Architect Donald King: determined to build

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

Architect Donald King has received much recognition for his lifetime achievements in his chosen field. He was elected an AIA Fellow in 2000 and, of approximately 2200 AIA Fellows, Mr. King is one of about 50 living African American fellows. His buildings have earned scores of national and local design awards. We see his work through the greater Seattle region—the Urban League at Colman School, the new and green Asian Counseling and Referral Service, transit centers, clinics, schools, libraries, public housing. His career has been satisfying and fulfilling as an architect and as an entrepreneur.

But his journey was not a path well-travelled.

Donald King knew he wanted to be an architect when he was only 12 years old, but “in the 1950’s and 1960’s it was hard to say you wanted to be an architect if you were young, black, working class and poor,” he said. Many people discouraged him from pursuing architecture, including his guidance counselor. “I overcame discouragement because of my stubbornness. Every time I was told I couldn’t be an architect, it would make me want to disprove that person. I was not the best student in high school, and I had to go to community college to get caught up and improve my GPA. Working full time and going to school part time, it took me 11 years from the time I started undergrad to complete college with my masters in architecture at UCLA.”

After moving to Seattle in 1980, it was very difficult for King to find work. Most firms were only interested in having him work on projects in the black community. He eventually obtained a position as principle architect for the non-profit Environmental Works Community Design Center. And it was because of the encouragement of Sea Mar Community Health Centers Executive Director Rogelio Riojas that he ventured forth in 1985 to start Donald King Architects (DKA).

After nearly 27 years, and over 400 projects, King has become known for his strengths as a planner, programmer, and designer, and noted especially for his collaborative design approach. Although primarily focused on community facilities, DKA has weathered several economic downturns by being flexible enough to move back and forth between public and private sector contracts. This last economic downturn has had the greatest impact because activity has slowed in both the public and private sectors, and competition is tighter. “The big firms got hit, and they have started moving into the markets that we have served.” Despite the success of DKA, King believes there is still a “glass ceiling” for black architects.

“Success can be a double-edged sword,” he notes. If you grow, you need to “feed the beast.” He advises minority entrepreneurs to understand that things are going to be a little more challenging than you might think. “You need to be flexible, ready for changes in the economy and market. You can’t rest on your laurels,” he said. “There are a lot of rewards, but you have to love what you do to sustain your commitment.”

Today Donald King is practicing his craft, working on an ownership transition for DKA, and teaching at the University of Hawaii. He is currently working with the university to set up a non-profit Community Design Center in Honolulu which will support community building needs in Hawaii’s low-income neighborhoods. Still not resting on his laurels, still stubborn, still serving the greater good.

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.

Impel’s POD device helps drugs jump the blood-brain barrier

Impel NeuroPharmaIt sounds like science fiction: a device that delivers pharmaceutical drugs directly to the brain using something called “nose-to-brain” transport. But this is no sci-fi tale. The Pressurized Olfactory Delivery (POD) device, developed by John Hoekman, UW PhD in pharmaceutics and chief scientific officer of Impel NeuroPharma, has the potential to solve one of the biggest problems facing the neurological drug industry today: getting drug molecules beyond the blood-brain barrier and into the central nervous system.

While conducting research in neurological drug delivery at the UW, Hoekman saw how the nose-to-brain pathway could improve drug delivery save for one small issue: there were no devices capable of reaching the upper nasal cavity to utilize this pathway. He began working with Dr. Rodney Ho in the UW Department of Pharmaceutics to develop a commercial device that would be cost-effective, disposable and user-friendly. “We’ve developed the POD device to be an elegant mechanical solution in a space plagued by biological problems,” says Michael Hite (MBA 2009), CEO of Impel. “Rather than manipulate drug properties chemically to improve absorption by the brain, the POD device simply delivers them to a region in the body where they will naturally be readily absorbed into the brain.”

For many drugs, this ability to move drugs beyond the blood-brain barrier means lowering the dosage, reducing organ exposure and lessening side effects. It can also have significant impact for biologic-based drugs such as peptides and proteins—drugs that hold tremendous promise for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s but that can’t make it to clinical trials due to the lack of a viable delivery mechanism.

Hoekman and Hite took Impel to the 2008 UW Business Plan Competition, where they won the $25,000 Grand Prize as well as a Best Idea Prize for Innovation. They then worked with the UW Center for Commercialization to license their technology, produce a prototype device and select candidates for proof-of-concept trials. “The BPC prize raised our profile and provided credibility with angel investors,” says Hite. “One of the lessons we learned was how to convey not only the technological break-through of the POD device, but also the advantages of our business model to angel investors. As a pharmaceutical technology provider, Impel adds value to products in the $60 billion-plus central nervous system therapeutics market without having to launch its own drug products.”

As one might expect for a life sciences start-up, the last 18 months have been make or break time. In early 2010, the company raised its first outside seed capital from some of the Northwest’s most well-known life science angel investors, including members of the Alliance of Angels, WINGS and Bay Area angel groups. With over $1.1 million in private and public funding raised, the company has been able to conduct proof-of-concept work and scale up the POD device in anticipation of human trials, including a successful demonstration of the device using neuro-oncology tracers in PET imaging studies. Impel’s device will soon see its first in-human trial for the targeted delivery of analgesics to the brain as part of a study being conducted later this year by UW SOM researchers, funded in part by a life science discovery fund commercialization grant. This analgesic program has broad treatment applications, including post-operative and cancer pain.

Hite says that Impel has thrived because he and Hoekman have quickly addressed the concerns of their critics and improved the design of their device.

What advice does he have for other first-time entrepreneurs? “Don’t just begrudgingly accept help, but go out and seek advice, assistance and opinions from successful entrepreneurs. CIE has built a great network of advisors who can provide that invaluable experience.”

The grapeful red: wine groupie follows his dream

In 2010 the gavel dropped and a bottle changed wine racks at a Hong Kong auction. The price?  $233,000, confirming that wine lovers wear different skins than the rest of us. Paul Zitarelli is one of them. His obsession has become his business.

This past October, Full Pull Wines, located in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood, celebrated its second anniversary. Prior to starting the business, Zitarelli (MBA 2009) was a passionate wine blogger. When he rhapsodized about a favorite vintage, readers demanded to know where that bottle could be bought. So he decided to sell it to them and uncorked the company.

Selling Washington wines was not an uphill battle. Already on the grape-dar of oenophiles, their growing reputation was sealed when the venerated Wine Spectator ranked a Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet the #1 pick of the year in 2009. As for Zitarelli, he could immerse himself (figuratively speaking) in wine.

“Initially, the business was a lifestyle choice,” he admitted. “The part of wine business I liked had limited opportunity for MBAs. I thought my own business would provide the freedom to write more. That lifestyle choice has instead become my whole life.”

Full Pull Wines continues to grow without any marketing budget, relying on a highly targeted email list that has grown fivefold since launch. Mail recipients receive as many as five messages weekly, describing the week’s offerings. Purchases are shipped or may be picked up at the warehouse, which is what most customers prefer.

Customer Tiffany Stevens noted, “Full Pull brings the winery to you. At the warehouse I sample hard-to-find wines from some smaller wineries, an opportunity you just don’t get in the retail store. And, of course, Paul’s there to talk about what’s new.”

Zitarelli candidly admitted to being somewhat unprepared for events as they are unfolding, having spent more start-up time weighing the cost of failure rather than the contingency of success. That’s understandable. Overriding passion as a wine lover guided the first two years of Full Pull. Now, as he faces issues of expansion and hiring, the left brain that propelled him to an MBA degree is coming into play to take him to the next level.

Thinking inside the box

From Hawaiian-shirted “captains” at Trader Joe’s to milled flax seed with goji berry powder at Whole Foods, Seattle food shoppers have a jungle of choices. For some neighborhoods, however, it’s a desert out there. Stockbox Grocers to the rescue.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, about 10% of Americans live in “food deserts,” low-income neighborhoods with limited access to supermarkets. Without that access to fresh ingredients, people tend to consume more of the high-energy snacks and fast foods that dominate the urban landscape. If Carrie Ferrence and Jacqueline Gjurgevich have their way, Stockbox Grocers will give underserved communities far better food choices.

The concept is simple. The Stockbox store is “a miniature grocery tucked inside a reclaimed shipping container,” selling a variety of grocery staples and fresh foods, and dropped into a neighborhood parking lot.

The prototype store opened last autumn in the Delridge neighborhood of Seattle. The need was there, but the partners Ferrence and Gjurgevich (MBA graduates in sustainable business from Bainbridge Graduate Institute) had to put in extensive legwork and outreach to gain traction: meetings with community groups, flyers, even waves of encouragement to wary area residents who walked around the periphery of the parking lot on opening day.

“Within a few days,” Ferrence observed, “people wandered in, from 10-year-old kids to old ladies, and there was an immediate spark—they got the concept.” Community residents bought up the fare described as “good food,” and requested even more fresh food and produce.

Stockbox was a second place winner in the 2011 UW Business Plan Competition (BPC) and received another $25,000 in seed funding through the Herbert B. Jones Foundation’s milestone program. Ferrence and Gjurgevich also raised money through KickStarter, an online platform that allowed the founders to approach friends and family and others looking to invest in a worthwhile and commercially viable endeavor in a social, non-threatening way. In only 45 days, that effort brought 192 backers and an additional $20,000.

The Stockbox solution to the food desert attracted national attention from local press to environmental news site Grist to the New York Times to the White House blog. Ferrence and Gjurgevich now have a new design for the next version of their 200-400 sq ft container stores, and they plan to open two locations in Seattle in 2012.

Their fans are hungry for them to succeed.

UPDATE June 2012: They’re opening their first neighborhood grocery in South Park in August and were recognized as 2012 Echoing Green Fellows.

Video: McKinstry CEO Dean Allen on recession-proof innovation

How do you recession-proof your company? McKinstry CEO Dean Allen talks about how his firm broke down the silo approach in the construction industry and grew to be a full-service mechanical and electrical engineering, design and construction firm.

By integrating services, they operated faster, cheaper and with fewer change orders, improving customer relations and growing through strategic planning and innovation instead of reactive project by project. His now nimble company retrofits buildings and builds new ones that are energy efficient, earning McKinstry sustainability accolades from President Obama.

A few years ago, Obama visited McKinstry and called them a model for the nation, also saying, “They’re retrofitting schools and office buildings to make them energy efficient, creating jobs, saving their customers money, reducing carbon emissions and helping end our dependency on Middle Eastern oil.”

Watch video highlights from a Dean Allen lecture.

Dean Allen was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

There’s profit in prediction

When undergraduate Mike Fridgen started his first business in 1997, a lot of parents suffered sleepless nights. Predictably. Imagine groups of unescorted university students heading off to Mexico on spring break tours arranged by a group of college fraternity brothers. Fridgen was the driving force behind iSTours, his first foray into the travel business and, happily, the company doubled its market volume in just one year.

Today Fridgen is CEO of Decide.com, a unique web site and mobile app that predicts the optimal time for electronics consumers to buy their dream products. In a world of ever-changing prices and models, that information can save serious coinage. The company claims a 77% accuracy rate in its price predictions, saving buyers an average of $54.

Decide.com resulted from the discovery that similarly to airlines, electronic manufacturers use complex proprietary algorithms to regularly update the prices of cameras, computers, televisions, etc. Behind the easy-to-navigate user interface of Decide, over 100 million terabytes of computational power are constantly mining trillions of bits of data, looking for hints of price fluctuations.

The cutting edge “future-tense” predictive computer modeling that provides the backbone of Decide.com was the brainchild of Oren Etzioni, UW professor of computer science. At the time he developed Farecast, a travel program that predicted fluctuations in airfares, Etzioni became aware of how pricing algorithms were used across a wide range of industries. Fridgen was vice president of marketing at Farecast when it was sold to Microsoft in 2008 for $115 million.

Although he is in the prediction business, Mike Fridgen is the first to admit he has a rare advantage—one he could not have appreciated as a student entrepreneur. “I’m on my third venture-backed start-up with the same investors who backed iSTours and TripHub, [his second travel start-up]. I still work with Andy Farsje, one of the same company co-founders, and Decide is my second venture with Oren.”

Greg Gottesman, managing director at Madrona Venture Group and an investor since TripHub, agrees: “The teams that have repeat successes are unique. People who work with Mike have had a great experience and go on to build the next thing together.”

And back in the Web 1.0 days of the 1990s, Fridgen told a campus publication that there was “no better time to explore business options and receive guidance than in college.” Does he still believe that? Predictably, yes.

MBA Challenge for Charity: game on

Music and mountains. Pursuits that quicken pulses around the Pacific Northwest. So, too, at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Check out this video of Foster’s MBA house band—Death Spiral—laying down a thumping soundtrack to images of the inaugural MBA team charity climb of Mount Rainier in 2011. Both efforts were conceived and driven by students in Foster’s Full-Time and Evening MBA Programs. And both were components of the school’s year-long campaign in the MBA Challenge for Charity (C4C).



C4C is the annual competition among nine west coast business schools to raise the most money and work the most volunteer hours for local service organizations. The Foster School has won the C4C “Golden Briefcase” seven of the past 11 years, raising over $1 million and volunteering more than 15,000 hours for Special Olympics Washington and the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County.

Last year’s Rainier push landed 11 MBA mountaineers on the summit of Washington’s highest peak. The climbers also raised $7,000 for C4C charities. The MBA band rocked the C4C competition weekend at Stanford University, part of a growing tradition of sonic boom at the Foster School.

Mountains and music are a go for 2012, too.

This year’s Mount Rainier climb is scheduled for August and training has already begun. Organizer Scott Heinz and first-year MBA Jack Hogin hope to guide as many as 24 MBAs up two different routes. And Death Spiral, led by Nick Wilson (bass) and Mike Warady (drums), is back and amped for another epic concert at Stanford in May (not to mention numerous events in the run-up).

The primary C4C fundraiser is Foster School’s annual MBA Challenge For Charity auction, which takes place on February 25 from 5:30-11 p.m. at the Seattle Sheraton. Mardi Gras is the theme. You get the picture—a good time for a good cause.