Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

2012 Business Plan Competition innovations inspire

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.

Follow the 2012 UW Business Plan Competition on Facebook, or search #UWBPC12 on Twitter. The competition is the largest Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship annual event.

Native American Trading at the River

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

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.

Clean-technology winners awarded $22,500 in 2012

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.

Recycled tires converted to highway barriers$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.”

Sustainable housing for disaster relief$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.

Impel’s POD device helps drugs jump the blood-brain barrier

Impel NeuroPharmaIt 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.”

The grapeful red: wine groupie follows his dream

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.