The annual UW Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC), now in its sixth year, challenges interdisciplinary student teams to define an environmental problem, develop a solution, produce a prototype, and create a business summary that demonstrates the commercial viability of their product, process or service.
23 teams were selected to compete in the 2014 UW EIC. Each of these teams proved that students have the potential to address our most pressing environmental needs—alternative fuels, recycling, solar power, water treatment—with novel solutions that have market potential. After pitching their innovations to a group of 170+ judges—investors, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and experts from across sectors—the six teams with the highest scores were awarded up to $10,000 in prize money. Congratulations to this year’s winners:
$10,000 Grand Prize
Korvata (University of Washington) Korvata has created a cutting edge alternative energy product that allows companies to mitigate their environmental impact by replacing the use of nitrous oxide as a whipped cream propellant. (sponsored by the UW Center for Commercialization)
$5,000 Second Place Prize and $5,000 Clean Energy Prize
NOVA Solar Window (Western Washington University)
NOVA Solar Window combines the power producing capabilities of a solar panel with the utility of a traditional window. The utilization of transparent solar energy technology allows solar windows to provide renewable energy where traditional solar panels cannot.
(sponsored by Puget Sound Energy the UW Clean Energy Institute)
$2,500 Honorable Mentions
Loopool (Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Seattle Central Community College, University of Washington)
Loopool is reinventing the garment industry business model by creating a closed-loop supply chain, transforming reclaimed cotton garments and textiles into high-quality, bio-based fiber. (sponsored by Starbucks)
Salon Solids (University of Washington)
Salon Solids reduces the amount of plastic waste and hazardous chemical consumption that occurs with most hair products. Its six-ingredient shampoo and conditioner comes in solid form, eliminating the need for the preservatives necessary for a product with water in it, and its packaging is recyclable, biodegradable and does not contain plastic, further reducing waste. (sponsored by Fenwick & West)
Ionometal Technologies (University of Washington)
Ionometal Technologies has created a metal plating technique that allows for precise metal-on-metal deposition which can be used to repair gold test boards. The Ionometal printer prints metal plates that are smaller than can be seen with the naked eye.
(sponsored by WRF Capital)
Check out what guests, judges, and teams had to say about the 2014 UW EIC on Twitter: #UWEIC2014
The U.S. Department of Energy recently held its fifth Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Innovation Summit—an annual event that brings together academics, entrepreneurs, innovators, and thought-leaders to discuss our most pressing energy issues, the technologies being developed to address them, and the market potential of innovative energy technologies.
A central message of the three-day summit was the importance of entrepreneurship. Keynote speakers like U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman stressed the importance of commercializing new technologies. Their message was clear: it’s one thing to develop a breakthrough technology. It’s another thing to turn that brilliant technology into something commercially viable. If you want to advance energy innovation and solve our energy crises, you have to think and act like an entrepreneur.
For the past five years, the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) has been delivering that same message to innovative and entrepreneurial students from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Each year, interdisciplinary student teams are challenged to define an environmental problem, develop a solution, produce a prototype, and create a business summary that demonstrates market potential. The quarter-long process culminates in a large, DemoDay-like event where a select group of teams pitch to a group of 150+ judges—investors, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and experts from across sectors. The top teams are awarded up to $10,000 in prize money, and everyone comes away with valuable feedback and experience to help them realize the market potential of their innovations.
The 23 teams selected for this year’s UW EIC run the gamut of clean technology and environmental innovation: Loopool is addressing waste in the garment industry by creating a closed-loop supply chain that transforms reclaimed cotton garments and textiles into high quality, bio-based fiber; NOVA Solar Window combines the power-producing capabilities of a solar panel with the utility of a traditional window, providing renewable energy where traditional solar panels cannot. Korvata, in response to the harmful environmental effects of greenhouse gas emissions, has created a mixture of proprietary gasses to replace the use of nitrous oxide as a whipped cream propellant.
For the next month, these competitors, along with 20 others, will refine their prototypes, perform market analyses, hone their pitches, and prepare to prove that their innovation has the potential to succeed in the marketplace—and transform our world.
Follow the progress of the 2014 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge:
Many students at the University of Washington are working on science and technology-based innovations that have potential for commercialization. The annual Science & Technology Showcase (co-hosted by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and SEBA) is a tradeshow-like event where students have the opportunity to share these innovations with an audience of fellow scientists and engineers, as well as to business students interested in working on the marketability of new technologies.
STS participants also have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges—Seattle-area entrepreneurs and investors—who give awards to the most commercially viable ideas, along with prizes for categories like “Best Poster” and “Most Enthusiastic Pitch.”
Congratulations to this year’s award winners:
$1,000 Grand Prize: Flu Finder
The Flu Finder is an inexpensive, easy-to-use, rapid and accurate flu test that operates similarly to a home pregnancy test, providing a yes/no answer from a swab of the patient’s nose.
$500 Second-Place Prize: ElectroMetal Solutions
ElectroMetal Solutions has developed a new approach to plating metals onto surfaces using metal ions dissolved in water—a technology that may be of use to industrial manufacturers who require precise applications of high-cost metal materials (think gold).
$300 Third-Place Prize: Find Nano FindNano has developed a rapid, simple, affordable and portable technology to assess the presence of nonparticles in liquid samples (e.g. blood, rivers), solid surfaces (e.g. soil, food), and textiles.
Best Poster: Terra Mizu TerraMizu’s goal is to design an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective clay-pipe irrigation device for use in developing nations.
Most Innovative: Seahorse Robotic
In order to more accurately develop oceanographic weather forecasting models there needs to be a higher density and quality of measurements supplied by observation platforms on the ocean’s surface. Seahorse Robotic oceanographic platform was created as part of an ongoing attempt to design energy-independent surface vehicles.
Most Enthusiasm: GO+OD
GO+OD is a process and program developed to encourage millenials—the most civic-minded age group—to “go + do good.”
Best Communicator: H2.O
H2.O is developing a patent-pending technology that uses water as a medium to convert ambient infared radiation energy into electricity.
Best Marketing Strategy: ElectroMetal Solutions
Sometimes a very simple idea can have a great impact. Case-in-point: Krochet Kids intl. is turning yarn and crochet hook into tools for social change.
When Kohl Crecelius, CEO of KKi, decided to enter his company in the UW Business Plan Competition in 2006, he wasn’t sure how his business model would be received. In short, KKi planned to pay Ugandan women a fair wage to crochet hats for sale in the United States, believing that the profits would fund KKi’s operations and the employment would provide women with the resources to rise out of poverty. Crecelius knew that KKi’s model was different than most companies in the BPC, and while mission-driven organizations in the competition were not unheard of, he wasn’t sure how the judges would react. “We half expected people to tell us we were crazy for trying to start a business in Africa,” he recalls. “We expected them to tell us we didn’t know what we were doing.”
As it turned out, he needn’t have worried. KKi was awarded the Best Social Innovation prize and received extremely positive feedback from judges. “The BPC was very affirming,” says Crecelius, explaining that it was encouraging to see KKi’s nonprofit business model embraced by experienced entrepreneurs. One judge’s feedback sticks with him to this day. “He told us our idea was lightning in a bottle,” he remembers.
Electrifying isn’t a bad way to describe KKi. The company has certainly set out to light the world on fire. A bit dramatic? Maybe. But it has already changed lives for the better, and developed into a successful brand to boot.
In 2007 Crecelius and his co-founders Stewart Ramsey and Travis Hartanov set up shop in Northern Uganda, home to thousands living in permanent refugee camps. They started small, teaching 10 Ugandan women how to crochet hats, then selling those hats online. It wasn’t long before things took off. Today KKi has expanded its presence in Uganda and opened a location in Peru. KKi hats are sold in Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Zumiez, and worn by everyone from trendy toddlers to A-list celebrities. KKi has been profiled by the New York Times, won a $500K grant from the American Giving Awards, and brought in over $1.5 million in product sales in 2012.
Much of this success can be attributed to the founders’ business backgrounds. “We look different than 99 out of 100 nonprofits,” says Crecelius. “In any given year, more than 80 percent of our revenue comes from the sale of product. We are very business minded, which I think lends to our ability to be successful in the long term.”
But Crecelius’ proudest accomplishments have little to do with revenue. They have to do with the organization’s social impact. KKi currently employs 160 women in Uganda and Peru—women who have experienced war, abuse, and the daily struggles of poverty. Women employed by KKi benefit from a reliable income, to be sure, but also from an extensive education curriculum and one-on-one mentoring from social workers. When their three years with KKi comes to an end, these women will have the skills and savings to continue their studies, buy a piece of land, or start their own business.
“The ultimate goal, says Crecelius, “is that these women will find careers and opportunities independent from KKi. We want to be the catalyst for people to realize their own dreams for the future.”
How does natural gas fracking contribute to air pollution? Which features of the urban landscape affect the abundance of bees and the consequent crop yield? Is it possible to prevent the transmission of the BRCA gene mutation? Until recently, scientists’ best hope of finding the answers to these questions was to apply for research grants—a time-consuming and often fruitless process. (The National Science Foundation only funds a quarter of the 40,000 grant proposals it receives each year.) Experiment, a crowdfunding platform for scientific research, is changing that.
Experiment (formerly Microryza) was co-founded by UW alumni Cindy Wu (BS, Biology, 2011), Denny Luan (BS, Biochemistry; BA, Economics, 2011), and Skander Mzali (MS, Aerospace Engineering, 2010). The three created the company in response to what Wu calls a “bottleneck” in science research funding—the majority of scientists spend more time on finding funding for research than the actual research itself. Its business model is simple. Similar to Kickstarter, researchers post projects in need of funding on Experiment’s platform and supporters donate to those projects. If a project doesn’t reach its fundraising goal, it goes unfunded, and the donors are not charged. If a project reaches its goal, scientists carry out their research, and share the results with their financial backers. As the website states, it’s “science for the people, by the people.”
Experiment was slow to gain traction. “Sometimes the best ideas look like really bad ideas,” says Wu. The team applied to the UW Business Plan Competition, but didn’t make it past the first round. They applied to Techstars with no success. They applied to 500 Startups and, while the accelerator said their idea was promising, it didn’t accept them. But they kept trying, improving their pitch with each application. “The application process taught us how to explain our start-up in a way that people could understand,” Wu explains.
That was key. In 2011 Experiment was accepted into the Buerk Center’s Jones + Foster Accelerator. Shortly thereafter they applied to Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator, one of the top accelerator programs in the country, and got in. The team hopped in a car, headed south to Palo Alto, and they’ve been full speed ahead ever since.
To date, Experiment has raised $1.23 million in funding from a number of Bay Area standouts like Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and Andreessen Horowitz, and grown to 6 employees. It has been featured in the Seattle Times, the Washington Times, and Nature, and its funding platform has made it possible for scientists to research everything from malaria, to addiction, to pet therapy. Since its April 2012 launch, the company has helped fund over 80 research projects at 50+ universities.
“The number of donations and repeat donors on the application are growing,” says Wu. “When people start to donate more money and the same people come back to donate time and time again, you know you have a real community and an exceptional product.”
Exceptional crowdfunding is only the tip of the iceberg. Experiment’s next challenge is helping scientists collaborate on projects, publish their research, and commercialize their discoveries.
If it sounds like Wu is in for a lifetime of work, she is. “I basically work 24 hours a day,” she says. Luckily, she doesn’t seem to mind. She and her team are dedicated to leading change in scientific research, and if things keep going their way, Experiment might just be the difference between a project that goes unfunded and research that changes the world.
Since 2003, Condon Hall, former home of the UW Law School, has sat half-empty, providing temporary overflow space for various departments. Soon, Condon Hall will become Startup Hall, a home-base for promising early-stage companies and the hub of what’s expected to be Seattle’s next hot startup district.
Startup Hall was the brainchild of a core committee of UW and entrepreneurial community leaders, including Paul Jenny, vice provost of the Office of Planning and Budget, and Chris DeVore, the director of Techstars and chair of the City of Seattle’s Economic Development Commission. It’s the first step in what will be a multi-year effort to transform the University District into a thriving entrepreneurial hub.
“It’s clear that this area is going to see major changes over the next 10+ years,” says DeVore, citing a recent economic study and the light rail build-out to the U-District that has stations slated to open in 2016 and 2021. The neighborhood’s anticipated improvements, along with its proximity to the UW, an institution buzzing with entrepreneurial energy, will make it a logical place for innovative businesses to put down roots.
The question has been, says DeVore, “what will it take to get these innovative, high-growth businesses to choose the U-District for their next office move?” The answer: Startup Hall. DeVore explains, “By beginning to shift early-stage startup activity to the neighborhood—with Startup Hall as the catalyst, but with the bigger goal of filling as much existing office space as possible with innovation-based companies—we’ll begin to integrate the university and the neighborhood with the innovation community.”
TechStars and UP Global, Startup Hall’s first anchor tenants, will share an atrium-like space on the north side of the building. Across the hall, an open co-working space will house up to 20 small, early-stage tech companies. The building will also have an office for UW programs, including the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, plus spaces for meeting, eating, and the occasional Ping-Pong match. The entire structure has been redesigned to facilitate creativity and collaboration. With any luck, Start-Up Hall will open the U-District to a flood of ideas and new ventures. Who knows? In a few years, students might pass by the next Google or Amazon on their way to campus.
The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones + Foster Accelerator is a TechStars-like program that helps student-led startups get off the ground.
This year, five teams completed the six-month accelerator program, identifying and meeting milestones with the guidance of top entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors from Seattle’s entrepreneurial community. From July 2013 to February 2014 they worked to build their teams, develop their services or technologies, get their products to market, and raise early-stage funding.
On February 4, the five teams made final presentations to a panel of judges and were awarded up to $25,000 in follow-on funding to pursue their next set of milestones.
PolyDrop manufactures additives that transform regular coatings (think paint) into conductive coatings that dissipate static electricity and prevent interference caused by electric current flow. PolyDrop has been awarded a Commercialization Gap Fund grant of $50,000 and a National Science Foundation STTR grant of $225,000, providing the funds necessary for 2014 operations and develop a prototype proving the viability of their product.
Pure Blue Technologies, a water treatment technology company that provides visible light photo disinfection and desalination technology, is currently finalizing a license with the UW Center for Commercialization. The company has negotiated lab space with Ondine biomedical and has a term sheet for up to $1.5 million in equity funding, which will give them 18 months of runway to cover additional research and development and get them to the pilot stage.
Z Girls educates female athletes ages 11-14 on the mental and emotional skills important in sports and life. The company has received a $100,000 convertible note, raised $50,000 to provide scholarships for girls who demonstrate need, and hired 27 program leaders (all college or pro-level female athletes). In the last six months 182 girls have gone through Z Girls’ Seattle-based programs. (Check out Z Girls’ promotional videos on their website!)
StudentRND runs programs aimed at educating students (middle-school through college) about programming and engineering. The nonprofit has created an advisory board, raised over $135,000 in sponsorships, and put together an operations plan that includes hosting 20 Code Days in Spring 2014.
LuckySteps, a wellness program for companies and their employees, has raised $30,000 in the past six months. The company is working with a UW Human Centered Design and Engineering group on a usability study and has run beta tests with four prospective clients in order to prove its business model and pricing structure. Lucky Steps plans to wow the judges in this year’s UW Business Plan Competition.
On Seattle’s First Hill, at the Virginia Mason Neuroscience Institute, a 70-year-old Lou Gehrig’s patient is “banking” her voice so that once the disease takes away her ability to speak she can use her eyes to prompt a computer system to speak for her. A few blocks away, University of Washington spinout Impel Neuropharma recently completed a successful human trial of a device that delivers drugs from the nose directly to the brain to treat central nervous system disorders. And across town, UW scientists have developed a way for people who use cochlear implants to process the sounds of musical melodies and notes.
Neuroscience is a rapidly developing cluster in Seattle, and the driving force behind “NeuroVentures,” a new entrepreneurship course that hopes to capitalize on advances in neuro-fields, from biotech and medicine to law and advocacy, and train entrepreneurs for the emerging neuro-economy. The course, taught by Sam Browd, attending neurosurgeon at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Harborview Medical Center, and faculty at the UW Medical Center, will teach graduate students in engineering, neuroscience, medicine, health sciences, business, and education how to take the technologies they’re developing in school and turn them into successful ventures.
“I’m incredibly excited to be the course director for NeuroVentures,” says Browd, who will be joined by an “all-star lineup of the who’s who in biomedical entrepreneurship from Seattle and around the country,”—guest speakers like Craig Sherman, partner at Wilson Sonsini, Michael Hite, CEO of Impel Neuropharma, and Lance Stewart, senior director of alliances at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. “Our goal is to provide a roadmap from idea to funded company,” Browd explains. Course lectures will cover every aspect of neuro-related entrepreneurship, from intellectual property and conflict of interest to marketing and competitive analysis.
But the class isn’t simply a lecture series. As any good entrepreneur knows, the way to gain experience is to start something. To that end, students from various disciplines will form teams and collaborate to develop their ideas, research the competition, develop a business model, and construct an executive summary of their neuro-related start-up. The experience could give these entrepreneurial students a leg up in the annual UW Business Plan Competition. It will also prepare them for real-world entrepreneurship. Equipped with the necessary skills, NeuroVentures students might just go on to form companies that address autism, Alzheimer’s, sports concussions, or PTSD.
Entrepreneur Week is the Buerk Center’s annual window to the world of entrepreneurship. Over the course of a week, we host events featuring Seattle’s high-profile thinkers, dreamers, innovators, and doers. Whether you’re a die-hard entrepreneur, interested in working for a start-up, or just entre-curious, this is your opportunity to meet and learn from venture capitalists, start-up CEOs, and serial entrepreneurs.
Since we started EntreWeek in 2007, guest speakers have provided us with more than a few kernels of wisdom, and this year was no exception. Kristen Hamilton, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Maveron, Chris Lewicki of Planetary Resources, and Christina Lomasney of Modumetal left audiences with a deeper understanding of entrepreneurship and the value of embracing innovation, change, growth, and failure.
While this year’s words of wisdom were plentiful, we’ve chosen a few favorites. Here are our Top Four Takeaways from EntreWeek 2013.
1. Fail early, fail cheap “Failure is learning,” said Kristen Hamilton, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Maveron, during Think Like a Start-up, EntreWeek’s panel focused on how entrepreneurs’ curiosity, creativity and fearlessness drive their start-up ideas. Hamilton, along with co-panelists Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, and Kelsye Nelson, CEO of Writer.ly, stressed the importance of allowing yourself to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and move on. “At the end of the day,” said Price, “you just have to take action and try things. You will fail, but your failure might take you to that next place where you can make an incrementally better failure.”
2. Get comfortable with a to-do list that’s never done Entrepreneurs never have enough time. Getting a start-up running involves back-to-back schedules, little time for extracurriculars, and minimal sleep. So how do you avoid the exhaustion, and the guilt of saying no to friends, family, and work-life balance? “I no longer say I’m too busy. Instead, I say it’s not a priority,” said Kelsye Nelson. “When you start a business, you have to let go of some things. You might not be able to have all the friendships or hobbies you want. It’s a choice.” Dan Price offered another solution – he’s figured out how to combine some of his to-do’s into one. “I want to exercise and I want to talk to a client,” he said, “so I ask some clients to go jogging with me.”
3. Know yourself and believe in your abilities EntreWeek’s Wonder Women panel featured three CEOs: Christina Lomasney of Modumetal, Adina Mangubat of Spiral Genetics, and Katie Thompson of Sigby. When asked how she managed to pursue her business idea despite criticism and fear of failure, Lomasney responded, “Have a vision for what you want to be. If you know what you’re trying to accomplish in your own life, it won’t matter if someone else comes along and tells you you’re not going to make it.” Thompson added, “I don’t think it’s fear of failure. I think it’s fear of judgement. If you can embrace the fact that you are going to be judged, you can look at every encounter and say, ‘what can I take from this’?” The point is clear: believe in yourself and your abilities, and let criticism be an opportunity for improvement, but never a force to knock you off your path to success.
4. Stand Out from the Crowd
To succeed, new businesses need to cut through the noise and make an impression in the market. So how does a start-up stand out? Jeff Shaffer, founder of Agave and Bluer denim, spoke during a presentation titled Designer Denim: Born in the USA. His company is dedicated to recycled and American-made denim products. “Gimmicks don’t have any lasting value,” he said, “but if you create social value for your brand, and you are true to those values, your message will resonate with a lot of people.” Rick Hewitt, CEO of Emerald City Brewing, chose to focus on niche craft beer product: canned lagers. Hewitt, who spoke during Off the Vine Ventures, a panel of wine, beer, and alcohol entrepreneurs, said, “Cans are new. It’s a segment nobody else is really playing in right now. We were the first in the state to offer lager in cans.” The message is clear: Be a little different, identify your niche, and you won’t get lost in the crowd.
Impact HUB Seattle makes a great first impression. It has that industrial chic thing down to a T: exposed brick, grand staircase, rustic wooden beams. There are Herman Miller chairs and 24” monitors at every desk, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, hot showers for bike commuters, and blazing fast internet, of course. But the HUB is more than just a pretty face. It’s a space where entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and innovative start-up companies work side by side with the shared goal of making the world a better place.
“That’s Mark,” says HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe, waving at a young man through the glass walls of a sleek conference room. “He’s the CEO of Moving World. It’s a for-profit start-up that connects professionals with vacation volunteer projects that match their skill sets.” He turns and gestures in the other direction. “Two offices down,” he continues, “is the Seattle Good Business Network. They promote the benefits of buying and thinking local.” The HUB is filled with start-ups and nonprofits like these – organizations committed to treating contribution to the common good with the same reverence as financial gain.
Howe’s fascination with entrepreneurship began in law school, when he and an MBA student were assigned to help entrepreneurs in underserved communities with their business plans and legal issues. “It turned out I enjoyed the business side more than the legal side,” says Howe. So after getting his law degree, he set out to build his entrepreneurial expertise and earn what he calls a “poor man’s MBA,” competing in the UW Business Plan Competition with Safety Innovation, a company that produced protective garments for hospitals.
As Howe became more confident of his start-up skills and his law firm found its niche serving impact entrepreneurs, he found himself spending more time helping clients with introductions to investors, writing business plans, and polishing pitch decks. He was passionate about the work, but it did not match the billable hour model of a law firm. Howe asked himself, “Is there a business model that allows me to do the work that I love doing?” His answer: Yes, start an incubator.
Howe went looking for inspiration and came across the global HUB network, an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs. Started in London in 2004, the HUB network had grown to about 40 outposts worldwide, and one had just opened in San Francisco. “I fell in love with the energy of the space,” says Howe, of his visit, “and thought, this is it. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I need to bring this to Seattle.”
Roughly a year later, HUB Seattle has 500 members who use the space to work on their start-ups, hold meetings and workshops, and share ideas with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. The HUB’s “everything under one roof” model means that members can help each other with just about every aspect of running a start-up, from accounting to web design. HUB Seattle has built partnerships with organizations like Social Venture Partners and Bainbridge Graduate Institute, aopens its space up for community events like Startup Weekend, film screenings, and Tech Meetups.
So what’s next for HUB Seattle? Howe is thinking globally. “The HUB is arguably the largest network of impact entrepreneurs in the world,” he says. He plans to develop a globally dispersed consulting network made up of HUB members who can share their talents, collaborate on ideas, and help each other change the world.
- Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.