Empowerment and perseverance defined the awards dinner of the 2018 University of Washington Business Plan Competition. A-Alpha Bio took home the $25,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Grand Prize —capping an incredible journey for a project that started in the lab and now moves closer to re-shaping part of the pharmaceutical industry. A-Alpha Bio developed an AlphaSeq technology which improves clinical trial success rates by helping companies fully characterize their drug candidates in the pre-clinical stage. In other words, their idea could eventually make drugs safer for everyone.
Student competitors dined alongside 200 of the top names in the Seattle startup ecosystem, including keynote speaker Amy Nelson. She launched The Riveter, a female-forward platform, workspace, and online community in 2017. Nelson’s speech earned a standing ovation and focused not just on her journey, but the need for female entrepreneurs and their male counterparts to “have the courage and conviction to take the lead” and create opportunity on an equal playing field. After the event, Nelson said “I watched dozens of new entrepreneurs—some as young as 21—share their ideas. This takes so much courage, so much conviction, so much bravery. I know I was in a room with people who will change the world.”
Judges felt this year’s field had some of the “highest upside” in recent memory. University of Washington-Bothell startup SclObo received the $10,000 Fran’s Chocolates Second Place Prize after impressing with their unique take on the gaming industry. SclObo aims to become the premium streetwear brand for gamers by fusing unique designs and collectibles with limited-run fashion. Globally, the gaming market is expected to top $138 billion this year with celebrities emerging across e-sports competitions and streaming platforms like Twitch.
BeeToxx won the $7,520 “Friends of the BPC” Third Place Prize. The Washington State University team developed a carbon-based microparticle solution that protects Honey Bee colonies exposed to harmful pesticides. Judges also awarded BeeToxx the $5,000 Wells Fargo “Cleantech/Environmental” Prize, which goes to ventures with products, services, or processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, while also dramatically reducing the use of natural resources. BeeToxx previously earned the $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation second place prize at the 2018 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC).
BioPots, fresh off its grand prize finish at the EIC, earned the $5,000 Fenwick & West Fourth Place Prize. The UW team hopes to disrupt the garden industry with their biodegradable planter pots made from biomass waste like spent beer grains. BioPots also won the $2,500 Smukowski Family “Best Sustainable Advantage” Prize, which goes to a venture that has incorporated best practices toward resource reduction while bolstering profitability and cost containment.
A-Alpha Bio also received the $2,500 Xinova “Best Idea for the Future” Prize, which highlights a “venture that has a long horizon but will be worth the wait.” The team credited the huge support by UW CoMotion and the Buerk Center for helping it reach this point. A-Alpha Bio successfully completed the Jones + Foster Accelerator earlier this year and won the $15,000 Hollomon Family Grand Prize at the 2018 Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge.
In the past 21 years, 4,943 student participants on 1,535 teams have entered the UW Business Plan Competition (BPC). Of that group, 167 teams have been awarded more than $1.3 million in prize money. More than a hundred of those BPC companies are still going strong today. More than 200 judges screened the 82 submissions in 2018 and chose 36 teams to advance to the Investment Round, where the Big Picture and Big Idea prizes were selected.
This year’s competing teams ran the gamut—everything from clean-tech to life sciences to a variety of fascinating new consumer products—and are made up of students from departments across the UW campus (Bioresource Science & Engineering, Pharmacology, Robotics, Political Science, Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Human-Centered Design & Engineering, and various MBA programs), and features students from UW Tacoma, UW Bothell, Washington State University, Central Washington University, Seattle Central College, Presidio Graduate School, and Seattle University (12 universities were represented in the initial 82 companies!).
Other prizes were awarded to the following teams:
Feros Freight Innovations from the University of Oregon won the $5,000 Glympse “Internet of Things” prize. Feros utilizes freight trailers to seamlessly integrate EV technologies into the trucking system, transforming the trailer into a value-creation asset that enables companies to move freight cheaper, faster, and cleaner. The “Internet of Things” prize recognizes a business venture that has incorporated new products or services that contribute to the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem.
Vicinity from UW won the $5,000 Mod Pizza “Social Impact” prize. Vicinity eliminates barriers to access and simplifies the rental process for public spaces. The Mod Pizza “Social Impact” prize recognizes a venture that “not only demonstrates the capacity to deliver financial performance, but also shows how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
Nanodropper from UW won the $2,500 Cambia Grove “Best Health/Healthcare Idea” prize. The Nanodropper is an affordable, universal eyedropper adaptor that decreases the volume of oversized eyedrops to reduce cost, waste, and side effects, ultimately increasing access to expensive prescription eye medications. The Cambia Grove “Best Health/Healthcare Idea” prize goes to a venture that offers new solutions or approaches to address health outcomes and/or improve the quality or efficiency of healthcare delivery.
Seattle Strong Coffee from UW won the $2,500 Accenture “Best Consumer Product Idea” prize. Seattle Strong creates smooth ready-to-drink craft cold brew coffee. With 3x more caffeine than traditionally brewed coffee, Seattle Strong still remains balanced enough to drink with no additives, creating a better kind of buzz. The Accenture “Best Consumer Product Idea” prize goes to a venture that offers a compelling new consumer product, focusing on a well-defined market.
Coinglomerate Mining from UW and North Seattle College won the $2,500 Perkins Coie “Best Innovation/Technology” Prize. The team performs research and development on cryptocurrency mining with profit-maximizing software, data analytics, and process improvements for industrial mining operations. The Perkins Coie “Best Innovation/Technology” prize is for a venture that has a new application for a current technology, a disruptive technology, or an idea that represents a substantial improvement in a product or process.
OLA Simple from UW won the $2,500 DLA Piper “Best Idea with Global Reach” prize. OLA Simple strives to be a global leader in cost-effective, rapid, point-of-care platform technologies to detect single nucleotide mutations in DNA or RNA and revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of acquired and inherited diseases. The DLA Piper “Best Idea with Global Reach” prize goes to a venture that has aspirations for acquiring customers around the world.
Yumso from UW and USC won the $2,500 eBay “Best Marketplace Idea” prize. Yumso is an online marketplace and delivery service provider which connects independent chefs and hungry customers, and also an incubator that offers supports on marketing, branding, financial and legal services to help those chefs to achieve success. The eBay “Best Marketplace Idea” prize goes to teams that create a commerce or payments platform for communities of buyers, sellers or businesses.