Who won the 2012 University of Washington Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition trade show prizes of people’s choice and investors’ choice awards? Take a look at the top solutions to lifing people out of poverty.
Investors’ Choice: Ruby Cup—empowering women
Copenhagen Business School’s team of graduate students created low-cost, sustainable silicon cups for women and young girls who menstruate to combat an environmental problem and social stigma in the third world. They have been in the field in Africa and launched their first business model in Kenya, offering a cup that is reusable and affordable to a community of women who lose out on economic and social opportunites due to existing, sub-par menstrual products or no products at all.
Ruby Cup was noted highly for showcasing their actual product during the trade show to demonstrate the effectiveness of this high quality, long lasting and affordable medical grade silicone.
The investors’ award was based on the decisions of all the “mock investors” (faculty, alumni, business professionals) who had the opportunity to hear each and every team’s one-minute “elevator pitch” as well as interact with the teams during the trade show event.
People’s Choice: EyeChina—giving sight to the blind
University of Oklahoma’s team combats blindness in China where there is a large backlog of cataract-ridden people awaiting surgery. They offer medical training to provide a much-needed service to people who need it through a multiple-tier approach of training doctors, educating patients and marketing.
The trade show of the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition gives an opportunity for global teams from countries such as Bangladesh and Rwanda to promote their ideas to the University of Washington and greater Seattle business communities. Teams and their business ideas were in the spotlight: impressing judges using posters, prototypes and videos. All the long hours of research, analysis and innovation of the teams were put on display, vetted and tested.
Other social entrepreneurship business ideas
Team SasaAfrica from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Nairobi and United States International University that strives to empower craftswomen through the use of ecommerce on mobile phones.
Kyambogo University (Uganda) and Amity University’s (India) Green Fuel Team revealing “green” charcoal made of disposed garbage to counter the health and environmental problems from heavy dependence on charcoal/wood fuel in Uganda.
India’s Srunja Team, where rescued victims of human trafficking are taught vocational talents of jewelry making and “soft” business skills.
GSEC 2012 welcomed 16 semi-finalist teams representing more than 10 countries to Seattle. Teams were selected from an applicant pool of 170 submissions from student teams in 49 countries. Learn about the winning teams from the 2012 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition.
Aashar Ful, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Aashar Ful provides an eco-friendly solution to extreme shoelessness by supplying poor children with shoes made from an abundant and underutilized plant, the water hyacinth, and engages poor rural women in supply chain and production process.
Astraz, University of Washington, USA
Astraz uses technology to optimize information flow within developing country supply chain and distribution systems. FoneAstra is a device that uses sensory and cellular technologies to monitor temperatures in the cold chain and diagnose problems in the system as they occur, enabling timely intervention to prevent the loss of vaccines due to temperature deviations, resulting in a higher number of vaccines available for administration to the 2.4 million children who die from preventable diseases each year.
Bloorx!, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria
Bloorx seeks to expand the career and educational opportunities of Nigerian students by providing them with relevant and timely information about local and international opportunities that they are eligible for. By offering free services that meet the deepest needs of Nigerian students Bloorx will make significant social impact and by offering premium services to organizations Bloorx will be a profitable, scalable and sustainable venture.
Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering, Dartmouth College, USA
DHE brings renewable electricity to rural Rwanda with low-cost, small-scale hydro-power installations. DHE’s innovative battery-charging model allows it to reach scattered populations at an affordable price.
EYEChina, University of Oklahoma, USA
Solving the problem of curable blindness in Sichuan Province, China through affordable and accessible cataract surgery through an innovative network of provincial hospitals, global non-profits, and local surgeons. By incentivizing local physicians to focus their training and work on this important rural issue, it provides access to affordable care delivered by surgeons trained specifically to perform large quantities of quality cataract surgeries. Additionally, the EYEChina model treats many of the underlying causes of cataract blindness through patient-focused education combined with widespread marketing.
Green Fuel, Kyambogo University, Uganda
This business is about utilizing rubbish as an alternative to charcoal for sustainable energy, to save the forests in Uganda while enabling income generation for poor communities. The resources and money saved on deforestation for firewood will now be invested in training people on tree planting and conserving nature, allowing investments for citizens to work and earn income for their families instead of working cutting down trees for charcoal.
Greenovation Technologies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
We provide the marginally poor and homeless with affordable, secured, eco-acceptable, and long-lasting housing because we believe that proper housing leads to better earning and education opportunities which lead to greater well-being. Our unique product has low production costs and superior properties compared to its nearest alternatives, making it the ideal candidate for solving the global issue of 3 billion people being homeless all around the world.
Hakizamungu, National University of Rwanda, Rwanda
The business promotes bee keeping and honey production in order to further honey for sustainable development in the rural areas of Eastern Rwanda. The company will help indigenous bee farmer by introducing a technological method of honey processing, and providing training about the honey processor and manufacturing process.
Jola Venture, Northeastern University, USA
Jola venture seeks to improve agriculture production in Cameroon through its patented solar food dehydrator innovation. Our solar food dehydrator is an effective, low-cost provider of a solution to food spoilage that is common among most developing nations. The Solar-POD extends the shelf lives of perishable food items, giving users a simple and cost effective means of food preservation. Our business model incorporates a sustainable and micro entrepreneurship empowerment act that will greatly improve the socioeconomic standards of the target population.
Project Akshar, Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, India
Project Akshar provides deaf women with an entrepreneurial opportunity that enables them to generate income through book binding skills that are imparted to them. The business creates entrepreneurial opportunities for a community in need (currently hearing impaired women) by reusing paper to manufacture environment friendly notebooks and at the same time providing children in rural areas with affordable educational aides.
Ruby Cup, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Ruby Cup is a menstrual cup, which is an alternative menstrual hygiene product made of medical grade silicone that can be re-used up to 10 years. Rather than absorbing the menstrual fluid like disposable products, Ruby Cup collects it during the period. It is emptied, washed and boiled between periods. Ruby Cup will begin in Kenya.
SasaAfrica, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA & University of Nairobi, Kenya
SasaAfrica offers an innovative and independent platform for female artisans and entrepreneurs in Africa to create micro-enterprises, connecting developing world vendors to global e-commerce, even if they do not have access to the Internet, a computer, or a bank account, reaching even the most remote communities of entrepreneurs. Focused on promoting under-served communities, SasaAfrica aims to shorten the distance between vendors in developing nations and the global marketplace by integrating MMS uploads, SMS notifications, and mobile money payments with an e-commerce storefront.
Segito Technologies, Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (Victoria Jubilee Tech Inst.), India
The Segito business model provides assistive educational technologies for blind people which can reduce illiteracy rates, increase potential for employment and create employment opportunities for blind people. We have developed a patent-pending multifunctional educational device that enables blind people to educate themselves independently in absence of skilled teacher. It is an urgent need in developing countries due to decreasing number of Braille teachers.
Seraab, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan
Seraab sells cost-effective irrigation water to the small farmers of rural Punjab on an hourly basis through the existing water distribution system (the Wari system) using solar tube wells to extract the ground water. By installing and operating solar-powered tube wells to extract ground water and ensuring year round water availability, Seraab increases a small farmer’s revenue and reduces their water procurement cost.
Srujna, Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, India
Srujna creates sustainable social and financial impact in the lives of rescued victims of human trafficking though market-led vocational training programs, such as making jewelry, for rescued victims of human trafficking, thereby empowering them to be independent and self-reliant. Artisans will help in manufacturing jewelry.and the sale of this jewelry will ultimately help in making the organization sustainable.
Toilet+, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Toilet+ aims to bring poor villagers in Bangladesh safe sanitation coverage by availing microcredit assistance, and providing economic incentive to use toilets. It also creates local entrepreneurship by training local unemployed youth to produce organic fertilizer from waste. Simultaneously, by contributing to meet the high demand of fertilizer in the rural market, it will benefit the poor farmers and create a stable income source for the entrepreneurs.
Vela Chas Inc. (VCI), University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Vela Chas Inc. (VCI), aims to reduce the severe unemployment problem in the coastal areas of Bangladesh through engaging the poor people in cultivating vegetables in the floating farmland made with water-hyacinth. Making floating water-hyacinth farmland possesses some unique advantages: provides affordable fresh food in coastal regions; expands the market for selling the agricultural products in cities; uses no fertilizer; reduces the unemployment problem through engaging the poor people in cultivation and helping them become self-reliant.
Watch the slideshow for pictures of the 2012 Trade Show below:
*This post has been updated with information regarding the winners and a photo slideshow*
Guest post by various international students participating in UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition
Numerous student teams have gathered in Seattle for the 2012 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition to get feedback, refine their idea, pitch venture capitalists and improve lives for people around the world. Here is a taste of new innovations in social entrepreneurship showcased at the University of Washington this week. In their own words…
Ruby Cup: solves menstruation problems for third-world women
The three of us, Julie, Maxie and Veronica, met each other at Copenhagen Business School, where we studied our bachelor in business, languages and culture. Currently, we are masters business students and have specialized in sustainable business strategies and social entrepreneurship.
The idea of our social business started at university during a course in social entrepreneurship, where the task was to write a social business plan. Ruby Cup was chosen as the best business plan by a university jury and the idea developed into reality. The three of us moved to Kenya in September 2011 to start our dream company and we are getting ready to market launch in April 2012.
Women and girls in developing countries face challenges when dealing with their monthly cycle. They have little or nothing to help manage their menstruation. Disposable menstrual hygiene products are often unavailable, expensive and pose an environmental problem. As a result, girls are absent from school and women do not go to work as they are afraid of leaking. There is a need for a safe, accessible and affordable menstrual protection alternative which does not cause negative environmental effects.
We provide an affordable and high quality long-term menstrual hygiene solution that will enhance the livelihoods of women and girls at the base of the pyramid. Ruby Cup is made of medical grade silicone and can be re-used up to 10 years.
EYEChina: meets cataract surgery demand in China
The team was formed in 2010 while we interned at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth. Lloyd Hildebrand, an ophthalmologist at the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City, challenged the team to create a sustainable business model for the 1 million cataract surgery backlog in Sichuan Province, China. Over the course of five months the team hammered out a business model and traveled to China over the summer to pressure test key elements of the model. EYEChina hopes to roll out a pilot program in the summer of 2012.
Project Akshar: solves economic woes of deaf women
We are students of Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, University of Delhi, and are currently pursuing an undergraduate course in Business Studies. Our team is called SIFE SSCBS, which is a part of the international SIFE network.
Project Akshar was started in 2011 when our team at SIFE SSCBS saw bundles of sheets getting wasted and dumped in the landfills. We aimed at providing affordable educational resources to the economically backward while empowering a marginalized community in an eco-friendly way. After extensive research, we came across the fact that unemployment rate of hearing impaired women in India is more than 50 percent. Hence, we started working with Deaf women at Delhi foundation of deaf women, A Delhi based NGO.
The process involves collection of waste one-side loose sheets, on a massive scale, for their manufacture into low cost and ecofriendly notebooks, by our targeted social group: The hearing impaired.
SasaAfrica: empowers African craftswomen to join global ecommerce market
While working in the Nairobi slums for the past 2 years Ella Peinovich, an MIT graduate student, witnessed the challenges women working at or near the poverty line in the informal economy face each day to earn a fair living. It was on this trip that she and Kate Mahugu, a student of computer science at the University of Nairobi, joined forces to create an appropriate mobile technology tool that would provide greater economic opportunity for craftswomen, empowering them to become global entrepreneurs.
SasaAfrica is an ecommerce platform for the developing world that connects offline craft vendors to online consumers using a simple mobile phone. SasaAfrica builds bridges between local crafts markets of the developing world and the global digital marketplace.
Hakizamungu: modernizes honey production in rural Africa
While visiting the indigenous bee farmers in the remote area of southern province of Rwanda, Cyrille and JDamascene (pharmacy students of National University of Rwanda) have recognized that in this part of the poor world still using traditional practice to collect and process the honey results in reducing the quantity and the quality of honey. The company will be started by making a technological machine that will be used by indigenous bee farmers to process the honey, by organizing them into cooperatives and by funding their training. This company openly will be started by distributing a technological honey processing machine and organizing bee farmers. We will officially start to export bees honey late next year.
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.
It 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.”
Shekhar Singh grew up in India, where he earned a degree in civil engineering but later moved into software and built a career as a consultant with tech giant Infosys. When he set his sights on a new career in marketing, he looked for a U.S. school where he would have freedom to experiment, build a new skill set, and bridge cultural barriers. The first in his family to live outside India, Shekhar found a home at the Foster School of Business, where he has won case competitions, started a club that connects MBA students to leading technology companies, and helped other international MBA students meet the same challenges he faced when he arrived. Along the way, he has made some new friends.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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