovations that enhanced the “hands-free capture and effortless online sharing of action and travel video.”
Fast forward to 2009. VholdR introduced the world’s first HD wearable camcorder and made the list of fastest growing companies in Washington. “What makes us really proud is that we’re profitable,” said Barros, “with more 300% revenue growth from 2008. We’re selling our ContourHD cameras in hundreds of outdoor sports retailers across the United States and in 45 countries. More than 75% of our camera owners actively publish video content on the VholdR.com community.” Barros says that VholdR, whose tag line is “Wear it. Shoot it. Share it,” expects to double again in 2010. Check it out:http://video.contour.com/
Every year the richest man in the country (or maybe 2nd richest depending on the most recent Forbes article) Warren Buffett invites groups from 5 to 6 business schools to visit him in the unassuming town of Omaha, Nebraska. The premise is simple. 120 business school students from across the country put on their best suits, tackle the Omaha snow (see photo), pepper Mr. Buffett with questions for over 2 hours, and then he takes us to his favorite restaurant in town for steak and root beer floats.
In early February, I was fortunate enough to make the trek. Naturally, people keep asking me what I took away from the trip. I respond with random facts about Berkshire Hathaway’s corporate philanthropy program and Buffett’s friendship with and admiration for former Geico executive, Lloyd Kreeger. And I love to share some of Buffett’s best lines such as, “You can’t make a baby in 1 month by getting 9 women pregnant.” He followed, laughing, “I probably should have told Tiger Woods that.” That’s classic wisdom, both literally and figuratively, and it demonstrates just how sharp and witty this 78-year-old man is.
Why does he meet with MBA students? It is certainly not for us to hear stories we can see him tell on YouTube, nor to make sure I have a photo of me with an awkwardly devilish face stealing his wallet (see photo). No, I think this is Mr. Buffett’s opportunity to share his vision for investments, business, and life with the next generation of business leaders.
Buffett’s vision: Find passion, practice simplicity. The man has more money than I can comprehend. Buying 120 people lunch is like me buying a gumball, or more likely, sharing a gumball. But he drives a simple car (a 1980s Cadillac), has lived in the same home for his entire life, and doesn’t seem to want more. His investment philosophy is the same. Find an undervalued company with good management, buy low, sell high. He doesn’t need fancy financial products that no one really understands; he just looks for good businesses. Oh, and he loves what he does. You can see how it sustains him, keeping him engaged day in and day out. I think he wanted to show us that. At a time in our lives when we’ve taken ourselves out of the workforce to build our skill set and reflect on our careers, he wanted to show us that money follows passion and simplicity brings happiness.
The National Smart Growth Conference held in Seattle in early February featured a track on social justice. Various speakers discussed the challenges of integrating people of color into the green movement. One need only go to any gathering of environmental activists to observe the reality of this demographic homogeneity.
Is green the “new white?” Does this “unintentional exclusion” translate into fewer economic opportunities in the emerging green economy?
Communities of color have a strong stake in environmental quality. Our communities are typically more likely to experience disproportionate environmental impacts from urban development. Furthermore, many of our traditional cultures are steeped in sustainable practices such as urban agriculture, conservation, reuse and high transit usage.
Putting aside the fact that these practices are usually driven more by economic need than environmental ideology, one could argue that communities of color are true pioneers of sustainability. Sustainable behaviors are integrated into every aspect of our cultures as a way of life, rather than as a political statement. Sustainability is not simply about the environment, but also embraces the need for economic and social sustainability. Communities of color offer receptive markets and traditions of environmental behavior that are ideal opportunities for the green marketplace.
Our challenge as minority entrepreneurs is to embrace and expand on this integrated view of sustainability. How can we bring green technologies to help our people save money on energy? How can we make it easier to grow healthy crops that nourish our families without the risk of pesticides? How can we educate our young people to choose quality of life over quantity of goods?
Green economy opportunities abound in our own backyards.
Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She will be writing the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.
This morning’s UW Foster School of Business breakfast lecture focused on the social media revolution. Richard Law, CEO of Seattle-based Allyis, talked about “Social Media as a Leadership Tool” and how executives can socialize their way to employee engagement, retention, collaboration and success.
Law touched on the communication game that’s already changed due to social media, ROI of engagement, statistics, social media being a broader concept than just its platforms of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Conversations among customers, employees and their peers now help create brands. Two-way dialogue is the best way to represent a brand and Law offers tips for staying competitive in today’s marketplace. Listen to podcast on social media.
Video extra: The Generation Y workforce will equal Baby Boomers in numbers, and Gen Y’s digital media presence is noteworthy. Law played this four-minute “Socialnomics” video about current social media use and demographics.
This lecture is part of Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, an event for business leaders and faculty to share insights about current business topics and trends with other business leaders, alumni, faculty, students and the Foster School community.
Watch the second installment of our video series following student business consultants from the Foster School as they help a small Brazilian restaurant improve its bottom line and sell its hot sauce. Undergraduate students visit the restaurant for the first time on January 12, sample the food and hot sauce, and finalize their consulting contract with the business.
This is the second of a series of videos on Foster Unplugged where you can follow the five-member student team assigned to help Tempero do Brasil, a restaurant at 5628 University Way Northeast. Check back to follow more of the student team’s efforts as the winter quarter class progresses (under Student Life blog category).