For the past three years, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones Milestones / Foster Accelerator has helped student-led start-ups transition from idea to reality with milestone-based frameworks, coaching from Seattle’s top entrepreneurs and investors, and up to $25,000 in follow-on funding.
2013 marks the Accelerator’s fourth year, and it’s shaping up to be a good one. After a competitive application process, seven teams were accepted into the 2013 Accelerator. Over the next six months these teams will take advantage of mentoring and resources to develop their technologies, get their product to market, raise early-stage funding, and move a few steps closer to what we know they can become. We’re looking forward to adding them to our list of success stories!
2013 Jones Milestone/Foster Accelerator Teams:
LuckySteps LuckySteps is a mobile game app that rewards corporate employees for exercising more and improves their employer’s bottom line.
PolyDrop, LLC Grand Prize Winner, UW Environmental Innovation Challenge 2013
Finalist Prize, UW Business Plan Competition 2013 PolyDrop has created a conductive polymer additive for paints, primers and coatings that is lighter, more affordable, longer lasting, and has better adhesion than other products on the market.
Project Wedge Project Wedge is a plug-in-and-play projector for tablet devices, smart phones, and other electronic devices that have HDMI video-out capabilities.
Pure Blue Technologies Grand Prize Winner, UW Business Plan Competition 2013
Second Place Prize, UW Environmental Innovation Challenge 2013 Pure Blue Technologies innovates low-cost, efficient, and environmentally friendly water treatment solutions for the oil & gas industry.
StudentRND StudentRND creates the next generation of technologists by inspiring students to work on tech projects in their spare time.
Torch Illumination Torch Illumination is a soy candle company on a mission to produce eco-friendly candles that support social and environmental causes.
Z Girls Second Place Prize, UW Business Plan Competition 2013
Z Girls measurably improves girls’ participation rates in sports by teaching young female athletes mental & emotional skills through coaching & camps.
Guest post by Claire Koerner, co-founder of nomON and Foster School class of 2014 nomON is a randomized food delivery app. Claire and the rest of the nomON team competed in the 2013 UW Business Plan Competition and made it into the Sweet 16 round. In this guest post, Claire reflects on the BPC experience and lessons learned.
nomON’s Business Plan Competition (BPC) journey drew to a close on May 23 at the Awards Dinner amid friends, mentors, and fans. After two months of hard work, we were all very eager to reach the culmination of the event, and be able to look back at all we have learned along the way. At the beginning of the BPC, we had a 7 page executive summary that was absolutely gorgeous (thanks to Tarryn!) but with some major holes. Our financials were complete estimates, we had yet to sort out credit card processing, and much of our plan was built upon assumptions. After advancing to the investment round, we had the chance to perfect our 2 minute pitches for judges, create nomON swag, and start raising hype about the brand. But it was when we advanced to the Sweet 16 (yay!!) that the learning really began: we met with multiple coaches and mentors – thank you Sanjay Kumar, Craig Sherman, Emer Dooley, Charles Seybold and several others along the way- who helped us find and fill the holes in our business. nomON went from being a quirky mobile app cobbled together at Startup Weekend to a real business with well thought out financial projections (you should see the spreadsheets), a solid partnership with ordr.in, and an entirely new user interface. What a roller coaster! Although we didn’t advance to the Final Four, nomON is now armed with a full 15 page business plan, an investor slide deck, and most of all, important insights and truths about our business. Thank you to the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and everyone who helped us during this process. We are excited to move forward with the business, continue learning and improving, and most of all…bring nomON to you soon!
Top 5 things we learned:
Businesses are hard- the to do list keeps growing, no matter how many things you check off
Pitch to everyone- you never know who is going to have a random genius insight
All it takes to keep a designer happy is free-flowing white chocolate mochas with extra whip
Practice makes perfect
Businesses are fun- the deeper you go, the more you learn, and the more you love your team
The nomON team: Claire Koerner – Business Administration (Marketing) Stephanie Halamek – BA (Finance) Tarryn Marcus – BA (Entrepreneurship) Evan Cohen – Informatics William Voit – Electrical Engineering
May 23, 2013 – Seattle’s Bell Harbor buzzed with energy as a record $68,220 in seed funding was awarded to winners of the 2013 UW Business Plan Competition.
Over 250 Judges, coaches, and team members gathered at the 16th annual Business Plan Competition Awards Dinner. After a celebration of Artie and Sue Buerk’s $5.2 million naming gift for the Center, Kabir Shahani, CEO of Appature, gave a funny and heartfelt keynote speech, offering these words of wisdom: “Entrepreneurship is a platform for your life, and that platform lets you do anything you want to do. If you want to change the world, you can do it. The only question is ‘how many times over?’”
Shahani’s words were taken to heart, especially by the winning teams, who will be using their seed funding to move their business a few steps closer to reality.
The UW Business Plan Competition is produced by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business.
$25,000 Grand Prize – Pure Blue Technologies (UW) Fossil fuel production generates 882 billion gallons of contaminated “produced water” per year in the US alone. On average, for every barrel of oil extracted in the US, 8 barrels of contaminated water are extracted to the surface. Pure Blue Technologies has developed a contaminated water treatment system that uses visible light photo disinfection technology to produce disinfected water for beneficial reuse.
Pure Blue Technologies won second place at this year’s UW Environmental Innovation Challenge.
Team:Jaffer Alali, MS Environmental Engineering; Adam Greenberg, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship; Michael Lee, MS Mechanical Engineering; Alan Luo, PhD Physics; Sep Makhous, PhD Electrical Engineering; Ryan Vogel, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship; Ian Tan, BA Finance; Nicholas Wang, BA Chemical Engineering
$13,220 Second Place Prize – Z Girls (UW) Studies show that adolescent girls who participate in sports are more self-confident, get better grades, are less likely to engage in at-risk behaviors, and are more likely to go to college. Unfortunately, by age 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Z Girls has developed a sports-based curriculum that gives girls ages 11-14 the opportunity to develop skills like goal-setting, positive self-image, and healthy nutrition habits through team programs and summer camps.
Final Round Judge Steve Singh, CEO of Concur, remarked, “Z Girls is an inspiring business lead by some amazing founders that could be doing anything in life. Incredible.”
Team: Libby Ludlow, JD and Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate; Jacob Dudek; Jilyne Higgins
$5,000 Finalist Prize – Poly Drop (UW)
Conductive coating is used to move electrostatic charge across a surface (like the surface of an aircraft), so that it does not accumulate and interfere with electronic equipment or cause sparks that can lead to fire. PolyDrop has created a conductive polymer additive for paints, primers and coatings that is lighter, more affordable, longer lasting, and has better adhesion than other products on the market.
Team: Michele Chaffee, MBA; Olga Hrechka, BS Chemical Engineering; Heather Milligan, BS Chemical Engineering
$5,000 Finalist Prize – NIA Wheel (SPU) NIA Wheel found that 5,596,000 people in the US are paralyzed. 360,000 of those are quadriplegic – confined to a wheelchair with very limited control over their mobility. The NIA (Neurological Impulse Actuator) wheelchair is activated and controlled by the brain function of the user, eliminating the disconnect between mental capability and physical disability of quadriplegics and others who have lost mobility.
Team: Sergey Kisel, BS Electrical Engineering; Clarence Rieu, BS Electrical Engineering; Aryn Schatz, BA Business Administration; Jessica Way, BA Economics
Best Idea Prizes
$2,500 Best Technology Idea – PolyDrop (UW) PolyDrop offers conductive polymer additives for paints, primers and coatings with a significantly lower level of particle loading. Integration of PolyDrop into current production lines of existing formulations is simple and dramatically improves usage lifetime, adhesion and mechanical properties of your product. Team: Michele Chaffee, MBA; Olga Hrechka, BS Chemical Engineering; Heather Milligan, BS Chemical Engineering
$2,500 Best Service/Retail Idea – Z Girls (UW) Z Girlsmeasurably improves girls’ participation rates in sports by teaching young female athletes skills like positive self-talk, goal-setting, and body image through coaching and camps. Team: Libby Ludlow, JD Law; Jacob Dudek; Jilyne Higgins
$2,500 Best Sustainable Advantage – Pure Blue Technologies (UW) Pure Blue Technologiesis developing a novel industrial water treatment solution that’s more efficient at a lower cost. Team: Jaffer Alali, MS Environmental Engineering; Adam Greenberg, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship; Michael Lee, MS Mechanical Engineering; Alan Luo, PhD Physics; Sep Makhous, PhD Electrical Engineering; Ryan Vogel, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship; Ian Tan, BA Finance; Nicholas Wang, BA Chemical Engineering
$2,500 Best Innovation Idea – InsuLenz (UW) InsuLenz is developing a “smart” polymer contact lens to provide a bio-responsive and needle-free insulin delivery platform for diabetics. Team: Nick Au, PhD Medicinal Chemistry; Karen Eaton, PhD Bioengineering; Caleb Gerig, MBA; Craig McNary, MBA; Mohammed Minhaj, MBA; Renuka Ramanathan, PhD Bioengineering
$2,500 Best Consumer Product Idea – iHome3D (UW) iHome3Dis a mobile app that allows realtors to create a virtual tour and floor plan of a property, in minutes. Team: Nelson Haung, MBA; Aditya Sankar, PhD Computer Science/Engineering
$2,500 Best Cleantech Idea – Biomethane (BGI/WWU/UW) Biomethanecreates greenhouse-gas-negative vehicle fuel from dairy waste. Team: Jessica Anundson, MBA; Branden Audet, MA Policy Studies; Kathlyn Kinney, MBA; Colby Ochsner, MBA
$5,000 AARP Prize for low-income senior service – NIA Wheel (SPU) NIA Wheelproduces and sells a brain wave controlled power wheelchair.Team: Sergey Kisel, BS Electrical Engineering; Clarence Rieu, BS Electrical Engineering; Aryn Schatz, BA Business; Jessica Way, BA Economics
After an initial screening round, 36 teams were chosen to pitch their start-up ideas to over 230 judges (entrepreneurs, investors, alumni and community supporters) at the BPC Investment Round. The teams that received the highest investments of “Buerk Center Dollars” earned a spot in the Sweet 16.
These 16 teams have spent the last few weeks editing their business plans, honing their pitches, and learning from some of Seattle’s top lawyers, investors, and entrepreneurs.
On May 23, each team will make a 15-minute investor pitch to a panel of 7 judges. The 4 teams with the best investor pitches will be selected to advance to the Final Round, where they will compete to win a grand prize of $25,000.
Good luck to the Sweet 16, and stay tuned for the results!
Biomethane (BGI) Biomethane creates greenhouse-gas-negative vehicle fuel from dairy waste.
Cell Focus (UW) Cell Focus will produce a revolutionary device that turns a cell phone camera into a microscope.
Elemental Hotels (UW)
Welcome to the next generation of Hotels, Elemental Hotels: Minimalistic micro hotel rooms with smart technology and superior design, at $65/Night.
iHome3D (UW) iHome3D is a mobile app that allows realtors to create a virtual tour and floor plan of a property, in minutes.
InsuLenz is developing a “smart” polymer contact lens to provide a bio-responsive and needle-free insulin delivery platform for diabetics.
MakeSpace is the Kinkos of 3D printing. The company is opening its pilot location in Seattle delivering rapid prototyping and services to architectures and industrial designers.
NIA Wheel (SPU) NIA Wheel produces and sells a brain wave controlled power wheelchair.
nomON is a random delivery meal ordering app, like shuffle for dinner.
PolyDrop offers conductive polymer additives for paints, primers and coatings with a significantly lower level of particle loading. Integration of PolyDrop into current production lines of existing formulations is simple and dramatically improves usage lifetime, adhesion and mechanical properties of your product.
Pure Blue Technologies (UW) Pure Blue Technologies is developing a novel industrial water treatment solution that’s more efficient at a lower cost.
ShunTek (UW, Johns Hopkins University)
ShunTek has produced a medical device, ShunTube, that provides a minimally invasive and cost-effective way to minimize blood loss in inferior vena cava trauma by stanching blood flow and simultaneously maintaining venous return; ShunTube also has applications in treating IVC tumors and Liver Cancer.
Sound THC (Seattle U)
Sound THC will produce cannabis candies in the newly legal recreational marijuana market.
Torch Illumination Co.(UW)
Torch Illumination is a candle company with a mission: for every two candles sold, a solar light will be delivered to an individual living without electricity.
TriboTEX is commercializing PhD research to repair industrial machinery during normal operation using nanotechnology.
Vetna (UW) Vetna brings portable and automated DNA-based diagnostic capabilities to veterinary clinics which could not previously afford the space, capital and training investments.
Z Girls (UW)
Z Girls measurably improves girls’ participation rates in sports by teaching young female athletes skills like positive self-talk, goal-setting, and body image through coaching and camps.
Follow the UW Business Plan Competition on Twitter: #UWBPC2013
On April 4, twenty student teams from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest pitched their innovations at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge. Now in its fifth year, the UW EIC challenges students to develop prototypes that solve today’s biggest environmental problems. Teams address today’s energy, urban agriculture, recycling, built environment and water-related problems with novel solutions that have market potential. Each year, five teams are awarded prizes ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. Congratulations to this year’s winners:
$10,000 Grand Prize: PolyDrop (University of Washington)
PolyDrop manufactures additives that transform regular coatings (think paint) into conductive coatings that open up a world of opportunity for carbon fiber composites in transportation industries. The transportation industry is looking to move towards using light-weight carbon fiber materials to reduce fuel consumption and decrease carbon dioxide emissions. However, carbon fiber composites accumulate a static charge that will interfere with a vehicle’s sensitive electronics. PolyDrop solves this problem by providing a means to dissipate static electricity with a viable conductive technology.
The $10,000 Grand Prize was sponsored by the UW Center for Commercialization.
$5,000 Second Place Prize: Pure Blue Techologies (University of Washington)
One barrel of extracted or spilled oil generate an average of seven barrels of contaminated water, or produced water. Produced water must be disinfected to meet EPA regulations, even if it is just going to be disposed. In the U.S. alone, 353 billion gallons of highly contaminated produced water are treated and disposed each year – that’s enough water to fill Lake Washington 4 1/2 times! Pure Blue Technologies has developed a unique water disinfection technology that is safer, smaller, and more cost-effective than existing solutions.
The $5,000 Second Place Prize was sponsored by Puget Sound Energy.
Three $2,500 Honorable Mention Awards
Sunscroll (Western Washington University)
Sunscroll is a solar charged LED light and USB charging station.
EcoMembrane (University of Washington) EcoMembrane is developing a new technology for preventing scaling and fouling of desalination and wastewater treatment membranes using ultrasound.
Upcycle (University of Washington) Upcycle has an enhanced version of a bio-briquette maker that transforms bio-waste into fuel for cook stoves.
Guest post by Daniel Schwartz, Chair, UW Department of Chemical Engineering
When I think Cleantech, my mind goes straight to the triangular logo on my waste container at work: “reduce, reuse, recycle.” These three words are central to most enduring cleantech innovations, though sometimes in paradoxical ways. “Reduce” is the most prone to paradox, since reducing one thing generally happens by increasing another. Let’s explore this “reduce” paradox via two well-known examples in that space.
In recent years, Washington has done a good job of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Today, the average American emits 41% more greenhouse gas than the average Washingtonian (2012 State Energy Strategy report). We reduced our emissions by increasing our reliance on hydropower. Here’s where the “reduce” paradox comes in. Increases in hydropower have led to fewer salmon in our waters. Thinking long term, if we want to grow our economy and further reduce our emissions while avoiding consequences like this, we’ll need major innovations in the cost and performance of solar energy and grid-scale batteries. And we’ll need to make sure those innovations don’t lead to a depleted Earth.
The same “increase-to-reduce” paradox holds in transportation. Hybrid and all-electric cars reduce emissions by increasing efficiency. The 787 Dreamliner reduces its fuel use, in part, by adopting the “more electric-aircraft” approach. Innovations in transportation electrification are largely tied to electrochemical energy storage and conversion (batteries, super-capacitors, and fuel cells) as well as control systems that enable vehicle-scale “grids” to operate reliably on their own and when plugged into a utility’s grid. Transportation electrification is currently going through painful growing pains. Have no doubt, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in transportation electrification, but as transportation electrification increases, we need to use foresight to adapt our current electrical infrastructure, or we’ll break it.
My colleagues at the UW Institute for Molecular Engineering and Science are among the leaders charting a sustainable energy pathway that balances technical innovation with the economic and social dimensions of scalable energy. Students, too, are looking at the paradoxes – the potential Achilles heels of cleantech – and finding potential for enduring innovations. I am looking forward to seeing how students at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge apply their understanding of cleantech and “reduce, reuse, recycle” – paradoxes and all— to innovations that will improve our world.
Guest post by Matt Wastradowski, Communications & Media Editor, Alumni Relations, UW Alumni Association
Every year, Creating a Company, as the course is dubbed, becomes less a class than a crash course in entrepreneurship. Groups of eager students team up, form a company, apply for a $1,000-$2,000 loan from the Foster School of Business, and spend the next few months hawking their product or service to the wider world.
Past companies have sold goods ranging from Husky apparel to glass jars of cake mix; other companies have launched art galleries and driven students to the mountain passes for a day on the slopes.
At the heart of it all is lecturer John Castle, who has taught the class for the past 12 years – and who will retire at year’s end.
In 2001, Castle had stepped down as CEO from Cantametrix, a music software company he helped found, when a neighbor and former UW professor approached him about inheriting the Creating a Company course. With more than 40 years of business acumen, Castle didn’t lack experience: Before joining the UW, he had served as CEO of Hamilton-Thorn, a medical electronics and diagnostics company; cofounded Seragen, a biotechnology company; and was a partner in Washington Biotechnology Funding, a seed venture capital fund specializing in medical technologies.
Since then, he’s drawn on that extensive experience as would-be CEOS have created and developed dozens of companies. Castle’s only rule in approving companies and dispersing loans is “Do no harm,” meaning that students can’t, say, promote underage drinking by selling shot glasses to fraternities and sororities on campus. (This actually happened.)
When the class ends, students return any profits to the Foster School and can buy their company for $1 to keep it going. Few companies have outlived their academic years, but Castle knows the experience will remain long after grades are posted. “Whether or not they learn how to do it well, they will learn whether or not they want to start their own business.” Castle said. “This is as realistic of an experience of entrepreneurship as we can make it.”
Adina Mangubat (UW BS in psychology, 2009), CEO of Spiral Genetics, has “change the world” in her DNA, and the world is taking notice. In the past two years, Mangubat has been interviewed by news outlets like Xconomy and GeekWire, and featured on Forbes’ list of the top 30 under 30 in science and technology. Why all the attention? Spiral Genetics is using sophisticated algorithms, distributed computing, and a cloud-based framework to change the way DNA is analyzed.
In the most basic terms, there are two parts to processing DNA. First, DNA is extracted from blood or tissue and put into a sequencer that chops up and reads the DNA, resulting in millions of raw reads, “essentially text files of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts,” explains Mangubat. Next, these millions of text files are organized, analyzed, and compared to a normal DNA sequence to find unexpected variants. Researchers use these variants to identify gene mutations that are the cause of everything from color blindness to cancer.
Mangubat and her cofounders, CSO Becky Drees (UC Berkeley PhD in Molecular & Cellular Biology, 1995 and UW Certificate in Biotechnology Project Management, 2008) and CTO Jeremy Bruestle, have developed a platform that significantly speeds up the analysis process. Spiral Genetics can analyze in hours what has previously taken biologists days to complete using complicated open source software. “As far as I know,” Mangubat says, “we’re the fastest in the world. We can process raw reads down to a list of annotated DNA variants in three hours for a human genome.” This is especially significant as DNA sequencing gets faster and faster, and biologists are unable to keep up with the resulting mountains of analysis-ready data. Spiral Genetics is also highly accurate and scalable, able to detect genetic variations that most analyses might miss. “We’ve far ahead of the curve in our ability to handle datasets,” states Mangubat.
Another thing that sets Spiral Genetics apart is that its software is designed to analyze DNA for multiple species. As Xconomy recently pointed out, while similar companies are focused specifically on the human genome, SpiralGenetics also analyzes genomes for animals and plants, which could have implications in agricultural research and development.
Mangubat didn’t set out to become a leader in DNA analysis. Just four years ago, she was a senior who simply knew that she liked being an entrepreneur (she had been involved in two startups by that time), so she registered for Professor Alan Leong’s Technology Entrepreneurship class. There she met Drees, who was interested in starting a genetic analysis company.
Drees and Mangubat joined forces and pitched Spiral Genetics as a consumer-genetics service in the 2009 Business Plan Competition, but soon realized they were late to that party and needed a new model. Mangubat took the pivot in stride. In a moment of inspiration, the team (including Bruestle) decided to bet on the fact that the research community would soon need software that could keep up with the increased speed of DNA sequencing, and Spiral Genetics was reborn.
Three years later, their bet is paying off. In early March, Spiral Genetics announced $3 million in financing from venture firm DFJ, have begun to scale significantly. “We’re in the process of essentially doubling the size of our team,” says Mangubat. The company currently has eight employees, but plans to double in size in the near future, adding more developers and a sales team, as demand increases. “The explosive growth of the market is driving our business,” she explains. “We’re about to get much bigger very quickly, which is exciting.”
As for changing the world, Mangubat is confident. “Long term,” she says, “my goal is to make the process of figuring out what raw sequence data means as easy and as fast as possible, and we are seriously getting there.” In the meantime, Spiral Genetics is already making its mark. “We’re working with groups that are doing pediatric cancer diagnosis – you can’t get much more meaningful than that.”
We’re all familiar with for-profit businesses, focused on the sales of a product or service, and motivated by value creation and financial return. We also know nonprofit organizations, focused on public needs, a social mission, and global impact, and supported by charitable dollars. But there’s an emerging middle ground: social enterprise. A for-profit/nonprofit hybrid, social enterprises use market-based practices and the discipline of business to support efforts that benefit people and the planet.
“There is a space in society for a social safety net,” says Drew Tulchin, founder of Social Enterprise Associates, a management consulting firm that helps organizations raise the capital they need to achieve their social and environmental goals. Traditionally, this space has been the domain of the nonprofit sector, but as need continues to increase, there is not enough philanthropic money to support the growing nonprofit marketplace. Social enterprises avoid this problem by forgoing a donation-only model in favor of market-based efforts to sell products and services that earn income. “It’s a pretty basic economic proposition,” explains Tulchin. “Where can a mission driven entity find more money to do the things it needs to do if donations aren’t enough? The answer is in risk capital.”
Social Enterprise Associates helps entrepreneurs of for-profits and nonprofit entities become game ready to attract investment. Tulchin says that while social impact is attractive to many investors, mission-based organizations may be far more accustomed to appealing for donations and lack the business skills needed to secure capital. “It’s very important for organizations that are trying to ‘do well by doing good’ to actually do well,” he explains. “Take the discipline of business, of a well-run organization, and do that first. Once those elements are in place, investors are more likely to see a social enterprise as investment-worthy.”
When Tulchin entered the MBA Program at the UW Business School in 1998, he’d never heard the term “social enterprise.” All he knew was that he had a goal—to make the nonprofit model work better—and he believed in using the power of business to achieve it. “I came in trying to solve this puzzle,” he says, “and the University of Washington was a fantastic place to do it.” Tulchin learned from accomplished leaders in Seattle’s growing social entrepreneurship community (including Paul Shoemaker of Social Venture Partners and Gary Mulhair of Pioneer Human Services) that there was opportunity at the intersection of nonprofits and for-profits for mission driven businesses.
After business school and a brief stint with a Bluetooth start-up company, Tulchin focused his career on social enterprise. He joined Prisma Microfinance, where he co-wrote a Global Social Venture Competition award-winning business plan and raised $1.2 million in private equity to launch subsidiaries in Nicaragua and Honduras. He went on to work as a program officer and founder of the Capital Markets Group at the Grameen Foundation, and directed a U.S. microfinance organization in Washington DC before starting his own firm in the early 2000s. Social Enterprise Associates was incorporated in 2007.
Six years later, the company is a leader in social enterprise consulting, working with nonprofits, for-profits, foundations, and government entities throughout the U.S. and around the world. The firm’s recent consulting projects have including working with banks in Afghanistan, providing strategic planning for Native American housing organizations in New Mexico, and helping a mobile grocer bring healthy food to rural communities. Social Enterprise Associates was named a 2011 “Best For the World” Small Business by B Lab, which certifies businesses as “B Corporations” that meet standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Tulchin is perhaps most proud of having advised numerous social enterprises on raising the money needed to accomplish their missions. Most recently, the firm helped close $250,000 in debt for Sea2Table, a family-owned sustainably-caught fish distributor, and is securing $1 million for Florida-based Solar and Energy Loan Fund, supporting efficient home improvements. “Raising money for social entrepreneurs is fantastic,” says Tulchin. “It’s something I’m fortunate enough to wake up and do every day.”
Have you noticed that since you clicked that YouTube link for Nora the Piano Cat, you’ve been seeing significantly more online ads for pet food? Or that after you googled “cheap airline tickets,” every site you’ve visited seems to be advertising them? Or that once you bought 50 Shades of Gray, Amazon started suggesting products like . . . well, you get the idea.
Every day, online advertisers target internet users with ads for specific products and interests based on information they glean from our search data—the websites we visit, the amount of time we spend on a specific page, the links we click on, the content of our inboxes.
For most of us, this “behavioral targeting” feels like an invasion of privacy. According to Avniel Dravid (UW MBA 2007), cofounder of Enliken, a Seattle- and New York-based start-up that aims to give consumers control of their internet search data, it’s also inaccurate. Dravid explains that when you visit a website, that company can take what you’re browsing and sell the information to a third party. “Advertisers then buy that information and use it to advertise to you,” he says. But these advertisers can’t measure the accuracy of the search data they purchase, which is why they think you’re in the market for a blender, when really you just wanted to watch a Blendtec puree that iPhone 4s. As Dravid puts it, “You may think I like Nike shoes, but really I like Reeboks. I’m just looking at Nike shoes. It’s not great data. It’s almost garbage in, garbage out data.”
Enliken addresses this problem by giving consumers a way to inform advertisers of their preferences. As the company’s website states: “We believe a small amount of information shared willingly is worth more than a mountain of data gathered surreptitiously.”
Enliken’s model is fairly straightforward. By installing a free plugin, users can view the search data being collected about them, deciding which data they want to share with advertisers and which they want to keep private. In exchange for sharing that information, consumers will collect reward points, which they can use to pay for digital content from online retailers or publishers.
Enliken is free for consumers. Revenue will come from advertisers. Dravid explains advertisers want their online advertising to be more relevant, and he believes that advertisers will pay to receive quality data about their customers, straight from the source.
In the meantime, Enliken has already released its first product, Enliken Discover, built by Dravid and cofounder Marc Guldimann during a summer spent traveling around Europe. It’s a teaser as to what the company will offer once they’ve built partnerships with consumers, online retailers, and publishers. The two cofounders have also secured $250,000 in angel investments and plan to raise another $250,000, all to keep you safe from advertisers who target you with ads for the latest BMW, just because you bought some turtle wax for your Tercel.
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