Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Kikking it

James LeppGolf champion-turned-entrepreneur James Lepp brings style and performance to the green

Different. Believes saddles are for horses. Always scores better than it appears. Only replaces divots that are actually going to grow back. Welcomes unnecessary noise in his backswing. Is in several people’s dream foursome. Respects golf history, but embraces change. That describes the Kikkor golfer, according to the shoe company’s 2011 catalog.

Sound a little edgy? Cool? Like you—maybe? If that’s the case, James Lepp (BA 2006) welcomes you to the world of Kikkor Golf.

“I don’t know many guys who say they want to dress like their dad,” says Lepp. So, in 2008, with his career as a pro golfer lagging, he felt the entrepreneurial spark and began designing alternatives to classic golf shoes. The company started with six styles when they launched in 2010; they currently offer more than 40.

As good as they look

Lepp finds inspiration on the streets and the courts. Kikkor’s current line-up of styles range from slip-ons resembling skater shoes to a high top that begs for a shot beyond the 3-point line. Read the shoe names and descriptions and the Kikkor brand comes to life. For the Men’s New Heights – Whiteout: “No, we weren’t high when we designed this bad boy. This high top golf shoe is legit.” Or, the Women’s Tour Classe – Black Aruba: “While the shoes may be lightweight and waterproof, you’ll want to resist the temptation to dive into the ocean or nearby pool. Instead, just run to your ball and tap in for birdie.”

Make no mistake however, as cool as “Kikks” may be, they are also made to perform. A review on mygolfspy.com gave the shoes 96 points out of 100, and 20 out of 20 points for performance.

Kristen Williams, the author behind the popular blog “The Golf Chick,” writes about her Kikkors: “If I could stop looking at them I might forget I was wearing shoes at all. However, they’re also quite stabilizing. They make me feel secure when addressing the ball and give me confidence in my golf shots.”

Consider the chip shot

The fact that Kikkor shoes perform as well as they look shouldn’t come as a surprise, given Lepp’s background. Among his many golfing triumphs, Lepp was named the Royal Order of Merit as Canada’s top amateur golfer for 2003 and 2004, was the first non-American to win the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship, and made Husky history when he became UW’s first NCAA Individual Champion in 2005.

“I love the subject of James Lepp” says UW men’s golf Coach Matt Thurmond.  “James is a guy I’d always bet on because he’s committed to finding creative and innovative ways to get results.”

Take Lepp’s approach to wedge play, something Thurmond says is a point of pride in the program and that Lepp took to a new level.

“He would constantly practice his chipping,” says Thurmond (for golf novices, a chip shot is a short, usually low approach shot that lofts the ball to the green). “He’d do it the night before a round in the hallway of the hotel, chipping over and over again, or into a garbage can, or onto the seat of a chair. He even chipped on the putting green, which most golfers say is taboo, but he knew that and he would practice his chipping on the putting green doing things that no one else does—he’d chip it into the pin and bang the pin over and over to make sure his alignment was perfect. He’s incredible with a golf club.”

Passionate and prepared

Similar to many entrepreneurs, the classroom didn’t garner as much attention from Lepp as the things he was most passionate about—like the golf club.

“Looking back on it I wish I didn’t view assignments, tests, projects as something I needed to get done, like a chore,” says Lepp. Yet his business school experience did help him launch the company. “There were definitely some things I learned that helped me when I started to think about launching Kikkor.”

There is ongoing research about whether entrepreneurial success is rooted in passion or preparedness. In Lepp’s case, it may be a bit of both. Lepp is still making mad chip shots (just check out Kikkor’s Day-at-the-Office video) and Kikkor experienced a 550% growth in its first year and revenues are up 250% to-date in 2012.

Undergrad learns from losing and winning a competition

Guest post by James Barger, UW engineering senior and UW Environmental Innovation Challenge co-chair, 2012, Grand Prize team member, UW Environmental Innovation Challenge 2011

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, France, 1910

Completing the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) is a big arena for many people that enter each year. But it is actually a milestone on the way to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

When I came to the UW EIC as a sophomore I had no training, no experience, and no clue how to build world-class technology; along with the other members of my team, I just had a lot of passion for changing the way the world uses energy. In the beginning we believed we would be able to do everything, but it turns out that only three months of passion and blind experimenting isn’t enough to compete with PhD and MBA students with years of time invested. At the competition our prototype leaked and we had to shut down the demo after we got one of the judges’ shoes wet. After the competition we disagreed on the future of the technology and went our separate ways.

The following year I had no intention of entering the UW EIC and focused on being involved with class research at the UW. However, I became involved with a project in the Mechanical Engineering Department to convert a Honda Accord to an electric vehicle at a low cost. I met incredible people who were just as passionate as I, and we worked hard as a team to create a technology business that could make an impact in people’s lives. The judges thought so too, and we won the Grand Prize. Though, what we gained from the competition went far beyond any prize money.

Each year I competed, I began to see the common threads that made teams stand out and be successful. The experience of going through the entire competition once taught me so well, that by the second year I understood how a successful business plan was put together and how much development a prototype would need before being ready. A great businessman once said to me, “You learn business by doing business, the classroom can only teach you so much.” As EIC advisor and chemical engineering professor, Daniel Schwartz mentioned when he spoke at this year’s Challenge, it is experiences like the EIC that add enormous value to a college education. The UW EIC has given me a solid foundation to build on, so that when I start my own company, I will have the confidence and experience to go forward daring greatly.

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.