All posts by Ellen Pepin

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

From concrete bunker to startup hub

CondonHallSince 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.

$120,000 awarded to student-led startups

JonesPresentation2014_ZGirls2
Z Girls co-presidents Libby Ludlow and Jilyne Higgins present their progress to a panel of judges

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.

  • PolyDropPolyDrop 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.
  • PureBluePure 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.
  • ZGirlsZ 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!)
  • StudentRNDStudentRND 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.
  • LuckyStepsLuckySteps, 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.

NeuroVentures: the emerging neuro-economy

NeuroVentures_AstrocyteOn 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.

NeuroVentures is offered starting in Winter Quarter 2014.

Top four takeaways from Entrepreneur Week 2013

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.

Kristen Hamilton, Kelsye Nelson, Dan Price
Kristen Hamilton, Kelsye Nelson, Dan Price

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.”

Christina Lomasney, CEO of Modumetal
Christina Lomasney, CEO of Modumetal

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.

Emerald City Beer canned lager
Emerald City Beer canned lager

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.

 To see videos from EntreWeek 2013 visit the UW Entrepreneur Week page on our website.

The who, what, why, and Howe of Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle
Impact HUB Seattle

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.

Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe
Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe

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.

WCRS: an incubator for novel ideas

paccar interior for WCRSFor entrepreneurs, collaboration can be key to innovation. The same is true for doctoral students and scholars in entrepreneurship. Faculty and graduate students from across the country and overseas met in Seattle September 4-6 for the 11th annual West Coast Research Symposium (WCRS) to do just that: collaborate. “The WCRS started as a simple idea to connect faculty and doctoral students passionate about technology-based entrepreneurship on the West Coast of the United States,” says UW professor Suresh Kotha. “It’s wonderful to see how it’s evolved into a premiere conference.”

Hosted by the UW Foster School of Business and presented jointly by the University of Washington, Stanford, Oregon, University of Southern California, and UC Irvine, the WCRS is an opportunity for researchers to share, discuss, and build upon the latest ideas in the world of technology-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The WCRS is an incubator for novel ideas that challenge received wisdom and offer valuable lessons to anyone who lives or wants to live in the world of technology entrepreneurship,” says USC professor Nandini Rajagopalan.  Stanford professor Kathy Eisenhardt, co-director of Stanford Technology Ventures, agrees: “This conference brings together scholars from major universities to share their latest insights. It’s cross-university collaboration at its best.”

Many of the 21 papers presented at this year’s conference focused new attention on topics ubiquitous to entrepreneurship: identifying and evaluating start-up opportunities, intellectual property and patent wars, navigating relationships with boards and investors.  Others addressed themes unique to specific demographics: technology choices in the solar photovoltaic industry, venture capital funding of Asian-led ventures, trends in the video game industry. “The WCRS gives us a chance to test drive new ideas, present our work in progress, draw the field’s boundaries, and shape its future trajectory,” says University of Oregon professor Alan Meyer.

A central component of the WCRS is a day-long workshop for doctoral students. WCRS faculty recognize the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship as key drivers in national economies, and encourage current PhD candidates to pursue research in this field. Students who attend the doctoral consortium leave having further developed their areas of interest and built relationships that last throughout their careers. “The relationships formed at the WCRS are often enduring in nature,” says Foster School associate professor Emily Cox Pahnke. “In fact, many doctoral students find themselves working with WCRS faculty on future research.”

So fresh and so green

evergreens
Ryan Suddendorf, Hunter Brooks, Todd Fishman

Evergreens Salads has a sense of humor. Each item on the menu has a name that will make you laugh out loud (or at least smirk). One might order, for example, the “Pear-ly Legal” (Asian pears, caramelized onions, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese over romaine and baby spinach), “Dice-Dice Baby” (romaine, roasted turkey, salami, garbanzo beans, basil, cherry tomatoes, jack cheese), or “The Cobbsby Show” (a new take on a traditional Cobb). Evergreens t-shirts carry slogans like “kale me maybe” or “biggest bowls in town.”   This new “salad experience” located in the heart of downtown Seattle is all about fun, but don’t let the antics fool you.  Founders Todd Fishman and Hunter Brooks mean business, and they’ve done their due diligence to make sure this salad start-up succeeds.

After graduating from the UW, Fishman and Brooks both headed east to experience life in corporate Manhattan. It was there that the childhood friends reconnected, bonding over their shared history and love of salad bars. Yes, salad bars. Seems odd at first, but we’re not talking Old Country Buffet here. The East Coast boasts gourmet salad restaurants so popular there are lines around the block.  It was while waiting in one of these lines, remembers Brooks, that the guys said to each other, “This would be killer in Seattle.”

An idea was born and the time was right. “We’re both really entrepreneurial,” says Brooks.  “We’d both been in New York for a few years. We were both ready to move on from our corporate roles and head back home.” So the two friends got down to work – fast. “We spit-balled the idea last August [2012],” Brooks recalls, “quit our jobs in September, moved home in November, signed a lease in May, and now we’re having our soft open on Friday.” (That’s Friday, August 16, just a year from when their initial concept, for anyone who’s counting.)

Fishman, who’d competed in the UW Business Plan Competition in 2009 with Nanocel, took on the task of writing the business plan.  By the time Brooks and Fishman moved west in November and teamed up with restaurant manager Ryan Suddendorf, (another UW alum), they had an impressive business plan and were ready to pitch to investors. “We raised money in about three months,” says Fishman.

One of Evergreens’ major investors is Kurt Dammeier of Sugar Mountain Capital, Seattle’s Pasta & Company, Beecher’s Cheese, and other successful restaurant ventures. “He has opened a lot of doors for us,” says Fishman. “He believes in our concept, and thanks to him, we’re getting better pricing, and real estate opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had.” Dammeier has been a great resource for the Evergreens team, but he’s not the only one. “I’d gone through several coaching rounds in the Business Plan Competition,” recalls Fishman, “and seen how much you can gain from mentors and advisors.” So Fishman and Brooks met with as many mentors as they could – 225 to be exact. “We’ve reached out to people, asked questions, and surrounded ourselves with people who are smart and successful,” says Brooks.

They’ve put that advice to use, making sure they have a strong business from the very beginning. “Lots of early-stage entrepreneurs don’t know how to come up with a model, stay on budget, and watch every dollar,” says Fishman. “The restaurant business is expensive, and has a high failure rate. You have to know what you’re doing.”

In the end, Evergreens Salads aims to be a restaurant people will want to come back to. “We’re catering to people who work in downtown Seattle.  They sit at a desk all day and they take maybe 30 minutes for lunch, and that’s sacred time,” says Brooks.  “The big takeaway,” says Fishman, “is that Evergreens is a great place for people to get a delicious, healthy meal, and have fun while they’re at it.”

7 teams accepted to the 2013 Jones Milestones / Foster Accelerator

PolyDrop
Olga Hrechka and Heather Milligan, PolyDrop

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.

You’ve probably seen some Accelerator alumni in the news: Strideline, Stockbox Grocers, Cadence Biomedical, PatientStream, Microryza, JoeyBra, to name a few.

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.