Why Seattle breeds young entrepreneurs

Professor Nouriel Roubini, the respected NYU economist sometimes called “Dr. Doom,” is known for his predictions of the real estate meltdown, oil shock and recent recession. So it was a ray of sunshine poking through the gloomy November morning in Seattle when a Wall Street Journal article (Nov. 12, 2011) co-authored by Roubini noted that of major world economies, the long-term future appears brightest for the US. Why? We are still the leader in the cutting-edge technologies that expand a nation’s potential, including renewable energy, medical devices and nanotechnology.

If the U.S. is to lead the way, Seattle was noted as a city that contributes its share. The November 2011 issue of Seattle Business Magazine lays out reasons why Seattle provides the perfect hothouse atmosphere to encourage the start-up ambitions of younger and younger entrepreneurs.

Seattle has a reputation for a strong venture capital/angel community and a vibrant entrepreneurial community. Recognizing the increasing numbers of high-potential students, University of Washington and Seattle University have expanded their reach toward younger students. The UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) at the Foster School of Business recruits students directly out of high school into its Lavin Entrepreneurship Program.

At the age when most teen bands are breaking up, many students already have business experience. Connie Bourassa-Shaw, CIE  director notes, “Of the undergraduates we’ve admitted, nearly half started their first companies in high school.”

Young people who start companies have less risk and smaller opportunity costs. Lack of experience may work in the favor of young entrepreneurs. As Bourassa-Shaw says, “They don’t know what they don’t know, but they make up for it in sheer motivation and determination.”

Sunny days are ahead.  Meet some of the entrepreneurs, educators and investors who are making the future brighter in Seattle Business.

2011 minority business of the year awards

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

Each year the UW Foster School of Business recognizes exceptional performance by minority-owned businesses throughout Washington state. On December 8, seven businesses were honored. They hail from throughout Washington, and are owned by Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino Americans. They come from services, construction and sales. They are local, national and international.

They range from small to large. Some, like Sister Sky who produces natural bath products inspired by Native American herbal wisdom on the Spokane Indian Reservation, expects 2011 revenues to be $600,000. Others like Sam & Jenny of Bellevue is one of the largest waste paper exporters in the US, with anticipated 2011 revenues of over $70M, exporting 300,000MT of waste paper each year to South Korea and China.

The youngest company, Macnak Construction of Lakewood founded in 2007, has grown their revenues by 375% since it was founded—without borrowing any long term debt. They expect $6M in revenues in 2011. Indian Eyes, a Pasco business specializing in equipment logistics and construction management founded in 2005, expects $20M in revenues in 2011. Revel Consulting, a Kirkland-business management consulting firm founded in 2005, expects $26M in revenues this year. The Hughs Group of Tacoma, a logistics contract management company, anticipates sales of $8.1M. Everett-based Del Sol Auto Sales in operation since 2002 expects revenues of $5.5M this year.

“All seven businesses have proven that they have what it takes, even during this challenging economy, to survive and thrive,” says Michael Verchot, director of the Business and Economic Development at the UW Foster School. Since 1999, the Minority Business Awards program has given much-due recognition to high-performing, minority-owned businesses. Congratulations are due to:

  • Sam & Jenny (William D. Bradford Award)
  • Del Sol Auto Sales (NW Washington Award)
  • Revel Consulting (King County Award)
  • Hughes Group (SW Washington Award)
  • Sister Sky (NE Washington Award)
  • Indian Eyes (SE Washington Award)
  • Macnak Construction (Rising Star of the Year)

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, 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 writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

University of Washington celebrates state’s top minority businesses

The Business and Economic Development Center at the University of Washington Foster School of Business honored seven outstanding minority-owned companies from around the state at the 13th annual UW Minority Business of the Year Awards on December 8.
 
“Tonight’s award winners represent the incredible entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country great. They represent a wide variety of industries, operating locally, nationally and internationally,” said Michael Verchot, executive director of the Business and Economic Development Center. “Some have grown consistently through the economic downturn while others suffered short-term difficulties but have rebounded quickly. What unites them is the combination of a visionary leader who sees opportunities, a laser-like focus on meeting their customer needs, and their ability to build a strong management team.”

Foster School Dean Jim Jiambalvo wrote in a Puget Sound Business Journal article, “With job creation being top priority among both politicians and voters, I’m proud to say that the University of Washington Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center is doing its best to stimulate economic growth.”

Proceeds of the awards event fund minority-student scholarships and support minority-business development.

Sam & Jenny, Inc. | William D. Bradford Minority Business of the Year
Sam & Jenny is one of the largest waste-paper exporters in the United States. With offices in Bellevue and in Seoul, Korea they currently provide Korea with 80% of its recycled products. In 2010, their revenues exceeded $62 million.

Revel Consulting | King County Minority Business of the Year
With 2010 revenues of $25 million, Revel Consulting is a leading business management consulting firm based in Kirkland. For four consecutive years, it has been named one of the nation’s fastest growing companies by Inc. magazine and one of the Pacific Northwest Region’s Fastest Growing Private companies for the past three years by the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Del Sol Auto Sales | NW Washington Minority Business of the Year
Located in Everett and in operation since 1995, Del Sol Auto Sales specializes in buying, selling and repairing used vehicles for the general public. Their 2010 revenues were $6.5 million.

Sister Sky | NE Washington Minority Business of the Year
Sister Sky, on the Spokane Indian Reservation, manufactures and distributes natural bath and body care products inspired by Native American herbal wisdom. With 2010 revenues of $500,000 the company announced a new distribution partnership in the fall of 2011 that will enable it to distribute products to major national hotel chains beginning in 2012.

Hughes Group, LLC | SW Washington Minority Business of the Year
The Tacoma-based Hughes Group is a logistics contract management company that focuses on moving people and things from one location to the next, in any part of the world. They handle every step along the way, from planning to coordinating and managing the move. Their revenues for the 2010 fiscal year were $6.8 million, a 72% increase from 2009.

Indian Eyes, LLC | SE Washington Minority Business of the Year
100% women-owned Indian Eyes, LLC specializes in equipment logistics, employee resource and construction management services. Headquartered in Pasco, Indian Eyes also has offices in Colorado and Virginia. Its 2010 revenues increased by 78% over 2009 reaching $22 million.

Macnak Construction, LLC | Rising Star Award
Macnak Construction, a licensed general contractor since 2007, works on a variety of construction disciplines including new building and bridge construction and remediation primarily for Department of Transportation projects. Macnak has grown their revenues by 375% in the last three years.

Making a successful Korea change

Wander's "W" logo of a path around the world exemplifies the company vision.The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For the founders of YongoPal, a 6,000 mile step resulted in a dramatic shift for the better.

In the spring of 2010, Darien Brown and a team of software, political science and business students grabbed the $25,000 grand prize in the UW Business Plan Competition with YongoPal, a web service that connected university students in Korea with their American counterparts for on-line conversation to practice their English. On the heels of that win, the team received seed money from super angel Dave McClure’s 500 Startups and relocated to Silicon Valley to participate in its inaugural accelerator class. Then dark clouds rolled in from the West.

Disappointing reports from Korea showed that YongoPal was proving hard to use and not gaining the expected traction with students. After an intense UX workshop, one fact emerged. The program had huge potential but needed a complete redesign. So just before the make-or-break Demo Day, CEO Brown raced back to Korea and learned that the appeal of the service had nothing to do with learning English: students were actually only interested in its social value as a way to meet foreigners. With no time to create a prototype, and with money running out, the team pitched a new concept and scraped together enough seed money to build it. A better service and a new name were born.

YongoPal became Wander, a free iPhone app that pairs a user daily with a “local guide.” To jumpstart the new relationships, the app suggests daily “photo missions” to help users share their lives. For the armchair traveler, even the mundane is exotic: the street outside the house or the local food market. People can get to know somebody halfway around the world, “visit” places they’ve wanted to experience or study a language. Users find Wander to be simple and engaging, but its potential is even more exciting.

Brown says that, though Wander is something he feels they stumbled into, he believes they have an opportunity to define a new product category.  “We are giving people in digital isolation the ability to reach outside of what they know,” he says.  “China is a great example. We’re seeing users in that part of the world use our app to meet foreigners for the first time in their lives. And the fact that we let people interact through machine translation means that they can do it free of language barriers.”

Online marketing guru Dave Schappell of TeachStreet agrees. “I believe that the true power of the Internet to connect like-minded people is largely untapped. The first generation of social applications focused on connecting people who already know each other. Wander makes new connections a reality by matching individuals around the world so they can learn about one another.”

By any measure, Wander is making new friends around the world, serving users in more than 80 countries at a rate that doubles monthly and adding new meaning to the saying “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.”

Go tech, young man

Chris Ruff, two-time Business Plan Competition award winner“If at first you don’t succeed…” is a mantra for many Business Plan Competition winners who learn their lessons and emerge with laurels at a later date. Chris Ruff made that commitment to win and returned a year later—with a better idea.

Themed retail was still riding high in 1999 when Ruff and his team pitched a chain of upscale barber shops. They won the “Best Retail” prize, but it was the comment of one judge that resonated with him: “Go into technology.” So in 2000 Ruff’s Aptelix team won the competition with a novel concept at that time: e-mail delivered through a mobile phone browser.

Aptelix was just a few years ahead of its time, and in 2000 Ruff joined an early-stage tech company that was gaining traction in the emerging mobile market – UIEvolution. Today Chris Ruff is president and CEO of UIEvolution, which designs platforms and apps to “help make your company a bigger part of customers connected lifestyle.” UIEvolution has more than 100 clients, including AT&T, Bing, Disney, ESPN, Samsung and Verizon Wireless.

Most recently the company is staking its position in automobile “info-tainment.” Today’s car buyers prefer on-board amenities to gas-guzzling muscle. Toyota has enthusiasts buzzing about a UIEvolution-powered, voice-activated, system platform that delivers an easy-to-use, in-car experience that includes personalized traffic, fuel prices, stocks, weather, sports results, movie tickets, restaurant reservations and Internet searches. The system keeps drivers from getting distracted while still offering a rich interactive experience.

In a career that has taken him from being one of the company’s first employees and director of business development to VP of marketing and finance to his current role as president and CEO, Ruff said, “My business degree taught me the value of critical thinking in running a business. Having lived through one tech bubble and two recessions, I would say you will succeed if you have a good vision with the money, time and energy to make it work.”

“You also need integrity, which Chris has in abundance,“ says Satoshi Nakajimi, the original founder of UIEvolution and a current board member. “Decisions affect shareholders, employees and the family of employees. When Chris makes the commitment, you know he will see it through.”

Keeping it real

Simulated businesses with make-believe P&L statements have no place in Professor John Castle’s “Creating a Company” course at the UW Foster Business School. Here, student businesses are awarded real money and expected to turn a profit in 10 weeks. There’s no text book or PowerPoint lectures. The emphasis is on relentless question and answer, to promote “on your feet” thinking—a necessity for young entrepreneurs.

That’s how Castle likes it. Over the duration of the two-quarter sequence, student teams write a business plan, meet with investors to obtain in-house funding, run the business and then exit the firm at the end of the second quarter. All profits are returned to the fund, which has become self-sustaining over time. Though profitability of the company is a major criterion for grading, the ability of the team to deal with the unexpected is considered more important.

The next Google is not a hoped-for endpoint of this entrepreneurship course, but personal enlightenment and growth certainly is. Castle tells students, “You may or may not learn to be a good entrepreneur here, but you will find out whether you want to be one.” Students learn by starting companies that, among other ideas, sell clothing, promote music events or serve a real and immediate need, as in the case of the MS Children’s Book.

The book was the inspiration of William Khazaal, father of two, who returned to the UW Foster School for his BA at age 33. In 2009 Khazaal was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Those with this devastating disease have good days and days when their energy is sapped. On bad days, Khazaal’s kids would be scared and confused, with no resources to help them understand what was happening with their dad. Like any good entrepreneur, Khazaal created one. His team, which included Molly Massena, Zac Raasch, Eugene Kim and Adam Greenberg, produced, printed and sold and donated more than 2,000 copies of MS Children’s Book, a 50-page picture book. The team also generated $12,000—the largest profit in class history.

While Khazaal’s story is uncommon, the take-home message of the course was. “My experience demonstrated the value of working as a team and letting my team members take more of the initiative. I learned how to plan events to get the results I wanted, rather than just jumping into things,” Khazaal reflected.

The book is only the beginning of the story. Khazaal plans to continue the effort past his graduation this fall, with more events to raise money for MS awareness and research.

Study abroad photo contest winners 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words. Every year University of Washington Foster School of Business undergraduate and MBA students study and work abroad as part of their business degree and sometimes the best way to convey the value of those experience is through a photo. The UW Global Business Center held a competition for the best student photos of 2011 travels. Here are the 1st and 2nd place winners in two categories – titles, captions, descriptions written by students:

  1. Foster Abroad: Photo that inspires others to study abroad or makes a statement about the student experience abroad
  2. My Global Lens: Views uniquely accessible to students living abroad – social issues, cultural interactions, city scapes, landscapes, etc.

Foster Abroad – 1st Place (tie): Olivia Arguinchona, undergraduate 
India

Good morning India!
This picture was taken at the Taj Mahal at around 6 AM in the morning. I don’t think there is any other place where I could have been so awake at this hour in the morning.

Experience abroad: This exploration seminar focused on women leadership and entrepreneurship in a country where women are commonly oppressed. Looking back on all I experienced, India has become a symbol of resilience for me. I met so many women who had found a way to lift themselves and their family out of desperate poverty, or who were, in poverty, surviving and planning for the future of their children. Our group delved into the topic of microfinance, something I know hope to pursue once receiving a degree.

Foster Abroad – 1st Place (tie): Olga Kachook, undergraduate
Johannesburg, South Africa

Shadows of Us
Biking through Soweto, one of South Africa’s most culturally rich and diverse townships.

Experience abroad: Life abroad beats to a different drum- restaurants serve food at a snail’s pace, transportation is a chaotic adventure, and many things are lost in translation. Sometimes these changes were exhilarating, and sometimes they were frustrating, but most of the time they just made you stop and question things you take at face value back home. The differences between places and cultures are what usually stand out, but ultimately studying abroad shows you both sides of the coin- not just differences but similarities too. Discovering our similarities to people half way across the world is what makes travel exciting.

Foster Abroad – 2nd Place: Stephan Chung, undergraduate
Cork, Ireland

Reppin’ the DUBYA after win #1
The first of many. UW’s Ireland Exploration Seminar representing the dawg pack in Ireland following our season opening win against the Eastern Eagles. Photo location: Kinsale Harbour

Experience abroad: I decided to go on this business summer exploration to Ireland after hearing raving reviews from everyone I ever talked to who went on the trip. We spent an amazing three weeks visiting large national business and touring Ireland’s cities, towns, and beautiful natural landscape. The Charles’ Fort at Kinsale Harbour where this picture was taken offered breathtaking views of the coast and an interesting piece of Irish history.

My Global Lens – 1st Place: Amanda Hamilton, undergraduate
Ahmedabad, India

Who Runs the World? (Girls)
Empowering a girl empowers the world. Providing education and opportunities to girls around the world is the key to the future. Location: A small, rural village outside Ahmedabad

Experience abroad: Traveling to India was the biggest eye-opener ever. The culture shock and awe-inspiring experience was, at times, overwhelming, but left me thinking so much more deeply about the issues going on in this world. Seeing the stark contrast between the rich and poor and meeting all these amazing women who are taking what they were given and being empowered to be the change in their own lives and communities is so entirely humbling and inspiring. It was amazing to see the people and programs who are truly trying to make a difference by empowering these women and giving them opportunities to affect change around them. The woman in this picture was part of a case study where we went and met with a group of women in a village who had been given solar lanterns and clean cookstoves to improve their lives and daily work.

My Global Lens – 2nd Place: Siena Cairns, undergraduate
Valdivia, Chile

Trapped Miners: 33+
Crawling deep into the suffocating tunnels of Cerro de Potosí showed me there were more than 33 miners living in the dark. Location of photo: Potosí, Bolivia

Experience abroad: The week I arrived in Chile was the week that 33 miners became trapped in the north. Although this was significant international news, it was hardly the only cause for attention across the nation. At that same time, leaders of the indigenous minority, the Mapuche, were entering their second month of a hunger strike and protesters were gathering blocks away from my university. In the midst of national turmoil, Chile was approaching its 200 year celebration as a nation and an election year. I was swept into all of this, and slowly over meals with my host family, classroom discussions, and chats with local friends, my understanding of Chile’s political, social, and cultural history grew until I really began to understand the weight of these pressing issues around me.

Touring the mines and engaging with miners was one of these eye opening experiences. The miners taught me how life in the mines is so demanding that there comes a day when you know little else. In this sense, they become trapped in those deadly tunnels, unable to leave the only lifestyle they know. When I left home to learn Spanish, I never expected to return with such an understanding of this foreign culture too.

See all photos submitted for the contest. Judges included nearly 30 faculty and staff members. Learn more about MBA and undergraduate study and work abroad opportunities via the Global Business Center.

Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship celebrates first 20 Years

Zino Society CEO Cathi Hatch gives her elevator pitchHow can 17 speakers share their memories of the University of Washington Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship without running too far into the next decade? Easy: make it an elevator pitch. The one-minute brief used by all good entrepreneurs made it possible for alumni and current students, faculty and leaders from the Seattle business community to reminisce. Here’s what some of them said in their 60 seconds at the podium.

“Innovation is not just for start-ups, but the life-blood for any company. If we were really doing the same thing we did when we opened in 1982 and using the same ingredients, our company would not be leading the competition or even keeping up with them. Judging the Business Plan Competition each year leaves me energized and more creative in my own business.”
Fran Bigelow, owner of Fran’s Chocolates and Foster alumna

“Expertise doesn’t reside entirely within the tech transfer office or the College of Engineering or the business school. For entrepreneurship to flourish, these organizations need to work together to weave entrepreneurship into the fabric of the university. That’s CIE’s role. CIE is at the center of it all.”
Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, UW

“We failed horribly twice at the BPC. The third time, we knew what we were doing and took second place. We closed some financing shortly thereafter. Things are going really well. We couldn’t have done it without CIE.”
Brian Glaister, CEO of Cadence Biomedical, UW PhD candidate in mechanical engineering

Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship founder with current director“My interactions with CIE, which include taking entrepreneurship classes through the Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate as well as coordinating events with the Science & Engineering Business Association, have transformed my career path. I’ve discovered my entrepreneurial passion.”
Jeff Chamberlain, PhD student in bioengineering and past president of UW Science & Engineering Business Association

Photos (top to bottom): 1. Cathi Hatch, CEO of ZINO Society, 2. Professor Bud Saxberg, who launched the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship in 1991, with Connie Bourassa-Shaw, CIE’s current director

Foster MBAs place 3rd in national ethical leadership competition

A team of MBA students from the University of Washington Foster School of Business took third prize at the fifth-annual MBA Case Competition in Ethical Leadership at Baylor University November 18.

The competition challenges MBAs to demonstrate ethical leadership in a practical business dilemma. This year’s case was based on a recent, real-world, ethics scandal. Teams were charged with creating a path for News Corporation to rebound from its phone-hacking mess and reemerge as an ethical leader in the media industry.

The Foster team of second-year MBAs Krister Fardig, Jeremiah Marks, Jesse Robbins and Henry Vogler recognized that no cosmetic fix would do the job. To address the root problem—an organizational issue with ethics—they recommended that News Corp directors implement what they called the “audit and continuous improvement of ethics (ACE) model.” This external and internal auditing process enables increased accountability, increased visibility and better performance when it comes to managing ethical behavior.

Robbins, a veteran of three case competitions as an undergrad at the Foster School and five in his first year of the Full-Time MBA Program, said that the team was well prepared by the program’s rigorous core curriculum. He also credited Foster’s business ethics professor Scott Reynolds, who armed the team with an ethical framework that helped them identify the solution that hit closest to the sweet spot where technology, strategy and ethics intersect positively.

The Foster MBAs competed with teams from Auburn University, Baylor University, Iowa State University, Pepperdine University, Texas A&M University, University of Florida, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota and University of Texas. Illinois and Florida took first and second places.

Friends + baseball tickets = an epic idea

Scott Barrows and James Kimmel, co-founders of Epic Seats.
Scott Barrows and James Kimmel, co-founders of Epic Seats.

If you’re dying to go to the sold-out Lady Gaga concert or get a seat on the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl, a Seattle start-up has your back. Epic Seats helps clients buy and sell tickets to all major concert, sporting and theater events throughout North America, and specializes in hard to find tickets, premium locations and sold out events. But what’s more epic than the seats is the company’s commitment to providing exceptional service.

While living in Chicago, Scott Barrows (BA 2000) maintained his Cubs habit by buying extra game tickets and reselling them on eBay. As luck would have it, his longtime friend and fellow CIE alum James Kimmel (MBA 2005) was doing the same thing with Mariners tickets in Seattle. The two decided to pool their assets—two $10,000 credit cards—and started Epic Seats together in 2003. Two years later they competed in the UW Business Plan Competition, making it to the Sweet 16. In a marketplace that included hundreds of other companies selling the same product, Barrows and Kimmel knew they’d need to differentiate themselves early on and focus on their core competencies: customer service and innovation.

“Our number one goal has always been to be the most customer-centric company in our industry,” says Barrows. “Many companies choose profits over clients, and we’ll always do the opposite.” Kimmel echoes that sentiment. “Any brand equity we have as an organization is directly attributable to our customer base and what they say about us to their friends and associates. For seven years we have relied on referrals and positive word of mouth as our primary form of marketing,” says Kimmel. One need only do a quick search for Epic Seats online to see their strategy is working; customer after customer raves about what great customer service they’ve received.

Case in point: about a year after going into business, Epic Seats purchased 16 ticket packages through a travel company for the BCS title game between the Texas Longhorns and USC Trojans and resold 12 of them for a nice profit, holding on to four for themselves and a couple of friends. When they arrived at the hotel, they found the travel company had oversold the packages and was cancelling them, simply telling people they’d refund their purchase price. Rather than do the same to their clients who had brought their families to Pasadena for the game, Barrows and Kimmel scrambled to find new hotel rooms and plenty of tickets so their clients could all go to the game. “We ended up losing $20,000 and had to stay in a dumpy motel and watch the game at Hooters, but we just decided that was going to be who we are,” says Barrows.

Epic Seat’s other core value is to always be innovating and with two life-long entrepreneurs at the helm, it’s easy to see where that comes from. In recent years, the company expanded to include Epic Inventory Management, providing back-end operations—everything from customer service to order processing and shipping—to small and medium-sized ticket brokerages around the country. Epic is also gearing up to launch TicketsThatGive in June, a new venture that will allow charities and foundations to raise money via a promotional code for any ticket sales generated by their constituents.

Kimmel’s advice for young entrepreneurs is to “follow your passion and if you can make a living doing what you love, it’s well worth the risk of striking out on your own.” Barrows echoes that point, adding that entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to fail. “I’ve had probably 11 start-ups, and this is the first one that’s been successful. I just knew that if I kept at it, eventually I’d be successful.”