Teams from around the world gathered for the 2011 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. Last night, Wello won the People’s Choice Award at the trade show, where more than 50 investors and the public heard about novel business ideas to solve global poverty.
People’s Choice winning company: Wello Team: Ross School of Business, University of Michigan Business idea: Using their WaterWheel, Wello provides affordable, clean water to rural India. The wheel is a tool to retrieve clean water without heavy lifting and can be used directly by families or employ people to work their way out of poverty by serving as water distributors.
Teams are still competing for grand prize at the UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. Later this week, we’ll announce finalist winning teams who will leave Seattle with seed money for their projects.
Wind power. Natural gas. Hydro power. Solar power. When Puget Sound Energy President Kimberly Harris spoke with University of Washington Foster School of Business alumni, students and faculty about clean energy recently, she was also speaking with her customers.
Puget Sound Energy is the 2nd largest owner and operator of wind power in the United States and the utility’s Green Power Program was named one of the US Department of Energy’s “top 10” renewable energy programs in the nation. The Washington-based company continues to look for new ways to address energy efficiency, smart grids and power Washington residents and businesses with heat and electricity. While offering a public service and being heavily regulated, Puget Sound Energy also operates like a business, focusing on customers, return on investment, return on energy, operations management and technology innovation.
What challenges and opportunities face our energy suppliers? How can we as consumers, communities and businesses contribute to clean energy and energy efficiency? What is the future of energy? Watch this 7-minute video of excerpts from Harris’ clean energy lecture.
Guest post by Ryan Kelley (UW international studies student) and Adrian Chu (UW engineering student)
Why is an international studies grad student engaged in social entrepreneurship?
I am a second year student at the University of Washington Jackson School of International Studies with a focus in political economy. Both politics and economics have developed to a point of interconnectivity that cannot be ignored, as political issues often are economic issues, with the reverse being true as well.
I see the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the UW Foster School of Business as a focal point where bold global contestants—each having a unique window to a concept as broad and penetrating as “poverty,” represent the vanguard of beneficial changes that can be made to the world. What about each team makes their project the most apropos to how they see poverty? Does this say something about where they are from? Does their solution have a regional impact or transferability beyond a region?
If questions such as these have the possibility of being answered, what this means to me, as it should to anyone currently in international studies, is that GSEC is a global lobby where the problems of the world are brought to light in the context of their possible solutions. What the contestants ultimately bring to the table will in some way be a representation of the future in a way that we have not seen before. I believe that that promise alone begs the attention of everyone.
Ryan Kelley is a UW international studies graduate student fluent in English, Japanese and Spanish who is serving as a 2011 GSEC ambassador to foreign teams who meet in Seattle to compete.
Why is an electrical engineering undergrad student engaged in social entrepreneurship?
Growing up, I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship. The concept of social entrepreneurship occurred to me a few years ago when I came across the paper entitled “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition,” by Sally Osberg and Roger Martin on the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the past few years, I have become increasing interested in entrepreneurial endeavors. I have been participating in a number of competitions offered by the UW Foster School of Business’ Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship: the Environmental Innovation Challenge, Business Plan Competition and the Science & Technology Showcase. Each of these activities taught me valuable lessons on the pathway to creating a successful business.
My own curiosity drew me further. Being environmentally friendly is one thing, but how can something be “green” and at the same time improve social welfare around the world?
My motivation to participate in the UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition was driven by the desire to apply my past professional and academic experiences in order to learn new things, meet new people and play a role in saving the world one step at a time. As an engineer, our primary occupation is to solve challenging problems. A typical business venture consists of identifying a problem and proposing a solution, while trying to maintain a profit. Social entrepreneurship is an amazing feat, where its success synergizes traditional principles of business and the ability to make a positive difference. Serving as the 2011 GSEC marketing co-chair and team ambassador for Sanergy, I am looking forward to seeing how an idea can transform into engineering design that can be developed into a product that will make a positive difference in the daily lives of people in developing countries.
Adrian Chu is a senior in electrical engineering at the University of Washington and the marketing co-chair and team ambassador for this year’s GSEC.
Guest post by Vance Roush, undergraduate student at the UW Foster School of Business
A couple years ago, as a sophomore in the UW Foster School of Business and Lavin Entrepreneurial Action Program, I was fortunate enough to interview Leonard Lavin when he visited the University of Washington. Mr. Lavin is a brilliant businessman, racehorse owner and most notably founder of Alberto-Culver Company which he recently sold to Unilever for $3.7 billion. From my interview with Mr. Lavin, I took away three key ideas that have driven my success in the business school and prepared me for my future career and entrepreneurial ventures: greatness can arise from obstacles and conflict, it’s what you have inside of you that matters, and be a risk-taker and pursue your passion.
That meeting with Mr. Lavin shaped my life, and because of that, I thought to myself, “How much more insight can be filtered to students, and how many more lives can be positively impacted if someone were able to capture entrepreneurs’ best insights and keys to success?” That was the inspiration for the Lavin Video Project and the “Entrepreneurship is…” video series. This video series will bridge the gap between the Seattle entrepreneurship network, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and the outside community. More specifically, our goal is to connect Lavin undergrad students to entrepreneurs in the local community in an engaging way to create meaningful relationships and tangible productions. The story behind the “Entrepreneurship is…” series is as follows:
Often times people can’t even spell the word “Entrepreneurship”, let alone fully grasp what it means. Lavin students quickly realize that there is not just one definition, but many different meanings. Our vision is to capture a wide array of perspectives on the topic by going out into the field and interacting with the business owners, serial entrepreneurs, VCs, and other thought leaders in the Seattle community in hopes that they will chime in with their thoughts, experiences, and wisdom.
The first interview in the series is with Michel Brotman, CIE’s Entrepreneur in Residence and a serial entrepreneur involved in Costco, Garden Botanica, Sweet Factory, Play Network and the Chocolate Box. Brotman believes that entrepreneurship is a very creative process and that it’s all about selling your story. He is emphatic when he states, “Entrepreneurship is art!”
The Lavin students will be unveiling other videos throughout the year with such influential local entrepreneurs as Lon McGowan of iClick, restaurateur Tom Douglas, Kay Smith-Blum of Butch Blum, and Rob Salkowitz, author of Young World Rising.We hope you follow our journey and are inspired to learn more about entrepreneurship, start your own endeavor, or become involved in the entrepreneurial scene!
Vance Roush is a senior information systems and marketing major in the UW’s Foster School of Business Honors Program. He is a Lavin student and serves as the president of the Foster School’s Business Economic Development Center. Vance plans to extend his entrepreneurial endeavors after graduation when he begins his career with Google in Mountain View, CA.
Look around any college campus today and you’ll find something arguably even more prolific than cell phones and iPods. Greek system T-shirts. And if you’re on the University of Washington campus, chances are those T-shirts are from a UW start-up, Kotis Design, a company that has recently made the Puget Sound Business Journal’s list of 100 Fastest Growing Washington Companies for the third year in a row.
As a freshman, Jeff Becker (BA 2003) started making T-shirts for his fraternity’s dances. “One day a light bulb went off,” he said. “No one was making T-shirts that anyone really liked. So my goal became to sell a T-shirt to every Greek student here.” During his junior year, Becker took a pivotal class—Creating a Company. “My advice for any student is to take this class. You learn from doing. You actually run a company and do what a real business does: work with other people, have disagreements, experience the exciting times together. That was the most positive experience for me.”
Becker competed in the Business Plan Competition three times while at the UW, making it to the semi-final Sweet 16 all three times. He first entered the competition with HuSKIbus, a collaboration with Stevens Pass, The Ram, and Helly Hansen, which he developed in the Creating a Company class. His second and third entries were Kotis Design. While he didn’t win, he did see tremendous value in competing. “It really pushes you to think about the process behind starting a company. You might have a great idea but don’t know where to begin, so [the competition] is good practice.”
Today, Kotis provides customers with everything from design services and online storefronts, to packaging and fulfillment services. Becker emphasizes that in addition to the quality of the products, it’s the overall customer experience that keeps campus organizations and businesses around the country coming back again and again. The strong focus on customers has lead to a growth rate of roughly 50% every year. As Becker explains it, “We’ve experienced solid, steady growth because we have great people who are hard working, efficient and forward-thinking.”
Family lore has it that Frank Dupar Sr. first arrived in Seattle broke in the early 1900s because a thief got to his money the night before while he was hitching a ride in a boxcar.
He was sitting on the sidewalk near the King Street Station with nowhere to go when a man approached him and asked, “What’s the matter, sonny?” Frank told his story, and the man gave him a dime and an upbeat prognosis: “This town is going to be good to you.”
“What an understatement,” said Adrienne Riley, Dupar’s granddaughter and president of the Dupar Foundation.
After his rough start in Seattle, Riley said in an interview at the Foster School’s 2010 Annual Scholarship Breakfast on Nov. 4, Dupar went on to own a plumbing company and then co-found what became Westin Hotels and Resorts as well as several other iconic and highly successful businesses.
The Dupars made a point of giving back to the community that played such an important role in their lives, contributing to important civic projects like the creation of the Seattle Center so the city could host the 1962 World’s Fair. They also felt strongly about contributing to education.
“Since he only went through the 8th grade, education was really important to him,” Riley said.
The Dupar Foundation was established in Frank Dupar Sr.’s name in 1958 and has been contributing to scholarships at the Foster School nearly since the foundation’s inception, Riley said. And, while she has attended the scholarship breakfast for nearly ten years, she said it never gets old.
“To me it is really meaningful to see kids who have a lot going for them and, because of the scholarship, they are able to attend college and do something with their lives,” she said.
This year the Scholarship Breakfast celebrated 338 Foster students receiving scholarships totaling more than $1.8 million.
Riley said she especially appreciates knowing more about the students who have received the Dupar Foundation’s scholarship. “It’s nice to touch your money,” she said.
“This morning I sat with a young man who, after he graduated college, went into the National Guard and went to Iraq where he was in charge of convoy security missions and now here he is in his first year of the MBA program,” she said. “It is inspiring.”
India is a country where women are widely undervalued—a bride is burned every two hours. And where, equally counterintuitive, far fewer women go into banking, so the pool of qualified females is smaller.
Our first visit was with top female executives at ICICI Bank in Mumbai, the country’s largest private bank. ICICI has been the training ground for most of the top women in Indian banking. Why? It grew rapidly beginning with India’s economic reforms in 1991, providing opportunities for women. It also paid less than other banks and so attracted proportionately fewer men than other banks.
“We don’t do anything special for women,” says CEO Chanda Kochhar. “But we are in a way special because we don’t have any biases. When it’s an employee, we go by the merit of the employee. When it’s an entrepreneur, we go by the merit of the entrepreneur.”
Women also work harder even in an organization of hard workers, explains Abonty Banerjee, general manager for ICICI’s global operations. “We work very long hours, typically 12 hours per day, six days per week. That is a function of our population. If you don’t do it, there are so many others to fill the job.” There is no daycare, though relatives often babysit. Women are generally expected to manage households and children regardless of career. “Women succeed because they work harder at home and at work.”
We also visited with one of ICICI’s prominent alums, Veena Mankar. Veena founded Swahaar (“self-support” in Hindi), a bank and finance organization dedicated to making tiny loans to Mumbai’s urban poor—especially women—and teaching them how to manage money.
Inspired by the plight of her own household help, Veena is determined to make a difference in the lives of poor women. The challenge, she says, is to change their mindsets, to convince them they are as deserving as men and that their daughters as well as sons should be educated. Once they realize this, their girls often go to college, marry later, delay childbearing and have healthier children, thus ensuring a better life for future generations and the community.
This is where it comes full circle. Highly-educated and affluent women in banking use their success to change the context for women at other levels of society. “It’s not just about giving a woman a loan. It’s about giving her a place in society and her family,” explains Veena.
“Do I take the job or start my own company?” It’s a tough decision but just the first of many decisions an entrepreneur will make during his or her career. And that’s the point of Emer Dooley‘s Entrepreneurial Decision-Making class: get used to it now because you’re going to spend your career making decisions—often with incomplete information and few data points.
Each week, graduate students hear first-hand from an entrepreneur who is grappling with or has just gone through the decision-making process on an issue from the start-up lifecycle, from generating an idea and writing a business plan to financing, growth, and a successful exit. Small teams of students are responsible for engaging the guest in discussion and digging into the hows and whys of the entrepreneur’s final decision.
Dooley, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at the UW Foster School of Business, has no problem getting leaders from Seattle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to share their experiences with her class. “We recently had Rich Barton, the founder of Expedia, come in and talk about his latest idea and he asked the students how they would generate viral traffic. Now one of the MBAs is working with him on the project,” she said. “I wanted to make this class interactive and more of a conversation where there’s real feedback about what’s happening. The ownership is on the students to make this a useful part of the class.”
Students also look at a variety of entrepreneurial models during the quarter, everything from franchising, to buying a company, to high-tech start-ups. Dooley tries to balance the types of companies that come into the class. “Right now Web 2.0 is huge in Seattle so we’re spending a little more time on those companies this quarter,” she said.
While helping students develop the tools and network they’ll find most valuable after they leave the university, Dooley also promotes the idea that there is no one set track or right answer for an entrepreneur. “It’s all about figuring out who you are and what makes you tick,” she said. “Some people start their companies right out of school but others may be better off joining a big company for a couple of years. Every entrepreneur is different.”
Figuring out who you are. Put that in the tough decision category.
In the food industry, bacon is the “it” food of the moment. And if industry awards and late night talk shows are any indication, Bakon Vodka may just be the “it” beverage of the year. Sven Liden (MBA 2004), co-founder of the parent company, Black Rock Spirits, says it all began on a camping trip in 2007 when a friend brought along 20 pounds of bacon. As the campfire conversation turned to infused liquors, they began to wonder if all that bacon could make a good drink. “The next weekend we bought 12 types of bacon and a bunch of different types of vodka and did all of these infusions in Mason jars in my kitchen,” he said.
The best infusion came from a mix of peppered bacon and potato vodka. After getting a positive response from friends who sampled the winning concoction, Liden and his business partners decided to test the product to the commercial market. In May 2009, after a year and a half of working through all of the liquor industry’s requirements and regulations, they produced 1,500 bottles of Bakon Vodka—enough, they figured, to last three or four months.
Posts about Bakon Vodka on Facebook and Twitter soon had the blogosphere buzzing. Within two weeks of its initial release, Conan O’Brien was sampling Bakon Vodka on his late night talk show. And those first 1,500 bottles were gone in no time. While many other small liquor companies struggle to get their products distributed in one or two states, distribution of Bakon Vodka has expanded from two states to 20 in just one year. Black Rock Spirits expects sales of the beverage to top $1 million in 2010 and was recently awarded a Gold Medal in the Beverage Testing Institute’s 2010 International Review of Spirits—a very prestigious award in the liquor industry.
Before entering the full-time MBA program at the University of Washington, Liden already had one start-up under his belt. “My background was in engineering and software development, but I felt that something was missing from my tool box. I wanted that knowledge of business,” he said. While at the UW, Liden participated in the 2004 Business Plan Competition with TeachTown, a company that provides educational software for children with autism. “I’ve been part of three start-ups now and that’s been really interesting because they are all so different,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think all entrepreneurs should try that, but the broad foundation I developed at the UW has allowed me to do that and succeed.”
The Twitter phenomenon will soon be immortalized in that most retro form of publishing: a book. Remember those? Arianna O’Dell, a UW entrepreneurship undergraduate, is hoping to capture the faces of one million Twitter users in a coffee table book called One Million Tweeps.
O’Dell and software developer Ludo Antonov launched the “One Million Tweeps” website in early October and have received close to 1,500 submissions to date. Twitter users, or “Tweeps” as they’re called, can upload their Twitter photo for free to a tile on the site that will be included in the book. Businesses and public figures are also encouraged to upload photos or advertisements at a cost of $5 per tile. Several marketing and social media firms have already signed on and staked out their spots in the book.
Inspiration for the project came from the “$1 Million Home Page,” a wildly successful website created by a student in the UK to fund his university education by selling ad space for $1/pixel. Similarly, O’Dell and Antonov will use any proceeds remaining after publishing their book to bootstrap their next start-up, “a business focused on making the web a more transparent and informed place.” But this unique project is as much social experiment as it is business venture. “Our goal with this book is also to create a time capsule of the state of social media today,” O’Dell said.
O’Dell is now talking with potential publishers to determine final pricing of the book as well as the layout and design. The pair hopes to reach the one million–tweep point by the end of the year. “We’re really excited about how well it’s all going. The Whidbey News Times and TechFlash.com just ran articles about the project, which was great,” said O’Dell. “Now we’re just focused on getting the word out.”