Business plan competitions are never just isolated, one-off events. Instead, not only do they help advance the participant innovations along their entrepreneurial paths, but such competitions also help identify overall trends and patterns. What we learn from watching changes in participation, the width and breadth of the ideas and the increasing professionalism of submissions over the years may also serve as an indication of where our economy is (or will be) heading and how prepared our emerging innovators are to address it.
As the University of Washington Foster School of Business’ 2012 Business Plan Competition gets underway, student co-chairs Alan Blickenstaff and Annie Koski-Karell (both MBA 2013) wrote a submissions review letter noting key developments. Letter excerpts:
The first submission I picked up from the daunting stack of papers in front of me described an innovative online service that would connect entrepreneurs seeking funding to would-be investors. Out of the gate, I knew I was in for a fun and inspiring time. Indeed, I was: the entries I reviewed ran the gamut from high-tech cooking tools to DIY veggie gardens in wooden boxes. Across the board, participants demonstrated a remarkably creative, savvy ability to pinpoint business opportunities among a myriad of industries. In addition to the plans addressing some of the more familiar sectors such as medicine and fashion, I was introduced to businesses in fields that I was completely unfamiliar with, including drone aircraft manufacturers and crowd-sourced charity funds. Before I knew it, the stack had disappeared. I came away brimming with excitement for this year’s competition, and more glad than ever for the privilege to be a part of it.
This year, 101 teams of students submitted their innovations, visions and start-ups to the Business Plan Competition. While most entrants classified their idea as a technology or consumer product, the ventures continue to blur the lines between industries. Current trends include a focus on food (15% of plans feature innovations to help you source, cook and enjoy your favorites), crowd-funding platforms, language learning tools, and creating social networks for motivational and educational purposes (such as getting in shape or learning to program). Additionally, 2012 sees environmental innovation infused throughout all categories with focuses on local, efficient and sustainable ideas. Not only does this year’s field represent a wide range of ideas, but the entrepreneurs are already getting their ventures off the ground; more than 25% of entrants have incorporated their venture, raising nearly $400K in combined seed capital and generating more than $120K of earned revenue thus far.
This year’s cohort of young entrepreneurs also represents an amazing range of northwest schools. Nine regional universities are represented with their innovations: Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Eastern Washington University, Evergreen State College, Gonzaga University, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, University of Washington, Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University. Additionally, several teams include partnerships across universities, including team members from UCLA, UC Davis, University of Montana, and University of Tokyo.
On April 19-20, 2012, the Oregon Native American Business & Entrepreneurial Network, otherwise known as ONABEN, will be hosting its 10th annual Trading at the River conference and tradeshow at the Embassy Suites Hotel near the Portland Airport. Native American enterprises from every sector and of every size will be gathering to learn, partner and promote their businesses.
Tom Hampson, ONABEN’s executive director, says that the focus of the Trading at the River conference is really about what he calls Indianpreneurship. He says, “The challenges facing Native American small business owners is a litany similar to any you would see for a small biz owner, such as insufficient capital, equity and debt caps, and a lack of markets, especially in rural areas with more limited markets.” Since ONABEN’s start in 1991, it has continued to help Native American businesses grow by providing information and technology so they can manage a business in the current environment. ONABEN provides these services in a way that takes into account cultural context. Hampson says it is, “how to marry traditional values with contemporary business principles. Our entrepreneurs are literally walking in two worlds.”
Today, ONABEN’s reach extends throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho. It has touched hundreds of Native American businesses in reservations and urban areas. In addition to offering business support and training, it partners with CRAFT3, a community development lender focused on providing technical assistance to nascent Native financial institutions and needed capital for business growth.
Hampson points out that trade flourished among the tribes before European contact. “Indians operated sustainable economies for over ten thousand years. We had elaborate monetary and bartering systems, but the web of commercial relations was disrupted by European contact, acts of war and genocide.” The system that replaced it values the accumulation of wealth by individuals above the overall wealth of the community.
Trading at the River bills itself as a celebration of the spirit of Native American innovation and a showcase for Native American enterprises of all shapes and sizes. Over a two day period, participants will engage in community discussions, workshops and symposia, as well as have an opportunity to gather at the Trading at the River marketplace of ideas, products and services.
ONABEN, and all those who participate in the Trading at the River conference, are focused on reestablishing a more inclusive definition of prosperity. “If one has access to resources and the support of community,” says Hampson, “commerce can proceed apace. Everyone can benefit.”
Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.
If our future will be driven by clean-tech innovation, universities are the laboratories for a green economy. University of Washington engineering and business teams won all five prizes at the 2012 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge, with 23 teams from 5 Pacific Northwest universities competing. Teams displayed prototypes and plans for clean-tech ventures that address market problems with forward-thinking, scalable solutions.
$10,000 Grand Prize = GIST
An alternative to concrete highway jersey barriers, Green Innovative Safety Technologies (GIST) is a start-up that revolutionizes a transportation sector with recycled technology. They take used tires that otherwise get dumped into landfills and convert them to highway barriers. Judges viewed a full-size prototype and 3-D animation demo of how their barriers increase safety. The team consists of three UW engineers who specialize in chemical, mechanical, environmental and civil engineering and a Foster School of Business MBA student.
“Last year alone in this country there were 300,000,000 used automotive tires thrown away with no good secondary purpose. That’s where we come in. The GIST solution uses proprietary, rubber-recycling technology,” says MBA student Ricky Holm. “We have designed a recycled alternative to concrete lane separation devices. Not only is our product environmentally friendly, it is more aesthetically pleasing, safer for vehicle occupants and it increases the safety of people living near highways.”
Wiancko Family Foundation’s Brad Parker, a judge, says, “GIST caught my attention from the beginning; anybody who can take discarded waste material and turn it into something productive is doing something fabulous.”
$5,000 Second Prize = Barrels of Hope
Replacing post-disaster relief transitional housing with sturdy, long-lasting, sustainable shelter, Barrels of Hope, improves the lives of natural disaster victims.
“We’ve developed a safe, affordable, environmentally friendly house that can fit inside of a small rain barrel. Organizations such as USAID, American Red Cross, World Vision International and Habitat for Humanity raised nearly $4.5 billion for the relief efforts to Haiti after the earthquake struck in 2010. Unfortunately, there were no truly transitional and scalable shelter solutions at the time. Stuck with the next best option, nearly half of the 200,000 families who lost their homes in the earthquake are still living in the tents that they received nearly two years ago. Our houses are earthquake and hurricane-resistant. With disasters continuing to occur… it’s time that we change the way that we approach post-disaster response,” says Ryan Scott, MBA student.
The UW team of entrepreneurs consists of four MBA students and a civil engineering student and two consultants.
Three $2,500 Honorable Mentions = LumiSands, OmniOff, UrbanHarvest
Ambient-pleasing LED household lighting (invented by UW team LumiSands), a non-toxic alternative to Teflon cookware (invented by UW team OmniOff) and rooftop urban greenhouses (invented by UW team UrbanHarvest). Those are the product innovations designed by three University of Washington teams that each won $2,500.
The UW Environmental Innovation Challenge is sponsored by the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UW College of Engineering, UW College of the Environment and UW Center for Commercialization.
Watch two videos below with demonstrations from winning teams GIST and UrbanHarvest.
Companies are evolving to address issues typically handled by NGOs such as microfinance, economic opportunity and sustainable, earth-friendly ventures. Packard says, “Social entrepreneurship is nothing more than the future of business. The purpose of business must be to provide shared value. This is the new norm. Consumers will punish brands perceived to be out of step with their world view.”
He also discussed a Harvard Business Review article on shared value written by Harvard professors Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, quoting them by saying, “How… could companies overlook the well-being of their customers, the depletion of natural resources vital to their businesses, the viability of key suppliers, or the economic distress of the communities in which they produce and sell?”
Watch video highlights.
Ben Packard (Foster MBA 1998), Starbucks VP of Global Responsibility, chairs the US Green Building Council’s retail development committee and led LEED standard development to improve retail industry’s carbon footprint.
What do bee farmers, deaf people, jewelry artists, mature women and cataract sufferers have in common? Their lives will be improved by budding social entrepreneurs who traveled from as far away as Rwanda and Bangladesh to compete in the 2012 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. Winners were announced at an award banquet on March 1, 2012.
Grand Prize $12,500 = Ruby Cup Copenhagen Business School’s team of graduate students created low-cost, medical-grade, long-lasting silicon cups for women and young girls who menstruate to combat an environmental problem and social stigma in the developing world. They field tested their product in Kenya and are expanding, offering a cup that is reusable and affordable to a community of women who lose out on economic and social opportunities due to existing, sub-par menstrual products or no products at all.
Veronica D’Souza, Ruby Cup general manager says, “When we read about the issues that girls go through in developing countries, it was new to us. We think about clean water and other issues. We couldn’t believe it, as women. We just thought why has no one taken this product to the developing countries? And why does it have to be so expensive? So we made our own product. We found one acceptability study testing the acceptability of menstrual cups in Kenya. There was 90% acceptability.
“We went to Kenya, spoke to women, started our production. We just knew this is where we can make a difference as women and as business students.”
Technology Prize $10,000 = SasaAfrica SasaAfrica empowers craftswomen in Africa to join the global ecommerce market. While working in the Nairobi slums for the past 2 years Ella Peinovich, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student, witnessed the challenges women working at or near the poverty line face each day. She and Kate Mahugu, a computer science student at the University of Nairobi, joined forces to create a mobile business model that would provide greater economic opportunity for craftswomen, empowering them to become global entrepreneurs. This second plaze prize was sponsored by Microsoft.
Honorable Mention Prize $5,000 = Greenovation Technologies Greenovation, founded by Bangladesh students, offers affordable, long-lasting, locally-sourced, patent-pending housing material, called Jutin®, to shelter the vast number of homeless and people living in sub-par housing. They will also create job opportunities for Bangladesh residents to build homes and Greenovations will work with numerous microfinance, non-profit and government organizations to help market and deploy their product. This honorable mention prize was sponsored by the University of Washington Department of Global Health.
Two $2,500 National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance awards went to teams – Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering and SasaAfrica – that will use the prize money to attend a new venture workshop.
Seattle Rotary also gave $1,500 in prize money to Srujna, an Indian-based company that provides jewelry-making and entrepreneurship skills to women rescued from human trafficking in India.
Microsoft Senior Director of Global Community Affairs Akhtar Badshah served as a judge for the UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition and says, “We’ve been funding this competition since its inception. This is the only way we are able to learn and identify young innovators that we as a company can continue to invest in. This may not necessarily be financial investment, but there is a time investment, mentorship investment, technology investment. We are looking for innovative people and innovative ideas that are about to make change, and ways we can put them on an accelerated path.”
Starbucks VP of Global Responsibility Ben Packard (Foster MBA 1998) gave a keynote speech at the award banquet, emphasizing the significance of social justice, saying, “Social entrepreneurship is nothing more than the future of business. The purpose of business must be to provide shared value. This is the new norm. Consumers will punish brands perceived to be out of step with their world view.”
Who won the 2012 University of Washington Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition trade show prizes of people’s choice and investors’ choice awards? Take a look at the top solutions to lifing people out of poverty.
Investors’ Choice: Ruby Cup—empowering women
Copenhagen Business School’s team of graduate students created low-cost, sustainable silicon cups for women and young girls who menstruate to combat an environmental problem and social stigma in the third world. They have been in the field in Africa and launched their first business model in Kenya, offering a cup that is reusable and affordable to a community of women who lose out on economic and social opportunites due to existing, sub-par menstrual products or no products at all.
Ruby Cup was noted highly for showcasing their actual product during the trade show to demonstrate the effectiveness of this high quality, long lasting and affordable medical grade silicone.
The investors’ award was based on the decisions of all the “mock investors” (faculty, alumni, business professionals) who had the opportunity to hear each and every team’s one-minute “elevator pitch” as well as interact with the teams during the trade show event.
People’s Choice: EyeChina—giving sight to the blind
University of Oklahoma’s team combats blindness in China where there is a large backlog of cataract-ridden people awaiting surgery. They offer medical training to provide a much-needed service to people who need it through a multiple-tier approach of training doctors, educating patients and marketing.
The trade show of the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition gives an opportunity for global teams from countries such as Bangladesh and Rwanda to promote their ideas to the University of Washington and greater Seattle business communities. Teams and their business ideas were in the spotlight: impressing judges using posters, prototypes and videos. All the long hours of research, analysis and innovation of the teams were put on display, vetted and tested.
Other social entrepreneurship business ideas
Team SasaAfrica from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Nairobi and United States International University that strives to empower craftswomen through the use of ecommerce on mobile phones.
Kyambogo University (Uganda) and Amity University’s (India) Green Fuel Team revealing “green” charcoal made of disposed garbage to counter the health and environmental problems from heavy dependence on charcoal/wood fuel in Uganda.
India’s Srunja Team, where rescued victims of human trafficking are taught vocational talents of jewelry making and “soft” business skills.
GSEC 2012 welcomed 16 semi-finalist teams representing more than 10 countries to Seattle. Teams were selected from an applicant pool of 170 submissions from student teams in 49 countries. Learn about the winning teams from the 2012 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition.
Aashar Ful, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Aashar Ful provides an eco-friendly solution to extreme shoelessness by supplying poor children with shoes made from an abundant and underutilized plant, the water hyacinth, and engages poor rural women in supply chain and production process.
Astraz, University of Washington, USA
Astraz uses technology to optimize information flow within developing country supply chain and distribution systems. FoneAstra is a device that uses sensory and cellular technologies to monitor temperatures in the cold chain and diagnose problems in the system as they occur, enabling timely intervention to prevent the loss of vaccines due to temperature deviations, resulting in a higher number of vaccines available for administration to the 2.4 million children who die from preventable diseases each year.
Bloorx!, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria
Bloorx seeks to expand the career and educational opportunities of Nigerian students by providing them with relevant and timely information about local and international opportunities that they are eligible for. By offering free services that meet the deepest needs of Nigerian students Bloorx will make significant social impact and by offering premium services to organizations Bloorx will be a profitable, scalable and sustainable venture.
Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering, Dartmouth College, USA
DHE brings renewable electricity to rural Rwanda with low-cost, small-scale hydro-power installations. DHE’s innovative battery-charging model allows it to reach scattered populations at an affordable price.
EYEChina, University of Oklahoma, USA
Solving the problem of curable blindness in Sichuan Province, China through affordable and accessible cataract surgery through an innovative network of provincial hospitals, global non-profits, and local surgeons. By incentivizing local physicians to focus their training and work on this important rural issue, it provides access to affordable care delivered by surgeons trained specifically to perform large quantities of quality cataract surgeries. Additionally, the EYEChina model treats many of the underlying causes of cataract blindness through patient-focused education combined with widespread marketing.
Green Fuel, Kyambogo University, Uganda
This business is about utilizing rubbish as an alternative to charcoal for sustainable energy, to save the forests in Uganda while enabling income generation for poor communities. The resources and money saved on deforestation for firewood will now be invested in training people on tree planting and conserving nature, allowing investments for citizens to work and earn income for their families instead of working cutting down trees for charcoal.
Greenovation Technologies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
We provide the marginally poor and homeless with affordable, secured, eco-acceptable, and long-lasting housing because we believe that proper housing leads to better earning and education opportunities which lead to greater well-being. Our unique product has low production costs and superior properties compared to its nearest alternatives, making it the ideal candidate for solving the global issue of 3 billion people being homeless all around the world.
Hakizamungu, National University of Rwanda, Rwanda
The business promotes bee keeping and honey production in order to further honey for sustainable development in the rural areas of Eastern Rwanda. The company will help indigenous bee farmer by introducing a technological method of honey processing, and providing training about the honey processor and manufacturing process.
Jola Venture, Northeastern University, USA
Jola venture seeks to improve agriculture production in Cameroon through its patented solar food dehydrator innovation. Our solar food dehydrator is an effective, low-cost provider of a solution to food spoilage that is common among most developing nations. The Solar-POD extends the shelf lives of perishable food items, giving users a simple and cost effective means of food preservation. Our business model incorporates a sustainable and micro entrepreneurship empowerment act that will greatly improve the socioeconomic standards of the target population.
Project Akshar, Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, India
Project Akshar provides deaf women with an entrepreneurial opportunity that enables them to generate income through book binding skills that are imparted to them. The business creates entrepreneurial opportunities for a community in need (currently hearing impaired women) by reusing paper to manufacture environment friendly notebooks and at the same time providing children in rural areas with affordable educational aides.
Ruby Cup, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Ruby Cup is a menstrual cup, which is an alternative menstrual hygiene product made of medical grade silicone that can be re-used up to 10 years. Rather than absorbing the menstrual fluid like disposable products, Ruby Cup collects it during the period. It is emptied, washed and boiled between periods. Ruby Cup will begin in Kenya.
SasaAfrica, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA & University of Nairobi, Kenya
SasaAfrica offers an innovative and independent platform for female artisans and entrepreneurs in Africa to create micro-enterprises, connecting developing world vendors to global e-commerce, even if they do not have access to the Internet, a computer, or a bank account, reaching even the most remote communities of entrepreneurs. Focused on promoting under-served communities, SasaAfrica aims to shorten the distance between vendors in developing nations and the global marketplace by integrating MMS uploads, SMS notifications, and mobile money payments with an e-commerce storefront.
Segito Technologies, Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (Victoria Jubilee Tech Inst.), India
The Segito business model provides assistive educational technologies for blind people which can reduce illiteracy rates, increase potential for employment and create employment opportunities for blind people. We have developed a patent-pending multifunctional educational device that enables blind people to educate themselves independently in absence of skilled teacher. It is an urgent need in developing countries due to decreasing number of Braille teachers.
Seraab, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan
Seraab sells cost-effective irrigation water to the small farmers of rural Punjab on an hourly basis through the existing water distribution system (the Wari system) using solar tube wells to extract the ground water. By installing and operating solar-powered tube wells to extract ground water and ensuring year round water availability, Seraab increases a small farmer’s revenue and reduces their water procurement cost.
Srujna, Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, India
Srujna creates sustainable social and financial impact in the lives of rescued victims of human trafficking though market-led vocational training programs, such as making jewelry, for rescued victims of human trafficking, thereby empowering them to be independent and self-reliant. Artisans will help in manufacturing jewelry.and the sale of this jewelry will ultimately help in making the organization sustainable.
Toilet+, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Toilet+ aims to bring poor villagers in Bangladesh safe sanitation coverage by availing microcredit assistance, and providing economic incentive to use toilets. It also creates local entrepreneurship by training local unemployed youth to produce organic fertilizer from waste. Simultaneously, by contributing to meet the high demand of fertilizer in the rural market, it will benefit the poor farmers and create a stable income source for the entrepreneurs.
Vela Chas Inc. (VCI), University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Vela Chas Inc. (VCI), aims to reduce the severe unemployment problem in the coastal areas of Bangladesh through engaging the poor people in cultivating vegetables in the floating farmland made with water-hyacinth. Making floating water-hyacinth farmland possesses some unique advantages: provides affordable fresh food in coastal regions; expands the market for selling the agricultural products in cities; uses no fertilizer; reduces the unemployment problem through engaging the poor people in cultivation and helping them become self-reliant.
Watch the slideshow for pictures of the 2012 Trade Show below:
*This post has been updated with information regarding the winners and a photo slideshow*
Guest post by various international students participating in UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition
Numerous student teams have gathered in Seattle for the 2012 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition to get feedback, refine their idea, pitch venture capitalists and improve lives for people around the world. Here is a taste of new innovations in social entrepreneurship showcased at the University of Washington this week. In their own words…
Ruby Cup: solves menstruation problems for third-world women
The three of us, Julie, Maxie and Veronica, met each other at Copenhagen Business School, where we studied our bachelor in business, languages and culture. Currently, we are masters business students and have specialized in sustainable business strategies and social entrepreneurship.
The idea of our social business started at university during a course in social entrepreneurship, where the task was to write a social business plan. Ruby Cup was chosen as the best business plan by a university jury and the idea developed into reality. The three of us moved to Kenya in September 2011 to start our dream company and we are getting ready to market launch in April 2012.
Women and girls in developing countries face challenges when dealing with their monthly cycle. They have little or nothing to help manage their menstruation. Disposable menstrual hygiene products are often unavailable, expensive and pose an environmental problem. As a result, girls are absent from school and women do not go to work as they are afraid of leaking. There is a need for a safe, accessible and affordable menstrual protection alternative which does not cause negative environmental effects.
We provide an affordable and high quality long-term menstrual hygiene solution that will enhance the livelihoods of women and girls at the base of the pyramid. Ruby Cup is made of medical grade silicone and can be re-used up to 10 years.
EYEChina: meets cataract surgery demand in China
The team was formed in 2010 while we interned at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth. Lloyd Hildebrand, an ophthalmologist at the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City, challenged the team to create a sustainable business model for the 1 million cataract surgery backlog in Sichuan Province, China. Over the course of five months the team hammered out a business model and traveled to China over the summer to pressure test key elements of the model. EYEChina hopes to roll out a pilot program in the summer of 2012.
Project Akshar: solves economic woes of deaf women
We are students of Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, University of Delhi, and are currently pursuing an undergraduate course in Business Studies. Our team is called SIFE SSCBS, which is a part of the international SIFE network.
Project Akshar was started in 2011 when our team at SIFE SSCBS saw bundles of sheets getting wasted and dumped in the landfills. We aimed at providing affordable educational resources to the economically backward while empowering a marginalized community in an eco-friendly way. After extensive research, we came across the fact that unemployment rate of hearing impaired women in India is more than 50 percent. Hence, we started working with Deaf women at Delhi foundation of deaf women, A Delhi based NGO.
The process involves collection of waste one-side loose sheets, on a massive scale, for their manufacture into low cost and ecofriendly notebooks, by our targeted social group: The hearing impaired.
SasaAfrica: empowers African craftswomen to join global ecommerce market
While working in the Nairobi slums for the past 2 years Ella Peinovich, an MIT graduate student, witnessed the challenges women working at or near the poverty line in the informal economy face each day to earn a fair living. It was on this trip that she and Kate Mahugu, a student of computer science at the University of Nairobi, joined forces to create an appropriate mobile technology tool that would provide greater economic opportunity for craftswomen, empowering them to become global entrepreneurs.
SasaAfrica is an ecommerce platform for the developing world that connects offline craft vendors to online consumers using a simple mobile phone. SasaAfrica builds bridges between local crafts markets of the developing world and the global digital marketplace.
Hakizamungu: modernizes honey production in rural Africa
While visiting the indigenous bee farmers in the remote area of southern province of Rwanda, Cyrille and JDamascene (pharmacy students of National University of Rwanda) have recognized that in this part of the poor world still using traditional practice to collect and process the honey results in reducing the quantity and the quality of honey. The company will be started by making a technological machine that will be used by indigenous bee farmers to process the honey, by organizing them into cooperatives and by funding their training. This company openly will be started by distributing a technological honey processing machine and organizing bee farmers. We will officially start to export bees honey late next year.
It sounds like science fiction: a device that delivers pharmaceutical drugs directly to the brain using something called “nose-to-brain” transport. But this is no sci-fi tale. The Pressurized Olfactory Delivery (POD) device, developed by John Hoekman, UW PhD in pharmaceutics and chief scientific officer of Impel NeuroPharma, has the potential to solve one of the biggest problems facing the neurological drug industry today: getting drug molecules beyond the blood-brain barrier and into the central nervous system.
While conducting research in neurological drug delivery at the UW, Hoekman saw how the nose-to-brain pathway could improve drug delivery save for one small issue: there were no devices capable of reaching the upper nasal cavity to utilize this pathway. He began working with Dr. Rodney Ho in the UW Department of Pharmaceutics to develop a commercial device that would be cost-effective, disposable and user-friendly. “We’ve developed the POD device to be an elegant mechanical solution in a space plagued by biological problems,” says Michael Hite (MBA 2009), CEO of Impel. “Rather than manipulate drug properties chemically to improve absorption by the brain, the POD device simply delivers them to a region in the body where they will naturally be readily absorbed into the brain.”
For many drugs, this ability to move drugs beyond the blood-brain barrier means lowering the dosage, reducing organ exposure and lessening side effects. It can also have significant impact for biologic-based drugs such as peptides and proteins—drugs that hold tremendous promise for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s but that can’t make it to clinical trials due to the lack of a viable delivery mechanism.
Hoekman and Hite took Impel to the 2008 UW Business Plan Competition, where they won the $25,000 Grand Prize as well as a Best Idea Prize for Innovation. They then worked with the UW Center for Commercialization to license their technology, produce a prototype device and select candidates for proof-of-concept trials. “The BPC prize raised our profile and provided credibility with angel investors,” says Hite. “One of the lessons we learned was how to convey not only the technological break-through of the POD device, but also the advantages of our business model to angel investors. As a pharmaceutical technology provider, Impel adds value to products in the $60 billion-plus central nervous system therapeutics market without having to launch its own drug products.”
As one might expect for a life sciences start-up, the last 18 months have been make or break time. In early 2010, the company raised its first outside seed capital from some of the Northwest’s most well-known life science angel investors, including members of the Alliance of Angels, WINGS and Bay Area angel groups. With over $1.1 million in private and public funding raised, the company has been able to conduct proof-of-concept work and scale up the POD device in anticipation of human trials, including a successful demonstration of the device using neuro-oncology tracers in PET imaging studies. Impel’s device will soon see its first in-human trial for the targeted delivery of analgesics to the brain as part of a study being conducted later this year by UW SOM researchers, funded in part by a life science discovery fund commercialization grant. This analgesic program has broad treatment applications, including post-operative and cancer pain.
Hite says that Impel has thrived because he and Hoekman have quickly addressed the concerns of their critics and improved the design of their device.
What advice does he have for other first-time entrepreneurs? “Don’t just begrudgingly accept help, but go out and seek advice, assistance and opinions from successful entrepreneurs. CIE has built a great network of advisors who can provide that invaluable experience.”
In 2010 the gavel dropped and a bottle changed wine racks at a Hong Kong auction. The price? $233,000, confirming that wine lovers wear different skins than the rest of us. Paul Zitarelli is one of them. His obsession has become his business.
This past October, Full Pull Wines, located in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood, celebrated its second anniversary. Prior to starting the business, Zitarelli (MBA 2009) was a passionate wine blogger. When he rhapsodized about a favorite vintage, readers demanded to know where that bottle could be bought. So he decided to sell it to them and uncorked the company.
Selling Washington wines was not an uphill battle. Already on the grape-dar of oenophiles, their growing reputation was sealed when the venerated Wine Spectator ranked a Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet the #1 pick of the year in 2009. As for Zitarelli, he could immerse himself (figuratively speaking) in wine.
“Initially, the business was a lifestyle choice,” he admitted. “The part of wine business I liked had limited opportunity for MBAs. I thought my own business would provide the freedom to write more. That lifestyle choice has instead become my whole life.”
Full Pull Wines continues to grow without any marketing budget, relying on a highly targeted email list that has grown fivefold since launch. Mail recipients receive as many as five messages weekly, describing the week’s offerings. Purchases are shipped or may be picked up at the warehouse, which is what most customers prefer.
Customer Tiffany Stevens noted, “Full Pull brings the winery to you. At the warehouse I sample hard-to-find wines from some smaller wineries, an opportunity you just don’t get in the retail store. And, of course, Paul’s there to talk about what’s new.”
Zitarelli candidly admitted to being somewhat unprepared for events as they are unfolding, having spent more start-up time weighing the cost of failure rather than the contingency of success. That’s understandable. Overriding passion as a wine lover guided the first two years of Full Pull. Now, as he faces issues of expansion and hiring, the left brain that propelled him to an MBA degree is coming into play to take him to the next level.
– Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.