All posts by Ellen Pepin

Assistant Director, Communications and Marketing Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, UW Foster School of Business

Better batteries, recycled building materials, and smart diapers: Environmental Innovation Challenge 2015

EIC 2014 winner Korvata with Pam Tufts
EIC 2014 winner Korvata with Pam Tufts

How do you foster innovation to address pressing environmental issues? Get college students engaged! The Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge at the University of Washington taps into the passion, smarts, and motivation that  students have for solving environmental  problems.  Since its outset, the EIC has attracted 726 students (161 teams) and awarded over $180,000 in prize money.

EIC Banner 2015_541x138A record 40 student teams from colleges and universities across the pacific northwest applied to the this year’s Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge. Each team that applies must define an environmental problem, design a solution, and develop a prototype. This year 22 teams were selected to show their prototypes and pitch to 250+ judges at a demo-day event on April 2, 2015.

Meet the 22 teams competing in the 2015 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge:

Benchmark ECR
(University of Washington, Washington State University)

Benchmark Environmental is developing an affordable, easy to install, and low maintenance stormwater treatment system. The Benchmark ECR will enable more companies and municipalities to effectively treat every pollutant present in stormwater runoff.

Bettery
(University of Washington)

Bettery provides a better model for battery use: a reusable subscription service that gives consumers unlimited access to reusable batteries with a monthly subscription.

BrightBike
(University of Washington)

The BrightBike has a revolutionary set of features, including electric assist, cargo capacity,  a strong and lightweight composite frame, a rain cover, and a complete light system, that make it an irresistible alternative to driving.

Community Supported Bio
(BGI at Pinchot University)

Community Supported Bio (CSB) closes the loop for the farm-to-table movement by turning food waste into renewable biogoods: organic fertilizer & fuel. CSB helps decrease emissions and lower air & water pollution, all while improving soil fertility for farmers.

EcoStream
(University of Washington)

EcoStream builds awareness and lifelong habits to conserve our most valuable resource by helping people conserve water and change their usage habits in a fun and inexpensive way.

Estufa Bella Company
(Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University)

Estufa Bella Company designs and manufactures clean-burning, biochar-producing cook-stoves for use by an estimated 2.7 billion individuals who use traditional wood fires for household cooking and heating.

Extrusion Electronics
(University of Washington)

Extrusion Electronics is reimagining 3D printing with a conductive plastic filament, enabling makers to create and replicate simple electronics at home.

FireBee
(University of Washington)

FireBee is a portable thermoelectric generator that turns cooking fires into personal power stations,  creating an alternative energy source for people in countries that are otherwise off the grid.

Flexolar
(University of Washington)

Flexolar, a flexible and lightweight polymer-based solar cell, is an alternative to inorganic solar cells that are heavy, fragile, and costly to manufacture and install.

GeoPop CCS
(University of Washington)

GeoPop turns used plastic bottles collected from the trash  into affordable geocells for use in constructing retaining walls, stabilized slopes, platforms, stairs, and pathways in urban slums.

Helio
(University of Washington)

Helio manufactures portable solar panel chargers designed to generate enough power to charge laptops and other electronic accessories.Transmitting energy from the sun eliminates the need for extra batteries and reducing the toxic pollution associated with them.

Hook
(University of Washington)

Hook is a home automation hub that allows customers to convert existing electronics  to smart devices, decreasing energy consumption, improving home safety, and reducing the amount of electronics that are routinely discarded in landfills.

Illuminant Diagnostics
(University of Washington)

Illuminant Diagnostics has developed a biosensor empowered by nanotechnology that provides rapid, mobile bacteria detection without the need for cell cultures, traditional DNA testing, or isolation of disease-specific antibodies.

Ion Informatics
(University of Washington)

Ion Informatics is developing a proprietary technology that provides critical information to battery operators, optimizing asset utilization and prolonging the useful life of the battery. The end effect is a dramatic increase in value that can be extracted from each battery by enabling viable second use battery systems.

MarineSitu
(University of Washington)

MarineSitu provides environmental monitoring solutions that facilitate the sustainable development of marine renewable energy.

PowerNode
(University of Washington)

PowerNode is a web-based industrial energy monitoring system that enables users to monitor machine-specific power consumption.

Protium Innovations
(Washington State University)

Protium Innovations is developing a solid state hydrogen liquefaction device that is scalable and more energy efficient than current liquefaction technology.

Silicar9
(University of Washington)

Silicar9 is producing a new low-cost disposable protein purification system that uses more environmentally friendly materials than existing technology.

SmartyPants
(University of Washington)

SmartyPants is reinventing toilet training—and aims to prevent millions of diapers from ending up as a biohazard in landfills across the country—by predicting impending bowel events and alerts users to get to a toilet.

SwitchPoint Solutions
(Central Washington University)

SwitchPoint Solutions’ pilot product, the Solar Evaporative Air Conditioning Handler (SEARCH) is capable of achieving HVAC efficiency gains of over 40%, offering cost savings necessary to incentivize investment in renewable methods of heating and cooling.

Tape-It-Easy
(Seattle University, University of Washington)

Tape-It-Easy is increasing the adoption of water-efficient drip irrigation with a hand-driven, inexpensive tool that dispenses and secures drip tape for faster and easier installation.

TrashWall
(Washington State University)

TrashWall uses recycled materials scavenged from waste streams to build insulation panels that can be installed in rental units to reduce energy waste and increase cost-savings for renters.

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Storyform is shaking up online storytelling

Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, says you should never s do a startup just to do one. “There are much easier ways to become rich,” he says, “and everyone who starts a startup always says that they couldn’t have imagined how hard and painful it was going to be. You should only start a startup if you feel compelled by a particular problem and think starting a company is the best way to solve it.”

It was this advice that led Rylan Hawkins (BS 2009) to leave his job at Microsoft in the summer of 2014 and start his own company. “I believe in a better online reading experience, and I’ve decided to go after it,” says Hawkins, now the co-founder and CEO of Storyform, a framework that allows publishers and photographers to share their stories online in more captivating ways.

Storyform BannerHawkins and his co-founder, Luke Clum, believe that the current state of online reading—static content, complex designs, distracting layouts, relentless popups—diminishes the stories that authors are trying to tell. With Storyform, publishers can create “immersive narratives” on their own domains that truly engage their readers. They’ve done away with distracting sidebars and replaced scrolling canvasses with full-screen magazine-style pages that feature eye-catching layouts and interactive elements like video. They’ve also discarded traditional web page advertising in favor of ads that are sleeker and better integrated. “Not only will readers be engaged with beautiful story content,” says Hawkins, “they’ll also find the ads beautiful.”

storyform-ogThough Storyform is not even a year old, Hawkins is no stranger to startups. “I had three startup experiences in college,” he says, referring to VibeGlobe (BPC 2009), a platform to help nonprofits raise money from younger donors; Visual Schedule Finder, a program that allowed UW students to search for the perfect class schedule; and YourSports, a startup that is still thriving in the hands of CEO Chris McCoy (read about it below!). Hawkins reflects on each of his early startups as great learning experiences that he can apply to Storyform, and those lessons-learned seem to be paying off. Storyform currently has 1,900 registered publishers in countries around the world (a number that is growing about 10 percent a week) and they have logged over 17,000 hours of user engagement.

So what’s next on the road to Storyform’s success? “We’re still very early-stage, so we’re bootstrapped right now,” says Hawkins, “but we’re preparing for a first round, learning the fundraising space and meeting with everyone we can.” In the meantime, Hawkins and Clum will keep working on what got them into the startup life in the first place: transforming the way stories are told.

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YourSports: connecting the world online through sports

March Madness is coming, and athletes, coaches, and fans all over the country are gearing up for another exciting season—the sweat, the competition, the glory! But Chris McCoy (BA 2011) is excited for another reason. March Madness 2015 will mark the public beta launch of a startup effort seven years in the making. YourSports is a new sports networking platform that aims to change the way people connect through sports online.

“Sports is the ultimate connector,” says McCoy, who started YourSports during his senior year at the University of Washington. “It has an inherent ability to build relationships at all levels—high school softball teammates, 2010 Winter Olympics competitors, 12th fans—but until now these relationships haven’t been collected online in a centralized location.”

YourSports Graph BTCSure, you can find fellow fans or your college soccer teammates on Facebook or Linkedin, but there’s a lot of chatter on those social platforms, and only a small portion of it is about sports. There’s also many mainstream sports media websites, but those don’t offer the personalization that comes with social networking sites. McCoy is banking on the belief that sports communities want a personalized dedicated sports experience.

McCoy explains that social platforms connect people by interest. “Think of it this way,” he says, “Facebook was student directory-meets-social network. Linkedin is resume-meets-social network. YourSports does the same with sports data. We’ve taken the most comprehensive historical and geographical sports data on the planet and gathered it online in one place to unite teams, athletes, fans, and influencers from all levels, throughout history, and around the world.”

YourSports - chris and russell wilson
McCoy (right) with Russell Wilson

YourSports currently employs about 20 people—mostly engineers and data scientists—in 9 cities, working to build out a platform based on millions of pieces of local and national data from 100+ years of sports history. They have already created 500,000+ profiles of athletes, schools, and sports venues, raised $1.7 million in angel investment, and have seen a steady stream of people joining (“in the low thousands”) since launching their private beta in 2012. McCoy has also recruited a strong board of advisors, including ESPN.com senior baseball writer Jerry Crasnick and Ward Bullard, former head of sports at Google+. After YourSports’ public launch during March Madness, McCoy will continue to work on the next step: monetizing YourSports using a commerce model that connects users with places and products recommended by their favorite athletes. “If we get it right,” says McCoy, “YourSports will become one of the most interesting sports marketing and commerce platforms on the planet.”

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$160,000 awarded to student-led startups

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones + Foster Accelerator, now in its fifth year, helps student-led startups get off the ground. Companies accepted into this six-month program receive expert mentoring, a framework for defining measurable milestones, and the opportunity to earn equity-free follow-on funding.

This year, seven companies completed the six-month accelerator program. From July 2014 to February 2015, the teams worked with committees of Seattle-area investors and entrepreneurs to meet critical startup milestones—making product improvements, developing sales and marketing strategies, licensing intellectual property, raising capital.

On February 3, the seven teams made final presentations to a panel of judges and were awarded up to $25,000 in follow-on funding. $25,000 can represent three months of runway for an early-stage company, but we think it represents more than that. It represents our confidence in their potential–we can’t wait to watch these companies achieve startup success!

CardSwapr

CardSwapr_screenshotCardSwapr is a solution to the broken secondary gift card market. Since 2008, over $44 billion gift cards have gone unused. CardSwapr’s app allows users to quickly and conveniently trade an unwanted gift card for something they will use, or sell it for cash.
Team: Sam Tanner (UW Foster School), Bryan Gula (UW Informatics)
Awarded: $25,000

FDCARES

FDCares_screenshotOver the last 30 years, 911 calls for fire department emergency medical responses have increased by 400%. And as it turns out, only 60% of these calls are true emergencies. Sending firefighters and emergency vehicles to respond to non-emergency 911 calls is expensive for fire departments, and unnecessary emergency room visits are costly to insurers. FDCARES has developed an innovative response model that lowers costs by redirecting non-emergency calls to new tier of the fire department that has the capacity to stabilize patients in the home or transport them to a non-emergency care facility.
Team: Mitch Snyder (Battalion Chief, Kent Fire Department), Jimmy Webb (Captain, Kent Fire Department)
Awarded: $25,000

Korvata

Korvata_screenshotNitrous oxide (N2O) is the fourth most common greenhouse gas, and has 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This is a major problem for food and beverage retailers who use N2O cartridges to make whipped cream. Korvata has invented a patent-pending food-grade alternative that emits 50% less greenhouse gas without altering the deliciousness of the end product.
Team: Chris Metcalfe (UW Foster School MBA),  Soleil Kelley (UW Foster School MBA)
Awarded: $25,000

Lasting Smiles

LastingSmiles_screenshotLasting Smiles works to create lasting change in communities around the world. Lasting Smiles lip balm is created with organic, fair trade ingredients sourced from small-scale farmers in India, Peru, and Burkina Faso. Lasting Smiles ensures integrity and responsibility throughout the supply and manufacturing chain—no testing on animals, all pure & organic ingredients, and the highest commercially feasible post-consumer recycled packaging. The startup has formed a strategic partnership with Smile Train, the largest cleft lip and palate nonprofit in the world. Twenty-five cents of every lip balm this startup sells will go directly towards funding surgeries for children with cleft lips and palates.
Team: Zoe Mesnik-Greene (UW Foster School)
Awarded: $10,000

LINC Foods

LINC_screenshotOnly 3% of the food consumed in Spokane, WA is produced locally. Yet the demand for a robust local food system to supply restaurants and schools is high. LINC Foods is a Spokane, WA-based hub that connects local farms to institutional-scale markets by selling their fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, meats, cheeses, and eggs to large institutions (school districts, universities, hospitals), restaurants, and grocery stores.
Team: Beth Robinette (Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA), Joel Williamson (Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA)
Awarded: $25,000

Olykraut

OlyKraut_screenshotOlykraut combines local produce, original recipes, and “the magic of fermentation” to create delicious fermented vegetable products (think sauerkraut). The company has been producing and selling its products since 2008, and its popularity continues to grow. By producing this healthy food made with ingredients from farms in Western Washington, Olykraut is investing in the health of local people, local farms, and the local economy.
Team: Sash Sunday (Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA), Michelle Anderson (Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA), Domonique Juleon (Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA), Dorothy Mitchell (Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA)
Awarded: $25,000

Uphill Designs

Uphill_screenshotUphill Designs produces innovative and sustainable hiking equipment for outdoor enthusiasts. The startup’s trekking poles are made of bamboo—a renewable and low-cost material that is stronger and more flexible than aluminum—and the pole handles are made of post-consumer recycled cork. And in keeping with its commitment to sustainability, a percentage of Uphill Designs’ sales will go to the Pacific Crest Trail Associations and the communities where the company sources its materials.
Team: Daniel Sedlacek (UW MS Material Science & Engineering),  Mounica Sonikar (UW MS Material Science & Engineering), David DeBey (UW Foster School MBA)
Awarded: $25,000

Todd Fishman, Nathan Kaiser, and Katlin Jackson: marketing your startup

Startups are hard—identifying opportunity, developing a business plan, understanding legal issues, marketing your product. Luckily, you can learn a lot about navigating the startup world from entrepreneurs who’ve been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.

Resource Nights, presented during winter quarter by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, feature experts from the local entrepreneur community sharing their knowledge on various aspects of starting a business.

This week’s class, “Marketing your Startup,” featured Todd Fishman (Evergreens Salad), Nathan Kaiser (2bar Spirits), and Katlin Jackson (Haiti Babi). The three entrepreneurs shared their thoughts on identifying their startups’ uniqueness, developing marketing strategies, and establishing footholds in competitive environments.

Read some of our favorite advice and insights below, watch the entire class video here, and check back weekly for more Resource Nights coverage.

Nathan Kaiser on identifying your uniqueness:

2bar_6.2013_2“Branding is how you play the game and grow your business to wherever you want to take it,” says Kaiser, “and our brand is about legacy.” His company, 2bar Spirits, takes its name from the family ranch back in Texas—a story that is shared with every potential customer. While the brand is also known for being entirely handmade from local ingredients, Kaiser believes that 2bar “resonates in the consumer’s mind for the reasons that are important: legacy and celebration.”

Todd Fishman on communicating uniqueness:

static1.squarespace.com“We communicate our uniqueness through our people,” says Fishman, explaining that it’s his employees who share Evergeens’ distinctive qualities—a focus on health, organic and sustainable ingredients, giving back to the community—with customers. “When we are hiring, we look for people with heart—with the ability to communicate and care—over people with technical skills,” he says. “We pay more for better quality employees, and we don’t rush the hiring process.”

Katlin Jackson on messaging:

HaitiBabi_set+stone+teal“Figure out what the customer actually cares about,” says Jackson, whose company employs moms in Haiti to knit baby blankets that are sold in the United States. “If someone has just one second to learn about [Haiti Babi], what is it we want them to take away?” she asks. For Haiti Babi, she says, “It’s hope. We want them to understand that this is a hopeful product.”

Todd Fishman on preparation:

“Take every meeting, meet with everyone you can, and follow up,” says Fishman, when asked what advice he’d give to those just starting out. “ When Hunter [his cofounder] and I moved from New York back to Seattle, we met with 320 people in three months. That is ultimately how we’ve succeeded to where we are now.” He continued, speaking directly to the students in the audience, “You are at a University that has unlimited connections and networks. Tap into that!”

Alaska Airlines takes the Environmental Innovation Challenge to new heights

EIC Banner 2015_541x138

If you’ve taken an Alaska Airlines flight recently, you may have noticed some changes on board—in-flight recycling, drinks served in InCycle Cups, 100% recycled paper products in the restrooms. These changes represent the many steps the airline is taking to become a leader in sustainability by reducing the environmental impact of its services—lowering fuel emissions and energy use, cutting waste, and using fewer non-sustainable resources.

In addition to these efforts, Alaska Airlines has committed to a 10-year sponsorship of the Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) at the University of Washington, demonstrating its dedication to innovation that addresses the world’s most pressing environmental problems.

The EIC challenges interdisciplinary student teams to define an environmental problem, develop a solution, design and build a prototype, create a business plan that proves their solution has market potential, and pitch to a crowd of judges at a demo-day event. Since its inception, the EIC has attracted 726 students (161 teams) from Washington colleges and universities, distributed $188,585 in prototype funding, and awarded over $140,000 in prize money. Each year, 250+ professionals from Seattle’s environmental and entrepreneurial communities participate as judges, mentors, and coaches in this annual event.

Pam Tufts with EIC 2014 winner Korvata
Pam Tufts with EIC 2014 winner Korvata

“Receiving a 10-year commitment from Alaska Airlines is huge,” says Pam Tufts, assistant director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and manager of the Environmental Innovation Challenge. “It’s an acknowledgment that the EIC, now in its seventh year, is making significant contributions to innovation in clean technology and sustainability. The Alaska Airlines naming gift will provide long-term stability so that we can continue to expand the program and nurture cultivate cross-disciplinary environmental innovation for years to come.”

This year’s Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge will take place on April 2, 2015. Stay tuned—we can’t wait to introduce you to this year’s teams!

Want an idea of what’s to come? Meet last year’s winners.

Learn about another EIC sponsor.

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Terry Drayton and Adina Mangubat on business planning and risk

Buerk Center Resource Nights: Business Planning and Risk

Startups are hard—identifying opportunity, developing a business plan, understanding legal issues, marketing your product. Luckily, you can learn a lot about navigating the startup world from entrepreneurs who’ve been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.

Resource Nights, presented during winter quarter by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, feature experts from the local entrepreneur community sharing their knowledge on various aspects of starting a business.

Drayton_Storrage Adina (small)

This week’s class, “Business Planning and Risk,” featured Terry Drayton, founder of Storrage and Adina Mangubat, founder of Spiral Genetics. The two entrepreneurs shared their thoughts on startup relationships, managing risk, and entrepreneurial game plans.

Read some of our favorite advice and insights below, watch the entire class video here, and check back weekly for more Resource Nights coverage.

Business Plans

“The business plan should be a living document because the market is constantly shifting underneath you. You’ll work hard on a business plan, bring it out into the real world, and realize it’s not going to work. Starting a business is basically a never-ending game of pivoting,” says Mangubat, whose startup made three substantial pivots before landing where it is today.

“I’m a believer in the one-page business plan, says Drayton. “When I got my MBA back in the early 80’s, business plans were graded by the pound—100s of pages of crap.” But now, well into his entrepreneurial career, Drayton likes the idea of having to fit everything down on one page. “It forces you to be brutal with editing and only include the things that really matter,” he says.

Finding the Right Startup Partner(s)

“Finding the right startup partner is like choosing your significant other,” says Mangubat. “You don’t want just anybody. Just like in love, you have to be picky and patient, and wait until you find someone who resonates with what you’re trying to do—someone who you can trust and communicate with.”

Measuring Risk

“You can come up with 500 reasons not to do something, and by the time you’re done meeting with a list of venture capitalists and angel investors, they’ll have given you 500 more,” says Drayton. “Your job is to pay attention to the ones that keep you up at night.”

“Hundreds of people will tell you no,” says Mangubat. “They will tell you you’re too young, not qualified, or crazy. But if you are passionate about what you are doing and really believe you can do it, don’t listen to them, and just go for it.”

The Startup Game

“Think of how bad some [NFL] teams are,” says Drayton, while speaking on the importance of having a game plan. “They have the same amount of money as other teams, they can hire the same people, have the same amount of draft picks, but they’re just awful. It’s because they need a game plan. Imagine the Seahawks without a game plan. It would be inconceivable!”

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Chris DeVore and Matt Ehrlichman: “intro to entrepreneurship”

Startups are hard—identifying opportunity, developing a business plan, understanding legal issues, marketing your product. Luckily, you can learn a lot about navigating the startup world from entrepreneurs who’ve been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.

Resource Nights, presented by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, feature experts from the local entrepreneur community sharing their knowledge on various aspects of starting a business.

This week’s class, “Introduction to Entrepreneurship,” featured Chris DeVore of Techstars and Founder’s Co-op and Matt Ehrlichman of Porch.

Read some of our favorite advice and insights below, watch the entire class video here, and check back weekly for more Resource Nights coverage.

 

Chris DeVoreWho becomes an entrepreneur? These are the characteristics and “people patterns” that Chris DeVore believes typify true entrepreneurs.

  • Insatiable need to create
    “Entrepreneurs have an idea of a future they want to create, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make that idea take shape.”
  • Choose autonomy and control over status and money
    “The last thing in the world you should do if you want to make a lot of money is be an entrepreneur.”
  • Do not need a lot of external validation
    “Entrepreneurs don’t crave approval from the world in order to be functional in their work.”
  • Lofty standards for themselves and for others
    “Entrepreneurs hold themselves to a very high standard and are never satisfied with their work.”
  • High tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity
    “Entrepreneurs have to be ok with not knowing the answer for a long period of time.”
  • Impatient
    “Entrepreneurs tend to push harder, faster, and further than anyone else.”
  • Relentless
    “Good entrepreneurs don’t give up. They don’t take no for an answer.”

 

matt-ehrlichman-familyWhere do you begin? What factors go into deciding what your startup is going to be? Here are Matt Ehrlichman’s thoughts on identifying an opportunity for your startup.

  • Don’t worry about the idea
    “The idea is the least important thing. Identifying an opportunity, a market, a problem to solve—those are important.
  • Choose your market carefully
    “Pick a market where you’re not going to be constrained.”
  • Attack the pain
    “The safest and most consistent way to build a company is to identify real pain points and address real problems.”
  • Go with your passion
    “Find something that you are deeply passionate about. There are so many highs and lows in building a company. If you’re not deeply connected to what you’re trying to do, you’re going to burn out. You need that ‘why’ to sustain you when things get difficult.”
  • Play to your strengths
    “Find something that you are uniquely great at, so that you have a competitive advantage over everyone else in the world.”
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Environmental Innovation Challenge receives $150,000 Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation Grant

Seattle, WA—December 18, 2014

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business has received a $150,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation grant program in support of the 2015 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

In mid-December 2014, Members of the Buerk Center and Foster School community, including Dean Jim Jiambalvo and Buerk Center director Connie Bourassa-Shaw, met with representatives from Wells Fargo to accept the grant and share a few words on their mutual commitment to clean technology and the “green economy.”

The Environmental Innovation Challenge, now in its seventh year, provides a platform for students to explore the scalability of innovative and entrepreneurial solutions to environmental problems—a market that has grown exponentially in recent years.

“The focus on ‘green’ is exploding,” said Jiambalvo, noting dramatically increased efforts by large, established institutions to “green up” every aspect of what they do.

Marco Abbruzzese, Wells Fargo senior regional manager, agreed, saying, “We want to be a leader in clean technology and innovation because it’s the right thing to do, because the problems are so big, and because a positive impact on the environment also positively impacts our bottom line.” He went on to list some of Wells Fargo’s recent accomplishments, including granting over $3 million to 64 environmental programs. “We love what you are doing with the Environmental Innovation Challenge,” he said, “and we’re delighted to be able to support it.”

Wells Fargo Check Presentation 2015_4
$150,000 Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation grant presentation.
About the Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation Grant Program

The Wells Fargo Clean Technology and Innovation grant program funds clean technology incubator and accelerator programs, along with research and development projects involving universities and colleges. It supports building a framework for entrepreneurs seeking to provide scalable solutions in the low carbon economy.

About the Environmental Innovation Challenge

The Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) at the University of Washington sparks creative thinking, innovative approaches to problems of environmental significance, and encourages cross-disciplinary teams. EIC student teams define an environmental problem, develop the solution, build a prototype, and write a business summary that defines the market opportunity and potential for impact. The next challenge will take place on April 2, 2015.
Learn more about the EIC.

Tweet: Environmental Innovation Challenge @UW receives $150,000 grant from @WellsFargo http://ctt.ec/5ACfx+

Making the entrepreneurial leap: leaving the corporate world and diving into startup life

EntreLeap3_448x448On November 5, the founders of four hot Seattle-based startups gathered at the UW Foster School to discuss their experiences in leaving the corporate world and diving into startup life. John Gabbert (Pitchbook), Bryan Maletis (FatCork), Jane Park (Julep), and Tom Seery (RealSelf), spoke on making the decision to leave the security of a big company, the differences between corporate and startup work, and how important industry experience was before making the entrepreneurial leap. But some of the most fascinating advice of the evening applied not just to those making the corporate/startup switch, but to entrepreneurs in general. Here are some of our favorite answers to questions on matters of time, money, passion, and luck.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you? How many hours do you work, and when are you most productive?

John Gabbert:
“If you highlight 90 to 100 hours a week on a calendar, it looks pretty ridiculous, but that’s how much I worked in the early days, on specs, plans, and financials. But the key thing to know isn’t how many hours you work. It’s the fact that [the company] is always on your mind. When you wake up in the morning, when you’re in the shower . . . it’s an all-consuming thing. “

Tom Seery:
“I do a lot of work from about 8pm to midnight—that’s when I’m in power mode. My days are spent recruiting and networking. Networking is so important. I will always take a coffee meeting with someone who contacts me to say they are interested in founding a startup. I never say no, because I’ve been there, and I want to encourage people to network. If you can’t shamelessly reach out to and keep up with people who are important in this community, you might not be the right person to have your own startup.”

Q: Had you done any financial planning when you decided to quit your job?

Bryan Maletis:
“I bootstrapped everything. I was fortunate to have savings to do so. I kept having to put more and more of my savings into the company, and it got worrisome, but when I was putting in my money, I knew that failure was just not an option. I had to say, ‘this is going to work, because we’re putting all of our savings into it.’”

Jane Park:
“My parents owned a 7-Eleven when I was growing up, and we lived above it. I wasn’t use to a life of luxury, so I’ve always felt that money is something you can make, but it’s not what defines a life. There is definitely some freedom in that. I did have some savings from my former jobs, but I went through that pretty quickly. Once we reached a point where we were so big that I could not personally cover our burn rate, it was actually a relief. It was finally beyond my reach to help.”

Q: How passionate do you have to be to start your own company?

John:
“I think passion may be the most important thing. I’d put it up there with grit and determination, but I think passion is really the driving force. Thousands of people will tell you no, whether you’re raising money, trying to get people to buy your product, or convincing people your idea will work. If you’re not passionate, it’ll suck.”

Bryan:
For a founder of a company, passion is the most important thing. If I didn’t love champagne and love sharing the product with people, my job would be very hard and dull, and I wouldn’t have stuck it out during the first two years when I was making no money.

Tom:
“I’m actually not passionate about the cosmetic surgery market. But I am extraordinarily passionate about elements of it—what we’re doing for consumers, and the feedback we’re getting. And I am super passionate about my ‘hidden agenda,’ which is to change things about the world through reconstructive surgery. We support surgeons who travel around the world to perform surgery on children and adults who have eminently correctable problems. After surgery, these people can return to life as normal or begin to have a life. So I founded RealSelf thinking I was doing one thing, and discovered my purpose along the way. I’m passionate about making this world a better place.”

Jane:
“It doesn’t matter if your passion is for any particular market or product, but being an entrepreneur means you have to have passion for innovation and a belief that your company is doing something good for the world. That has to be at the core of what keeps you moving forward.”

Q: (from moderator Connie Bourassa-Shaw)
“College students have been taught their entire life that it pays off to be smart. You get in the University of Washington because you’re smart. Life goes your way because you’re smart. But entrepreneurs should never underestimate the power of luck. So, would you rather be lucky or smart?”

Bryan:
“I’d rather be lucky than smart. I believe I am lucky. When I met my wife, she pushed me into doing this. I still don’t have the smarts for it, but I believe that you should surround yourself with people that are smarter than you and better than you at different things, and I’ve been lucky to be able to do that.”

John:
“Lucky, and just smart enough.”

Tom:
“I adopted two children from orphanages in china, so I appreciate what it means to be born in a country where we have privilege and access to amazing resources. Three years ago I would have answered smart, but now I’m in the lucky category.”

Jane:
“I think I would have said smart, you can’t control luck, but I think what I hear everyone else expressing is a sense of gratitude, and I definitely have that. People laugh at me because I’ll say to employees as they arrive at work, ‘Thank you for coming back to work!’”