$60,000 for winners of 2011 UW Business Plan Competition

Budding entrepreneurs from universities across the Pacific Northwest created start-ups in clean technology, medical technology, retail, agriculture, software and other areas at the 2011 University of Washington Business Plan Competition. Business, engineering, medical, law and public policy student teams competed in the finals this week, vying for a combined $60,000 in prize money.

PotaVida team wins grand prize of $25,000 at 2011 UW Business Plan CompetitionPotaVida won Grand Prize worth $25,000 and another $2,500 for Best Innovative Idea for their low-cost, reusable solution to purifying water using solar disinfection. Their device received a design award from the Rockefeller Foundation prior to the UW competition. The UW team includes Charlie Matlack (PhD student in electrical engineering), Tyler Davis (PhD student in public policy), Damon Gjording (Executive MBA student) and Jacqueline Linnes, PhD.

What is the benefit of PotaVida’s product? “We will lower the cost to non-profits of providing safe water to people after disasters and in ongoing need scenarios. At a personal level, our product provides the visual feedback and guidance that people need to use a disinfection process which is otherwise invisible and impossible to know when done correctly,” said Charlie Matlack.

Matlack and the PotaVida team improved their business through the competition. “What meant much more than the money was all the doors it opened for us to incredibly helpful individuals in the Seattle start-up community,” said Matlack. “The more we took advice from those the Business Plan Competition connected us to, the better our business plan got, and the more we knew where to direct our efforts to improve it further.”

Stockbox Grocers wins 2nd place prize of $10,000 at 2011 UW Business Plan CompetitionStockbox Grocers, with a team from Bainbridge Graduate Institute, won Second Prize worth $10,000 and another $2,500 for Best Service/Retail Idea for their affordable fresh produce business targeting urban food deserts. Stockbox offers a mini grocer service tucked in a reclaimed shipping container. Team members include MBA students Michael Brooks, Carrie Ferrence, Jacqueline Gjurgevich and Eliza Michiels.

Two Finalist Prize winners won $5,000 each. LodeSpin Labs, a UW team of engineering, material science and MBA students, have a non-toxic tracer that works with cutting-edge Magnetic Particle Imaging, a new technology aimed at replacing CT and MRI for imaging patients with heart disease and cancer. The other Finalist Prize winner is Solanux, a WSU and University of Idaho team, that manufactures potato-based food ingredients that help lower a person’s glycemic index response and improve insulin levels. Their resistant starch product can replace existing starch in processed foods such as fries.

Rob Salkowitz, consultant and author of book Young World Rising, served as a judge in the competition saying, “I write about entrepreneurs from all over the world. I was amazed and encouraged to see the amount of innovation right here in my own backyard.”

More teams won $2,500 awards for innovations in various industries.

  • Aqueduct Neurosciences (UW team) won Best Technology Idea for their innovative medical device to improve treatment of hydrocephalus.
  • Static Flow Analytics (UW team) won Best Clean-Tech Idea.
  • Tripbox (UW team of Technology Management MBA students) won Best Consumer Product Idea for their travel planning software that optimizes cost, timing and routes of vacation activities.
  • Urban Canopy (UW team) won Best Sustainable Advantage for software that guides consumers through phases of green building initiatives such as LEED certification.

The UW Business Plan Competition is produced by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business. Numerous venture capital, angel and entrepreneurial community firms, consultants and individuals sponsor the event and serve as judges, mentors and coaches for teams.

Study Abroad: Personal Transformation

Foster alum Benjamin Wood participated in the UW Exchange program in Germany in 2007. This is his personal testimony.

Studying abroad in Germany in the spring of 2007 stands out as the most defining and life-transforming period that I have experienced during my time at the University of Washington.  From this experience I learned a lot about myself and about the people and cultures that I came in contact with. The lessons and life experiences that occurred during that time have played a pivotal role in making me into who I have become. Three specific areas that I grew in, and that I believe are of key importance for anyone who desires to achieve success in business or in any realm of life, were my interpersonal skills, my confidence and my problem-solving ability.

Regardless of one’s career goals, possessing strong interpersonal skills are essential to success in business and even happiness in life. Whether it involves communicating to co-workers or customers in the workplace or building relationships with people outside of work, being able to relate to others, understand their perspectives, and communicate one’s ideas is essential to successful interactions. Studying abroad provided me with the opportunity to meet other people from cultures that I had no previous interactions with and forced me to learn to adapt to these cultures and personalities. While in Germany I became good friends with students from all over the world, ranging from England, to Russia, to Palestine and Israel. Living in such a diverse environment changed the way I interacted with people and made me a much more effective communicator.

Probably the single greatest area of transformation in my life while studying abroad concerns how much confidence I gained from the experience. Living on my own in a foreign country, with no safety-net of people around me to help me make decisions forced me make tough choices and then live with whatever happened. Even when things did not turn out the way I would have hoped, this process taught me so much about myself and about what I truly value. Through this experience I became much more confident in myself and, consequently, much more confident in the way I interact with others and make every day decisions.

Somewhat as a result of the other two areas, my ability to problem-solve and look at issues from different angles increased dramatically. By interacting with people from all over the world I received fresh perspectives every day on how problems can be approached and solutions can be discovered. Furthermore, because I was living on my own, I had the opportunity to frequently practice the new problem solving methods that I observed. Overall, I became much more adept at facing complex problems and making confident decisions based on whatever information was available.

Going abroad has given me skills that I will carry with me and build upon for the rest of my life. Studying abroad, more than any other factor in college, has set me up for future success in business and in life. Not only that, but in addition to the great skills it gave me, studying abroad has provided me with an amazing global network of friends and future business associates who I continue to remain in contact with and visit. These relationships alone made the whole experience incredibly rewarding and worthwhile.

Wiring the future of health care

Guest post by Barbara W. Cosgriff, Foster School alumna

As the debate over health care reform continues to swirl inside and outside Washington, DC, policymakers and regulators at the federal, state and local levels have proposed myriad solutions to fix what many commentators describe as an inherently broken system. In this process, many solutions have been popularized and, unfortunately, politicized.

From this multitude of often controversial remedies, I would suggest distilling a viable solution with the potential for real reform. This idea posits a system that aligns disparate groups around a common goal: creating a wired health care system that empowers patients and payors alike to make informed decisions.

Imagine a world in which a central repository exists that enables a 360-degree view of every aspect of health care—including the data and results from the lab, from the health plan, from the pharmacy, from the hospital, and from the doctor or doctors—all organized around the patient. In this health care system, safeguards are in place that improve safety, raise the quality of care, increase access, and reduce waste—while delivering increased transparency to payors and patients.

This is—in short—a wired health care system.

But this is not some blue-sky theory, it is happening all over the country, today, through technology advances and leadership from the public and private sectors. Today’s “wired” health care system is based in large part on America’s longstanding pharmacy practice and a 1990 federal law enacted to wire pharmacies from end to end, nationwide—leveraging this system holds unleashed promise. Many companies today use this type of system to allow a pharmacist to cross-reference pharmacy data with medical data thereby providing more comprehensive treatment of chronic and complex conditions. The shift from the legacy health care system to a wired system that utilizes as its backbone the wired pharmacy coupled with tools and training, has proven to be effective in lowering costs, improving quality and increasing access.

All told, wiring health care creates a foundational opportunity to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our health care system—and minimize waste that arises from treatment and management of complex and chronic disease, to personalized medicine and beyond. In fact, studies have estimated that efficiencies stemming from wiring health care could save an estimated $680 billion annually. In an overburdened system, that represents significant cost savings.

Several health care companies are already harnessing the savings, efficiencies and quality of care associated with a wired health care system that leverages the wired pharmacy backbone. Patients and payors receive the benefits associated with a wired health care system when they are confident medication compliance monitoring is the norm, cost-saving generic medications are widely available and treatment regimens comply with national standards of quality care.

Today’s reform debate would do well —especially for the average American—to move beyond fractious and narrow partisanship and seriously consider the benefits of building upon an existing wired foundation as a model for tomorrow’s health care system. America’s payors and, most importantly, patients, deserve no less.

Barbara Cosgriff is the former senior vice president of public policy and external affairs for Medco Health Solutions, Inc. Cosgriff holds a BA in Business Administration and Accounting from the UW Foster School of Business and an MBA in International Business from George Washington University.

Red Lantern Journeys takes travelers off the beaten path

“Bhutan is the country that measures gross national happiness and while it has been a relatively closed country, tourism is possible there,” says Ambrose Bittner (MBA 2004), founder and CEO of Red Lantern Journeys. Red Lantern is a Seattle-based start-up that specializes in some of the more “off the beaten path” travel destinations in Asia such as Bhutan and Myanmar. “Myanmar is really a unique country—undeveloped and untouched—and now’s a good time to go there. But we make sure to go over the risks and political situations in these countries so our clients are well informed before they arrive.”

As he was finishing up his MBA at the University of Washington in 2004, Bittner met a friend of a friend who had started a travel company focused on Africa. He realized that his own extensive experience traveling throughout Asia was an asset he could market. “I felt this was my strong suit so I decided to just go for it,” says Bittner.

What differentiates Red Lantern from other travel companies is the high level of customer service given to each client in planning their trip. Focused primarily on private tours, Bittner and three other travel consultants work with each client to develop customized itineraries that meet their specific needs in terms of timeframe, budget, and the types of activities and sights clients wish to experience during their travels. “All of our consultants have either lived or traveled extensively in the countries they focus on,” says Bittner. “We don’t sell other companies’ travel packages. We’re destination specialists and know logistically how to get around countries in Asia, all the unique sites and activities, and we have local guides in each country. It’s a very independent way to travel but still be ‘on a tour.’”

Dedication and perseverance have served Bittner well as an entrepreneur and helped him shepherd the company through the recent economic downturn. “Being an entrepreneur means having the vision and working toward it, being dedicated and not getting too discouraged along the way when things happen,” he says. And as if running a company weren’t challenging enough, Bittner also leads an annual charity climb on Mt. Rainier to raise money for Mitrata Nepal Foundation for Children, an orphanage and school in Kathmandu, the starting point of Red Lantern’s popular Everest Base Camp trek. “We’ve raised $30,000 each of the last couple years and I’m really proud that we’re able to provide that kind of support in a community where we send travelers,” says Bittner.

Evolution Capital brings a holistic approach to start-up banking

Evolution Capital
Photo left to right: Troy Hartzell and Kirk Van Alstyne, co-founder of Evolution Capital Advisors. Photo by Judith Fernstrom of Judith Fernstrom Photography.

What’s it like being capital advisors to early-stage start-ups? “It’s one part investment banker, one part strategy consultant, one part coach, and one part shrink,” says Troy Hartzell (BA 2001), managing partner and co-founder at Evolution Capital Advisors. Hartzell and co-founder Kirk Van Alstyne (MBA 1996) run a boutique investment bank providing capital formation and strategic advisory services to entrepreneurial stage emerging-growth technology firms.

The partners have been focused on entrepreneurship since the mid-1990s, when they first met as student leaders in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Van Alstyne had been a chemical engineer and worked on the sales side of the industry for several years before going to graduate school. “I grew up in a small town in Montana and never really thought about starting a company. But there I was, working with these CEOs who had started some great companies and I thought, I’d like to do that someday. So I went back to the UW and got an MBA to learn about entrepreneurship.”

Hartzell had always been enamored with innovation and idea creation. When he got to the UW, he found entrepreneurship to be infectious. “I was surrounded by successful entrepreneurs, 20-somethings who had high aspirations and were incredibly motivated. I was sitting in on lectures with people like Jeff Bezos taking us through the idea generation process,” says Hartzell. “It felt like the possibilities were only constrained by your personal ambition. While I was in school at UW, I started an internet company, won one of the early UW Business Plan Competitions, and went on to raise venture capital for our start-up. Was it the school of hard knocks? Yes it was. But it was absolutely inspiring.”

Several years after graduating, Hartzell and Van Alstyne ended up working at the same investment bank. It was then that the idea for Evolution Capital took root. “We said, we’re entrepreneurs at heart, we love working with entrepreneurs, and we saw an opportunity to bring investment banking capabilities to earlier stage companies in the Northwest,” said Van Alstyne. “So we struck out and started Evolution five years ago.”

Unlike traditional investment banking firms, Evolution Capital tailors their services to the unique needs of smaller early-stage companies by offering hands-on strategic advising and expertise in the clean-tech, telecom, digital media and information technology sectors. The investment firm helps start-ups position, package and present their business in a way that is going to appeal to institutional investors and strategic buyers. “We’re really helping these companies figure out how to tell their story so they can raise capital,” says Van Alstyne. Profitable since its first year of operation, Evolution has completed deals with an aggregate transaction value in the 100’s of millions of dollars with lead investors and buyers from across the United States, Europe and Asia.

What distinguishes the successful entrepreneurs from the rest? “Focus is number one,” says Hartzell. “Is the individual focused and have they separated the noise from the real market opportunity?” Van Alstyne adds, “Successful entrepreneurs also have to be good communicators. You have to breathe life into your story so other people want to invest.”

Foster climbs U.S. News entrepreneurship ranking

U.S. News & World Report recently released its “Best Graduate Schools for 2012″ rankings, and the University of Washington Foster School of Business was ranked 14 in the specialty area of entrepreneurship. For 2011, the school was ranked 16 and the year prior 20.

The steady rise in the rankings is particularly gratifying for Foster’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Approaching its 20th anniversary, CIE has become the hub for entrepreneurial education and activity across the University of Washington campus, and an integral part of the Northwest’s entrepreneurial community.

“You need to have community. Obviously, a collection of great entrepreneurs is essential, yet it’s also about having a community of people who can foster creativity and provide funding and mentorship,” says Shelley Whelan, principal of Keeler Investments Group and a Foster School alumna. “CIE does a great job of bringing these stakeholders together with students to keep our community active and engaged.”

These relationships have been incredibly beneficial for students of the Foster School, as well as for other colleges at the university. Prime examples are the Center’s annual Business Plan Competition and Environmental Innovation Challenge. In both instances, students benefit from interaction with hundreds of the Northwest’s top venture capitalists, lawyers, angel investors, policy makers, scientists, and more.

The result? “CIE is a catalyst for new ventures,” says Jeremy Jaech, the former CEO of Verdiem Corporation. “For students who are entrepreneurially inclined, it is a place to meet like-minded people and learn what it takes to launch a successful business.”

Such interaction goes a long way. Since its inception 13 years ago, CIE’s Business Plan Competition has awarded nearly $1 million in prize money to 87 student companies, many of which go on to start their businesses. They do so in a region known as a launching pad for globally recognized companies both old and new—Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Expedia, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Real Networks, Starbucks, ZymoGenetics….

“Seattle is entrepreneurial in nature and the appeal continues to grow,” says Troy Cichos, administrative partner at Madrona Venture Group and a judge for CIE’s Business Plan Competition. “Entrepreneurship is like a fly wheel—once you get it going, more people become aware, more people give it a try, more become involved, and the energy continues to grow.”

Inaugural Golf Classic connects MBA students and alumni

Guest post by Matt Eliseo, UW Foster School of Business MBA student

2011 marked the beginning of a new tradition at Foster. The MBA Association, in conjunction with the Sports Business Club and Women in Business, was proud to present the Inaugural Hogan Brothers UW Foster MBAA Golf Classic. On April 30, after months of preparation, the event brought together alumni, friends of Foster and current MBA students for a day of networking and golf at the Golf Club at Newcastle.

Last year, student leadership of the Full-time MBA Program decided to strengthen ties between current MBA students, alumni and friends of Foster. After looking at all the options for engagement, the MBA Association decided on a couple of key events, one of which was a golf tournament. The Foster School of Business has a successful history with golf tournaments—the Evening MBA Program hosts an informal event and the Technology Management MBA Program holds an annual Bettin Cup. Therefore, the planning committee, composed of myself and other MBA students, were hopeful that the Full-time MBA Program could start and maintain a new tradition.

Very early in the process the planning committee understood that collaboration with various stakeholders at the Foster School and the business community was key to the success of the Golf Classic. We started by networking with our fellow students to build support and excitement about this new tradition. Then Foster’s alumni and advancement staff guided us through the process of engaging alumni and securing sponsors. Dean Jim Jiambalvo also graciously agreed to play in the tournament and host those sponsors.

UW Foster School of Business Dean Jiambalvo (left) and alumnus and tournament sponsor Charlie Hogan (BA 1959)

After warming up on the driving range and breakfast, the tournament began with a shot-gun start at 8 AM on the par-71 China Creek Course at the Golf Club at Newcastle. 72 golfers—41 MBA students and 31 alumni and friends of Foster—competed in a scramble for foursome with the lowest score and prizes at three contest holes (one longest drive and two closest to the pin). The pace of play allowed for plenty of time to socialize without any delays caused by a congested course. After golfing, we all enjoyed a full bar and appetizers before sitting down to a steak and salmon lunch. We had a brief ceremony with a few words from Dean Jiambalvo and Charlie Hogan, recognition of our sponsors and a presentation of awards to the tournament and contest champions.

While socializing, everyone agreed they had a wonderful time and look forward to next year’s Golf Classic.

Matt Eliseo is the VP for alumni affairs of the Foster MBA Association. Next year, he will begin his PhD in organizational behavior at the Foster School of Business.

Sponsors were vital to creating a successful tournament, and we thank Carl and Charlie Hogan, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Dunham Cellars, Esterline, Fresh Consulting and Logic 20/20 for their support.