Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

$60,000 for winners of 2011 UW Business Plan Competition

Budding entrepreneurs from universities across the Pacific Northwest created start-ups in clean technology, medical technology, retail, agriculture, software and other areas at the 2011 University of Washington Business Plan Competition. Business, engineering, medical, law and public policy student teams competed in the finals this week, vying for a combined $60,000 in prize money.

PotaVida team wins grand prize of $25,000 at 2011 UW Business Plan CompetitionPotaVida won Grand Prize worth $25,000 and another $2,500 for Best Innovative Idea for their low-cost, reusable solution to purifying water using solar disinfection. Their device received a design award from the Rockefeller Foundation prior to the UW competition. The UW team includes Charlie Matlack (PhD student in electrical engineering), Tyler Davis (PhD student in public policy), Damon Gjording (Executive MBA student) and Jacqueline Linnes, PhD.

What is the benefit of PotaVida’s product? “We will lower the cost to non-profits of providing safe water to people after disasters and in ongoing need scenarios. At a personal level, our product provides the visual feedback and guidance that people need to use a disinfection process which is otherwise invisible and impossible to know when done correctly,” said Charlie Matlack.

Matlack and the PotaVida team improved their business through the competition. “What meant much more than the money was all the doors it opened for us to incredibly helpful individuals in the Seattle start-up community,” said Matlack. “The more we took advice from those the Business Plan Competition connected us to, the better our business plan got, and the more we knew where to direct our efforts to improve it further.”

Stockbox Grocers wins 2nd place prize of $10,000 at 2011 UW Business Plan CompetitionStockbox Grocers, with a team from Bainbridge Graduate Institute, won Second Prize worth $10,000 and another $2,500 for Best Service/Retail Idea for their affordable fresh produce business targeting urban food deserts. Stockbox offers a mini grocer service tucked in a reclaimed shipping container. Team members include MBA students Michael Brooks, Carrie Ferrence, Jacqueline Gjurgevich and Eliza Michiels.

Two Finalist Prize winners won $5,000 each. LodeSpin Labs, a UW team of engineering, material science and MBA students, have a non-toxic tracer that works with cutting-edge Magnetic Particle Imaging, a new technology aimed at replacing CT and MRI for imaging patients with heart disease and cancer. The other Finalist Prize winner is Solanux, a WSU and University of Idaho team, that manufactures potato-based food ingredients that help lower a person’s glycemic index response and improve insulin levels. Their resistant starch product can replace existing starch in processed foods such as fries.

Rob Salkowitz, consultant and author of book Young World Rising, served as a judge in the competition saying, “I write about entrepreneurs from all over the world. I was amazed and encouraged to see the amount of innovation right here in my own backyard.”

More teams won $2,500 awards for innovations in various industries.

  • Aqueduct Neurosciences (UW team) won Best Technology Idea for their innovative medical device to improve treatment of hydrocephalus.
  • Static Flow Analytics (UW team) won Best Clean-Tech Idea.
  • Tripbox (UW team of Technology Management MBA students) won Best Consumer Product Idea for their travel planning software that optimizes cost, timing and routes of vacation activities.
  • Urban Canopy (UW team) won Best Sustainable Advantage for software that guides consumers through phases of green building initiatives such as LEED certification.

The UW Business Plan Competition is produced by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business. Numerous venture capital, angel and entrepreneurial community firms, consultants and individuals sponsor the event and serve as judges, mentors and coaches for teams.

Red Lantern Journeys takes travelers off the beaten path

“Bhutan is the country that measures gross national happiness and while it has been a relatively closed country, tourism is possible there,” says Ambrose Bittner (MBA 2004), founder and CEO of Red Lantern Journeys. Red Lantern is a Seattle-based start-up that specializes in some of the more “off the beaten path” travel destinations in Asia such as Bhutan and Myanmar. “Myanmar is really a unique country—undeveloped and untouched—and now’s a good time to go there. But we make sure to go over the risks and political situations in these countries so our clients are well informed before they arrive.”

As he was finishing up his MBA at the University of Washington in 2004, Bittner met a friend of a friend who had started a travel company focused on Africa. He realized that his own extensive experience traveling throughout Asia was an asset he could market. “I felt this was my strong suit so I decided to just go for it,” says Bittner.

What differentiates Red Lantern from other travel companies is the high level of customer service given to each client in planning their trip. Focused primarily on private tours, Bittner and three other travel consultants work with each client to develop customized itineraries that meet their specific needs in terms of timeframe, budget, and the types of activities and sights clients wish to experience during their travels. “All of our consultants have either lived or traveled extensively in the countries they focus on,” says Bittner. “We don’t sell other companies’ travel packages. We’re destination specialists and know logistically how to get around countries in Asia, all the unique sites and activities, and we have local guides in each country. It’s a very independent way to travel but still be ‘on a tour.’”

Dedication and perseverance have served Bittner well as an entrepreneur and helped him shepherd the company through the recent economic downturn. “Being an entrepreneur means having the vision and working toward it, being dedicated and not getting too discouraged along the way when things happen,” he says. And as if running a company weren’t challenging enough, Bittner also leads an annual charity climb on Mt. Rainier to raise money for Mitrata Nepal Foundation for Children, an orphanage and school in Kathmandu, the starting point of Red Lantern’s popular Everest Base Camp trek. “We’ve raised $30,000 each of the last couple years and I’m really proud that we’re able to provide that kind of support in a community where we send travelers,” says Bittner.

Evolution Capital brings a holistic approach to start-up banking

Evolution Capital
Photo left to right: Troy Hartzell and Kirk Van Alstyne, co-founder of Evolution Capital Advisors. Photo by Judith Fernstrom of Judith Fernstrom Photography.

What’s it like being capital advisors to early-stage start-ups? “It’s one part investment banker, one part strategy consultant, one part coach, and one part shrink,” says Troy Hartzell (BA 2001), managing partner and co-founder at Evolution Capital Advisors. Hartzell and co-founder Kirk Van Alstyne (MBA 1996) run a boutique investment bank providing capital formation and strategic advisory services to entrepreneurial stage emerging-growth technology firms.

The partners have been focused on entrepreneurship since the mid-1990s, when they first met as student leaders in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Van Alstyne had been a chemical engineer and worked on the sales side of the industry for several years before going to graduate school. “I grew up in a small town in Montana and never really thought about starting a company. But there I was, working with these CEOs who had started some great companies and I thought, I’d like to do that someday. So I went back to the UW and got an MBA to learn about entrepreneurship.”

Hartzell had always been enamored with innovation and idea creation. When he got to the UW, he found entrepreneurship to be infectious. “I was surrounded by successful entrepreneurs, 20-somethings who had high aspirations and were incredibly motivated. I was sitting in on lectures with people like Jeff Bezos taking us through the idea generation process,” says Hartzell. “It felt like the possibilities were only constrained by your personal ambition. While I was in school at UW, I started an internet company, won one of the early UW Business Plan Competitions, and went on to raise venture capital for our start-up. Was it the school of hard knocks? Yes it was. But it was absolutely inspiring.”

Several years after graduating, Hartzell and Van Alstyne ended up working at the same investment bank. It was then that the idea for Evolution Capital took root. “We said, we’re entrepreneurs at heart, we love working with entrepreneurs, and we saw an opportunity to bring investment banking capabilities to earlier stage companies in the Northwest,” said Van Alstyne. “So we struck out and started Evolution five years ago.”

Unlike traditional investment banking firms, Evolution Capital tailors their services to the unique needs of smaller early-stage companies by offering hands-on strategic advising and expertise in the clean-tech, telecom, digital media and information technology sectors. The investment firm helps start-ups position, package and present their business in a way that is going to appeal to institutional investors and strategic buyers. “We’re really helping these companies figure out how to tell their story so they can raise capital,” says Van Alstyne. Profitable since its first year of operation, Evolution has completed deals with an aggregate transaction value in the 100’s of millions of dollars with lead investors and buyers from across the United States, Europe and Asia.

What distinguishes the successful entrepreneurs from the rest? “Focus is number one,” says Hartzell. “Is the individual focused and have they separated the noise from the real market opportunity?” Van Alstyne adds, “Successful entrepreneurs also have to be good communicators. You have to breathe life into your story so other people want to invest.”

Foster climbs U.S. News entrepreneurship ranking

U.S. News & World Report recently released its “Best Graduate Schools for 2012″ rankings, and the University of Washington Foster School of Business was ranked 14 in the specialty area of entrepreneurship. For 2011, the school was ranked 16 and the year prior 20.

The steady rise in the rankings is particularly gratifying for Foster’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Approaching its 20th anniversary, CIE has become the hub for entrepreneurial education and activity across the University of Washington campus, and an integral part of the Northwest’s entrepreneurial community.

“You need to have community. Obviously, a collection of great entrepreneurs is essential, yet it’s also about having a community of people who can foster creativity and provide funding and mentorship,” says Shelley Whelan, principal of Keeler Investments Group and a Foster School alumna. “CIE does a great job of bringing these stakeholders together with students to keep our community active and engaged.”

These relationships have been incredibly beneficial for students of the Foster School, as well as for other colleges at the university. Prime examples are the Center’s annual Business Plan Competition and Environmental Innovation Challenge. In both instances, students benefit from interaction with hundreds of the Northwest’s top venture capitalists, lawyers, angel investors, policy makers, scientists, and more.

The result? “CIE is a catalyst for new ventures,” says Jeremy Jaech, the former CEO of Verdiem Corporation. “For students who are entrepreneurially inclined, it is a place to meet like-minded people and learn what it takes to launch a successful business.”

Such interaction goes a long way. Since its inception 13 years ago, CIE’s Business Plan Competition has awarded nearly $1 million in prize money to 87 student companies, many of which go on to start their businesses. They do so in a region known as a launching pad for globally recognized companies both old and new—Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Expedia, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Real Networks, Starbucks, ZymoGenetics….

“Seattle is entrepreneurial in nature and the appeal continues to grow,” says Troy Cichos, administrative partner at Madrona Venture Group and a judge for CIE’s Business Plan Competition. “Entrepreneurship is like a fly wheel—once you get it going, more people become aware, more people give it a try, more become involved, and the energy continues to grow.”

13 cultural characteristics of great companies

Greg Gottesman, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, spoke to UW Foster School of Business alumni and students about his tips for finding (or leading) a great company or organization.

He blogged about 13 characteristics of a great start-up culture on TechFlash recently and expanded those concepts in a lecture with anecdotes and examples, recommending people consider corporate or start-up culture before taking a job or launching a new venture.

Here are his 13 cultural characteristics of great culture:

  1. No politics – Give credit where credit is due. Be genuine about it.
  2. It’s not a job, it’s a mission – People can work for competitors or jump ship anytime, but companies that foster a culture of a strong mission do best to attract and retain great employees.
  3. Intolerance for mediocrity – Everyone pulls their weight well at all levels; there is excellence in each role and companies repel or naturally weed out those who aren’t comfortable succeeding or excelling.
  4. Watching pennies – Leaders and senior managers treat company assets as carefully and thoughtfully as they would their own personal assets; waste is not tolerated.
  5. Equity driven – Stock options or other non-cash value helps grow businesses for the long term.
  6. Alignment – Everyone is on the same page. Strategy is clear. Like a well-tuned sports team, people all work toward the same goal vs. individual heroism.
  7. Good communication – Even in bad times, communication remains strong; over-communication is even more critical in times of difficulty (i.e., an executive leaves, a key client departs, company is hacked)
  8. Strong leadership – Lead by example and maintain a positive attitude. Leaders boost their own morale and those around them as they set the tone for the whole company.
  9. Mutual respect – Hierarchy may exist, but everyone is respected for their contributions. “Wins” are celebrated together, regardless of title or department.
  10. Customer obsessed – The customer is always the most important asset. Gottesman emphasized this may be the most important characteristic of an organization.
  11. Energy – Good energy permeates across the company and is almost tangible.
  12. Fun – Never underestimate the power of a good start-up that knows how to have fun. Particularly when first in start-up mode, he’s often seen companies that thrive on early-stage activity where employees work hard and play hard.
  13. Integrity – Great companies have an internal sense of doing things the right way. They spend the extra effort to create value that will outlast their own job or time at the company (i.e., documenting code).

Watch video excerpts from Greg Gottesman’s talk on culture.

This lecture is part of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship‘s alumni network events.

$22,500 awarded to clean technology winners

Teams who won the 3rd annual University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge invented solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. Wind energy. Electric car improvements. Biomass energy. Water purification. Algal biofuel efficiency. The 2011 event also had a range of other clean-tech innovations with 17 teams from Washington state universities (UW, WSU, WWU and SPU) competing. Undergraduate, graduate and PhD students from engineering, business, economics, philosophy and a number of other disciplines joined forces to tackle the environment.

VoltaicGrand Prize of $10,000 = Voltaic

A group of UW undergraduate engineers and business students created an electric vehicle modular drive train that can replace drive trains of gas-powered engines in existing models. The electric module can be customized to fit inside any car and the team displayed a Honda outfitted with its prototype electric engine to show how it powers the car.

2nd Prize of $5,000 = PotaVida

This UW PhD team (an electrical engineer, bio-engineer and policy analyst) created a device that measures water quality with a reusable, solar-powered electronic indicator for monitoring solar disinfection of drinking water. Their inexpensive indicator won a $40,000 design award last year and will be field tested in Bolivia this summer. PotaVida is advised by experts at PATH and Microsoft as well as UW professors.

Three honorable mention prizes of $2,500 each went to other UW interdisciplinary teams. Pterofin invented an affordable, more versatile alternative to wind turbines; the new device is lighter than current wind technology and harnesses wind energy at lower wind speeds. BioTek has a patented and patent-pending suite of tools to help optimize and scale the growing algal biofuel industry; their instruments and software are low-cost and field-ready. C6 Systems created a novel system to turn woody biomass into charcoal (or biochar) at forestry sites; their biochar can be sold to heating/electric plants or used as soil enhancement.

Starbucks VP of Sustainable Procurement Sue Mecklenburg, one of many business, science and venture capital judges at the event, said, “It just gets better every year.”

“The Environmental Innovation Challenge is supposed to be more than a university-level science fair. The goal is to be able to take these ideas into a real, revenue-generating business,” said James Barger, UW undergraduate mechanical engineering student who serves as VP of finance for Voltaic.

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.

Clean technology: the next industrial revolution

Guest post by Trenten Huntington, UW Foster School of Business MBA student

I recently had the opportunity to interview US Representative Jay Inslee (WA-01) about his thoughts on clean technology and the economy. The timing for this was perfect, as we get set for the third annual University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge. As student chair of the Challenge, I realize how solutions to the environmental problems we face require the support of our elected leaders.

As an MBA student interested in entrepreneurship and clean-tech, I feel like I have limitless opportunities to change how we interact with the planet. After speaking with Representative Inslee, I see that the private sector working alone may not have the resources to enact the change we seek. With this in mind, it’s good to know that people like him are working on energy independence and sustainable development for Washington State and the nation.

Watch the video of highlights from my conversation with the congressman.

If you’d like to join us on March 31, 2011 for the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge, please RSVP soon to Pam Tufts.

Trenten Huntington is a full-time MBA student at the Foster School of Business specializing in environmental management. He is the first-year representative for Net Impact and is an active member of the Foster community. Originally from Los Angeles, Huntington is passionate about minimizing our environmental impact through business.

$33,500 awarded to best social innovations

The 2011 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the UW Foster School of Business brought in more than 100 entries from university teams around the world who seek to reduce poverty and solve social problems through sustainable business and technology endeavors.

Sanergy won grand prize
Sanergy won grand prize

“How do we help make social innovations scale? It’s through visibility, encouragement and investment,” said GSEC award banquet keynote speaker Dan Shine, senior innovation advisor at the Office of Science & Technology at USAID.

Grand Prize of $12,500 went to Sanergy. Led by a diverse team (of engineering, business, urban planning and design students) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA), University of Cambridge (Cambridge UK) and Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA), Sanergy addresses both social and economic issues among Kenya’s poor by making sanitation safe, affordable and accessible through innovative technologies—such as small-scale toilets—that collect waste and convert it to energy or fertilizer. Their business model ultimately seeks to reduce sanitation-related disease in Africa. Sanergy also won the new Rotary Prize for Social Impact of $1,000.

welloGlobal Health Prize of $10,000 went to Wello. Led by University of Michigan MBA students, Wello provides clean, affordable water to rural India communities through their innovative, mobile WaterWheel that alleviates the burden of carrying water from source to house while also providing entrepreneurial opportunities for rural residents via delivery service.

A new Information & Communication Tech Prize of $10,000 went to NextDrop led by a diverse team (of business, engineering, public policy and information technology students) from University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University. NextDrop addresses clean water scarcity in rural India by improving the distribution of information about water availability via mobile phone technology. NextDrop works with both local water utilities and consumers to provide more predictable water supplies and improve water management.

“GSEC is a gem among University of Washington programs. Global health is a quest that relies on new tools and alliances… to alleviate disparities,” said Dr. Judy Wasserheit, professor and vice chair of the University of Washington School of Public Health.

The Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition is organized each year by the Global Business Center at University of Washington Foster School of Business.