The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship awards $170,000 to eight student-led start-ups

Haiti Babi Blanket
Haiti Babi

When Katlin Jackson returned from her second trip to Haiti in January 2012, she was a woman on a mission. After spending time in a Haitian orphanage, she’d discovered that a good number of the children there weren’t orphans at all. Their parents were simply too poor to care for them. Within months, Katlin, along with UW junior Kari Davidson, cofounded Haiti Babi and entered the 2012 Business Plan Competition.

Haiti Babi now employs four Haitian mothers to knit and crochet high-quality, incredibly soft baby blankets and accessories that are sold to moms in the United States. In 12 months, Katlin and Kari have taken an idea, defined a mission (Moms helping Moms), and created a start-up company that is making real headway. They have a well-thought-out brand, fashionable products, and a detailed operations plan. Their Indiegogo campaign brought in double their fund-raising goal, pre-orders for their first blankets surpassed all expectations, and Haiti Babi has been featured in Seattle Magazine, Social Good Moms, and Disney Baby.

Much of Haiti Babi’s success can be attributed to the intelligence, drive, and dedication of its founders, but they’ve also had great help along the way. They were admitted into the Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator in July 2012.

The JM/FA at the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship is a TechStars-like program that provides a milestones-based framework, monthly coaching from Seattle entrepreneurs and investors, and connections that help student teams make the transition to start-up companies.  From July 2012 to February 2013, 10 teams worked to recreate their teams, develop their technologies or get product to market, and raise early-stage funding. On February 13, eight teams were awarded between $10,000 and $25,000 for their efforts.

  • PatientStream, a cloud-based electronic patient-tracking system for hospitals, licensed its technology from the University of Washington and secured a $500,000 investment from the W Fund.  Ben Anderson (TMMBA 2012) is the founder, and brought in Keith Streckenbach as COO and co-founder to drive sales. Anderson quit his day job at UW Medicine/Harborview in October.
  • Haiti Babi provides mothers in Haiti with employment to keep their children out of orphanages. As part of their “Moms helping Moms” mission, Haiti Babi’s mothers knit and crochet high-quality, incredibly soft baby blankets that are sold in the United States. Co-founders Katlin Jackson and Kari Davidson (BFA 2014) raised funding through an Indiegogo campaign, pre-orders for blankets surpassed all expectations, and Haiti Babi has been featured in Seattle Magazine and Disney Baby.
  • LumiSands was awarded a $150,000 National Science Foundation SBIR Phase-I Grant and a $50,000 gift from the Washington Research Foundation for the development and manufacture of its silicon-based alternative to rare-earth phosphors used in LED lighting. Co-founders Ji-Hao Hoo (PhD 2013) and Chang-Ching Tu have negotiated an agreement with the University of Washington, and are still in the technology development phase.
  • JoeyBra, “the first sexy and comfortable fashion bra with a pocket,” closed a successful angel investment round, produced a new, quality sports bra with a waterproof pocket in a full range of sizes, and has been featured by Forbes, MSNBC, and CNN.  Mariah Gentry (BA 2013) and Kyle Bartlow (BA 2013), the co-founders, have contracted with a former Miss America as a spokesmodel and will launch their product nationwide in April 2013.
  • Microryza, a KickStarter-type site for smaller science and research projects,was admitted into Y-Combinator in October and moved to the Bay Area. Cindy Wu (BS 2011) and Denny Luan (BS 2011) have raised more than $170,000 and their site has funded projects from tracking Magellanic penguins to sustaining native bees and student-designed electric racecars.
    Update: March 28, 2013 – Microryza was named one of the top 5 Y-Combinator start-ups to watch by Inc. Magazine.
  • Strideline sold more than 60,000 pairs of their signature city skyline crew socks in 2012. Co- founders Jake Director (BA 2013) and Riley Goodman (BA 2013) have organized a national sales team, are now selling in Nordstrom and Zumiez, and were the subject of a UW TV short feature
  • SuperCritical Technologies has designed and will build compact modular power plants that provide up to 5MW of clean, reliable electricity for heating and/or cooling. Chal Davidson (MBA 2012) is the CEO, with Max Effgen (MBA 2012) as a co-founder. The company raised $200,000 in angel funding to complete the conceptual design and establish supplier relationships, and is currently fundraising to build the prototype.
  • UrbanHarvest is an urban farming company that grows high-value hydroponic lettuces and herbs within feet of where they’ll be consumed. The brainchild of Chris Bajuk (MBA 2011) and Chris Sheppard (MBA/JD 2012), UrbanHarvest is currently negotiating with a large SoDo corporation to build a rooftop greenhouse.

So what’s next? The work certainly doesn’t stop here. As any entrepreneur knows, it takes more than six months to grow a thriving business. And that’s what the JM/FA ultimately provides at the end:  additional runway.  This follow-on funding is a testament to the companies’ hard work so far, and an investment in what we know they can become.

The Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator is funded by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation and additional private donors who, like us, believe in the ability of student entrepreneurs.

The Rainier factor

RainierFoster MBAs climb Seattle’s iconic volcano for challenge, charity and camaraderie

You’ve seen the posters. Taut bands of rugged mountaineers, clad in Gore-tex armor, inch their way up frozen alpine landscapes as beautiful as they are forbidding—captioned with inspirational sentiments on such corporate virtues as leadership, collaboration, passion or persistence.

Some MBAs at the University of Washington Foster School of Business are learning that mountain climbing is more than a metaphor.

The past two summers, Scott Heinz (MBA 2012) has guided classmates of varying climbing experience on revealing expeditions to the thickly glaciated summit of Mount Rainier, the highest point in the contiguous United States.

“One of the highlights of the program for me,” says Heinz. “And not only the climb itself, but the collaborative nature of people across the program. Everyone got really excited about helping each other achieve this goal, all the while raising money for charities that everyone is passionate about.”

Base camp

An avid climber and skier, Heinz quickly found in the Foster MBA Program a large cohort of fellow outdoor enthusiasts. He also became involved in the MBA Challenge 4 Charity—the year-long competition among west coast business schools to provide the most financial and volunteer support to local non-profits. It occurred to him that a Rainier climb could make a potent fundraiser for the Foster School’s C4C beneficiaries.

Somewhat to his surprise, this idea was met with enormous interest.

Working around the rigors of the MBA curriculum, Heinz designed an ambitious but manageable training regimen to prepare the mostly novice climbers for a technical, high-altitude glacier climb. They began in January. Casual group runs led to thigh-busting slogs up nearby peaks. Mountaineering workshops led to advanced expeditions on the lower flanks of Rainier and neighboring Cascade peaks, including Adams and Sahale.

Climb on

For ascendant MBA types, it was a chance of a lifetime.

“I am an outdoor-loving person,” says Amy Widner, a second-year MBA who joined last year’s summit team. “But I’d never done anything like this before. The technique and equipment was a lot to get my head around. But Scott was great at leading the charge.”

That charge—both years—was a great success. Eleven Foster MBAs safely reached Rainier’s summit in July of 2011 and eight in August of 2012, with many others participating in various legs of the preparation. The climbers raised a two-year total of $13,000 to support Boys & Girls Clubs of King County and Special Olympics of Washington.

And, true to their generation, they chronicled the experience in a blog, a photographic storyboard, and even a music video (soundtrack provided by the 2011 Foster house band, Death Spiral).

The Foster fabric

A passion for the natural world—and its challenges—is etched in the Foster DNA. “When we ask students during admissions week what they want to do for fun, it’s incredible,” says Dan Poston, assistant dean for masters programs. “Hiking. Kayaking. Mountain climbing. Almost every response has a common theme. Something about coming to the Northwest. When we have a break, we get on our gear and go outside.”

These high-altitude expeditions took the “Rainier Factor” literally. But pushing individual limits was not the only positive outcome. Poston sees much of the program’s core curriculum put to practice in the process, including planning, preparation, financing, promotion, collaboration and leadership.

He also sees a defining trait of the Foster MBA Program: initiative.

“We’re one of the few schools that ask people, before they come, how they plan to get involved,” Poston says. “If they don’t find an organization or activity they’re interested in, we expect that they form it. We’re looking for people who have that kind of motivation.”

That DIY element is a point of pride for Heinz, who graduated in June to a position creating marketing analytic processes with Ecova, the Portland-based energy and sustainability management firm.

“A lot of MBA programs offer outdoor leadership courses,” he says. “But most of them are professionally guided where you tie into a rope and they carry you up. What do you learn from that? Ours is a much richer experience. Everybody has to develop the skills, take ownership of the process, and rely on each other—take what we learn in the classroom and put it to work in an environment that really puts it to the test.”

View more pictures from the Rainier climb
Read an account of the MBAs’ adventures in mountain climbing
Learn more about the Foster School’s involvement in the MBA Challenge for Charity.

The Rainier Factor

MBA students at Mt. Rainier
Foster MBAs climb Seattle’s iconic volcano for challenge, charity and camaraderie

You’ve seen the posters. Taut bands of rugged mountaineers, clad in Gore-tex armor, inch their way up frozen alpine landscapes as beautiful as they are forbidding—captioned with inspirational sentiments on such corporate virtues as leadership, collaboration, passion or persistence.

Some MBAs at the University of Washington Foster School of Business are learning that mountain climbing is more than a metaphor.

The past two summers, Scott Heinz (MBA 2012) has guided classmates of varying climbing experience on revealing expeditions to the thickly glaciated summit of Mount Rainier, the highest point in the contiguous United States.

“One of the highlights of the program for me,” says Heinz. “And not only the climb itself, but the collaborative nature of people across the program. Everyone got really excited about helping each other achieve this goal, all the while raising money for charities that everyone is passionate about.”

Base camp

An avid climber and skier, Heinz quickly found in the Foster MBA Program a large cohort of fellow outdoor enthusiasts. He also became involved in the MBA Challenge 4 Charity—the year-long competition among west coast business schools to provide the most financial and volunteer support to local non-profits. It occurred to him that a Rainier climb could make a potent fundraiser for the Foster School’s C4C beneficiaries.

Somewhat to his surprise, this idea was met with enormous interest.

Working around the rigors of the MBA curriculum, Heinz designed an ambitious but manageable training regimen to prepare the mostly novice climbers for a technical, high-altitude glacier climb. They began in January. Casual group runs led to thigh-busting slogs up nearby peaks. Mountaineering workshops led to advanced expeditions on the lower flanks of Rainier and neighboring Cascade peaks, including Adams and Sahale.

Climb on

For ascendant MBA types, it was a chance of a lifetime.

“I am an outdoor-loving person,” says Amy Widner, a second-year MBA who joined last year’s summit team. “But I’d never done anything like this before. The technique and equipment was a lot to get my head around. But Scott was great at leading the charge.”

That charge—both years—was a great success. Eleven Foster MBAs safely reached Rainier’s summit in July of 2011 and eight in August of 2012, with many others participating in various legs of the preparation. The climbers raised a two-year total of $13,000 to support Boys & Girls Clubs of King County and Special Olympics of Washington.

And, true to their generation, they chronicled the experience in a blog, a photographic storyboard, and even a music video (soundtrack provided by the 2011 Foster house band, Death Spiral).

The Foster fabric

A passion for the natural world—and its challenges—is etched in the Foster DNA. “When we ask students during admissions week what they want to do for fun, it’s incredible,” says Dan Poston, assistant dean for masters programs. “Hiking. Kayaking. Mountain climbing. Almost every response has a common theme. Something about coming to the Northwest. When we have a break, we get on our gear and go outside.”

These high-altitude expeditions took the “Rainier Factor” literally. But pushing individual limits was not the only positive outcome. Poston sees much of the program’s core curriculum put to practice in the process, including planning, preparation, financing, promotion, collaboration and leadership.

He also sees a defining trait of the Foster MBA Program: initiative.

“We’re one of the few schools that ask people, before they come, how they plan to get involved,” Poston says. “If they don’t find an organization or activity they’re interested in, we expect that they form it. We’re looking for people who have that kind of motivation.”

That DIY element is a point of pride for Heinz, who graduated in June to a position creating marketing analytic processes with Ecova, the Portland-based energy and sustainability management firm.

“A lot of MBA programs offer outdoor leadership courses,” he says. “But most of them are professionally guided where you tie into a rope and they carry you up. What do you learn from that? Ours is a much richer experience. Everybody has to develop the skills, take ownership of the process, and rely on each other—take what we learn in the classroom and put it to work in an environment that really puts it to the test.”

Paradigm shifts and P4 Medicine

Dr. Leroy Hood, a pioneer in the systems approach to biology and medicine, spoke at UW Foster School in January 2013 about innovation, complexity, P4 Medicine—predictive, preventative, personalized, and participatory—and much more.

Dr. Hood has played a role in founding more than fourteen biotechnology companies, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Darwin, and The Accelerator and Integrated Diagnostics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Of the 6,000+ scientists world-wide who belong to one or more of these academies, Dr. Hood is one of only fifteen people accepted to all three. Additionally, Dr. Hood has published more than 700 peer reviewed articles and currently holds 36 patents.

In a career of dramatic innovation, Dr. Hood has seen a number of paradigm shifts. He identified four common traits. Each paradigm change:

  1. Fundamentally altered how, in his case, scientists think about biology and the practice of biology.
  2. Faced enormous initial skepticism and, in some cases, actual hostility because there were perceived threats to the traditional way of getting things done.
  3. Forced the creation of new organizational structures—the bureaucracy that comes from existing organizational structures hurts the ability to change the way you think about something.
  4. Required enormous risk taking.

Watch the video below for more highlights from his talk, including how the Human Genome Project transformed biology, implications of P4 Medicine, and his thoughts on the future of systems biology.

Dr. Leroy Hood from Foster School of Business on Vimeo.

Leroy Hood 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.

Can vending machines be innovative? Definitely.

Paul DavisPaul Davis, CEO of Coinstar, spoke at the Foster School of Business’s Leaders to Legends Breakfast Series in November 2012. His talk focused on how Coinstar has reinvented itself to become a leader in the automated retail space—otherwise known as kiosks—through innovation.

One of the largest and best-known parts of Coinstar’s business is Redbox, the popular automated movie DVD kiosk business. Redbox comprises more than 80 percent of Coinstar’s revenue. Redbox’s business model centers on value, simplicity and convenience, and it’s been highly successful. It’s a $2 billion business and there are over 42,000 Redbox kiosks in the U.S.

In addition to Redbox, Coinstar is involved in eight other companies. These companies, like Redbox, embody value, simplicity, and convenience. A perfect example is Rubi, a new twist on vending machine coffee. Coinstar is launching this in partnership with Seattle’s Best Coffee, which is owned by Starbucks. Rubi utilizes French press technology and offers single cup brewing—beans are ground on the spot—that starts at $1 a cup. It offers affordable, high quality coffee from a vending machine.

Other Coinstar properties include Alula, which allows you to turn gift cards into cash at 70-85 percent of the value of the card, and Eco ATM, which allows you to get cash for your cell phone on the spot. They’re looking at expanding this to all electronics.

Coinstar looks for innovative opportunities in the automated retail space in myriad places. It holds big-idea competitions within the company, talks to venture capitalists and private equity firms, holds white-board competitions at universities, and utilizes a nation-wide innovator network.

Coinstar has also developed criteria and a process for finding new companies. It only considers businesses that can scale or expand outside of the U.S. and that are capable of $100 million in revenue. All of the ideas are also consumer-tested before being seriously pursued. And once an idea is vetted, Coinstar hires an entrepreneur with deep domain expertise to launch and grow the company. The entrepreneur is given four years to do this and his or her compensation is tied to the success of the company. This systematic approach is paying off. All but one of the ideas Coinstar has pursued have succeeded; industry standard is typically a 25 percent success rate.

Coinstar has been steadily rising on Fortune’s “Fastest-Growing Companies” list for the past few years. Despite critics, they are successfully reinventing—or rather inventing—the automated retail space. Look for Coinstar products in all kinds of kiosks near you.

Since giving this talk, Paul Davis announced he will retire from Coinstar. Scott Di Valerio, currently CFO of Coinstar, will become CEO in early April.

Paul Davis 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.

Foster finance workshop explores the ABCs of HFTs

Guest post by Jonathan Brogaard, an Assistant Professor of Finance at the Foster School

Jonathan BrogaardIs high frequency trading good or bad for financial markets? In January, the Foster School Department of Finance and Business Economics hosted a high-level summit to discuss how the increasing automation of financial markets is affecting investors, market volatility and order execution.

The discussion brought together Foster finance faculty and senior executives from local investment firms.

As an early investigator of this emerging topic in finance, I was asked to present the leading academic findings.

First, a bit of definition. High frequency trading (or HFT) is the fastest subset of computer-based algorithmic trading. HFTs act either as market makers or exploit inefficiencies in the market. They buy and sell constantly, hold very little inventory at any given time, and end each day with zero positions. In short, they run a volume business, picking up fractions of a penny over and over and over again. This leads to regular—and sometimes extravagant—profitability.

But HFTs are shrouded in mystery. Little is known about these firms and their algorithms that dominate market trading. HFTs are obtuse and generally unregulated. And they have been linked to scary events such as the flash crash of May 6, 2010.

A small group of academics, including myself, study the effect of HFTs on market quality—how well markets operate. The consensus of our findings is that, on average, HFTs are improving the quality of markets. That is, they are adding to price discovery (making prices more informative), increasing liquidity (making more shares available to be bought and sold), and decreasing spreads (the price difference between what a buyer and a seller will pay).

But what are traditional investors experiencing in the markets? Our workshop guests voiced a variety of opinions on HFTs, and shared experiences that will help me and other researchers fine-tune our measurements to better reflect the realities of an increasingly computerized market.

We certainly share their concerns about the lack of understanding around high frequency trading. We have much to learn. Do HFTs increase or decrease the risk of flash crashes? What is their presence doing to investor confidence? Are they beneficial in the market for smaller stocks?

We tend to fear what we don’t know. But high frequency trading is certainly here to stay. So we’re working diligently to shed light on this powerful new force in the financial markets.