Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Business women in India and America share hope

Guest post by Emily Gerloff (UW business major, graduating in 2011)

“Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I was told that India is life-changing.  After hearing this on several occasions, I remember thinking to myself: What a strange concept. How can a country be life-changing?

After spending a month on the Half the Sky Exploration Seminar via the UW Foster School of Business, I am still unable to express exactly how India changed my life, but I know with absolute certainty that it did.

Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.
Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.

During the micro-lending meetings I expected to see poor, impoverished women with sob stories capable of making me instantaneously empty my pockets. I was surprised and relieved to find it was nothing like what I had imagined. These women did not have an ounce of desperation in their voices as they told their stories. They are an absolute testament to the power of hope and determination.  They live their lives with an innate sense of duty and purpose I can only compare to an American’s sense of equality and freedom.

Another surprise was how closely the lives of these women parallel my own. The micro-loans they receive are similar to the loans that fund my education.  I come from an underprivileged family (by American standards) and would be unable to attend college if it weren’t for the grants and loans provided to me by the government. Although I am occasionally jealous of my fellow students who will graduate with zero debt, it doesn’t change the fact that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to better my life. I don’t think I am any less deserving of an education just because I was born into a family that couldn’t pay for one. This is a similar stance these women take regarding the micro-loans they receive. They possess gratitude and a humble belief that they deserve the right to prove their worth.

India changed my life.  I have seen first-hand the power of hope and determination and won’t deny myself the chance to see how far my own hope and determination will take me.

Emily is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Expanding cosmos—women in leadership study tour

Guest post by Melanie Sharpe, Foster MBA 2011 with a global business focus

BananaLeafIn the pre-trip brief just hours before we left for India, our professor Cate Goethals made a preparatory comment I’ll always remember as I weave my way through the world: “Becoming cosmopolitan means expanding and pushing the current boundaries and edges of your world.”

The trip to India expanded my cosmos in that very way. It exposed me to a diverse array of Indian leaders that redefined my perspective of business leadership as a woman—an aspect of business school that is largely overlooked and one I admittedly had not taken the time to consider prior to the transformative trip.

Inspiring women entrepreneurs

We encountered a colorful gamut of inspiring women. From workaholic bankers to avant-garde filmmakers to powerful lawyers and wealthy philanthropists to arguably the most influential female spiritual guru in the world to rural tree harvesters—all incredibly ambitious and driven women who seemed to have something very profound in common: They all seemed to be working to uplift others around them.

Call it social entrepreneurship or call it a compulsion to help better their community or family. Sometimes this innate desire compelled them to work 16-hour days to allow their fatherless children to have a better future. Sometimes that internal murmur told them that funding clean water was the only way to ensure the success of future generations of Indians. Sometimes that calling told them to hold and convey love to thousands of people everyday. In each instance, the evidence of that desire to give was palpable and tremendously inspiring.

TajThe pinnacle of the trip was hearing Rohini Nilekani, wife of the Infosys founder, speak at her clean water non-profit, Arghyam. Her profound statement: “Your generation no longer has the luxury of pessimism” was galvanizing. No longer can we absentmindedly guzzle water from plastic bottles or live in first-world luxury flushing away our waste with fresh water without considering the ramifications to the earth or other members of the world community. Her CEO Sunita Nadhamuni was an example of such awareness. Nadhamuni and her husband had reinvented the American business school dream of Silicon Valley wealth, prominent management positions and a constant search for “more” by transitioning their careers to work that directly helped communities of people have access to clean water.

Globally interconnected economy

The trip to India opened my world to the interconnectedness of the global economy. Imagine Dharavi: Asia’s largest slum, prominently featured in the blockbuster film “Slumdog Millionaire” as an impenetrable, crime-filled, filthy dystopia. The reality? The living conditions were certainly difficult: On average there is 1 toilet per 1,500 people! But the families inside the neat and tidy (albeit tiny) apartments were hardworking, entrepreneurial and contributing to global economic epicenters of recycling and clothes dyeing. In fact, many of the raw materials that we consume in the United States are sourced straight from Dharavi.

I left India transformed. The trip confirmed what I had suspected for my own career path: My own compulsion to serve was an innate calling that could be aligned with both business ideals and women’s leadership. Arriving at this realization completed the goal of the trip. My cosmos is expanded forever.

Melanie is an MBA student participant in the University of Washington Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

“Milestone Awards” accelerate student start-ups

YongoPal, Business Plan Competition teamEach year, CIE’s marquee Business Plan Competition—and its $65,000 in prize money—sparks the creation of 90+ student business plans. Now a new gift will encourage more of those student teams to transform into start-up teams.

The Herbert B. Jones Foundation’s Milestone Achievement Awards offer additional seed funding totaling $80,000 a year to the most promising of the competition’s Sweet 16 semi-finalists. “We wanted to accelerate some of these start-ups,” says Michael Bauer, president of the Jones Foundation, a long-time supporter of the competition. “So we came up with this idea of a real financial incentive for the teams to set and reach key milestones in the company’s development.”

It’s a simple proposition. The teams that are determined to move forward with their businesses identify five to seven “realistic but measurable” milestones. These might include negotiating a license, attaining additional financing, prototype development, proof-of-concept data, letters of intent from potential customers, launching a beta model, etc. Reach the milestones within six months of the competition and win an additional pot of seed money—with the expectation that successful new ventures will eventually pay the gift forward to fund future CIE start-ups.

In this first year of a three-year pilot program, the competition’s grand-prize winner and second place team are both working toward $25,000 Milestone Achievement Awards: YongoPal, a service enabling South Korean university students to hone their conversational English with American peers via webcam, and EETech, developing a medical device that enables people in wheelchairs to walk again. Working toward $10,000 awards are Assay Dynamics, developer of a simple, noninvasive diagnostic tool for physicians, Emergent Detection, developer of a handheld measure of fat loss, and WISErg, a converter of food waste to fuel or fertilizer.

The start-up teams also benefit from the expert counsel of the Milestone Achievement Awards program committee, comprised of Geoff Entress of Voyager Capital and Founder’s Co-op, Bill Bromfield of Fenwick and West, Marc Barros of Countour, Alan Portugal of Ivus Energy Innovations, Alan Dishlip of Billing Revolution, Adrian Smith of Ignition Partners, and Emer Dooley of the Alliance of Angels.

“This is a huge deal,” says Brian Glaister, a UW mechanical engineering student and co-founder of EETech, which recently closed its Series A financing to develop its ExoWalk technology. “Access to the committee is invaluable. And financially, the award means another month of runway for us. Any time you get capital without having to sell stock, it’s a good thing.”

Boomzap’s “Awakening” is a casual gaming hit

Christopher Natsuume, BoomZapChristopher Natsuume has skin in the game. Literally. To raise cash for his nascent casual game company, a semi-finalist team in the 2007 Business Plan Competition, he once sacrificed several swatches on the back of his neck to a trial for an experimental cancer treatment.

Today Boomzap generates sufficient revenue to keep Natsuume (MBA 2007)—and his 29 employees—living comfortably without forfeiting so much as an ounce of flesh. It’s the largest casual game developer in Southeast Asia, influential enough to draw top talent and the attention of major game distributors but just small and funky enough to call itself an independent.

After a string of solid downloadable games fueling slow, but steady growth, Boomzap created a blockbuster this past February in Awakening: The Dreamless Castle. “That changed everything,” Natsuume says. “Publishers suddenly wanted to do business with us, our asking price went up, our catalog of existing games spiked.”

A bona fide industry player, Boomzap leaves the distribution and marketing to the big game publishers such as Seattle’s Big Fish Games. And Natsuume’s team focuses on game development—which is important, since success in the industry is ephemeral. Boomzap has already launched the sequel to Awakening, plus a promising new adventure called Pirates Plundarrr for the Nintendo Wii.

But Natsuume’s most innovative contribution may be Boomzap itself, a cohesive but completely virtual operation. With nowhere to call headquarters, Natsuume splits time between Seattle and Yokohama, employing developers in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Siberia who collaborate via Skype, MSN and Basecamp. He pays well (a “Singapore wage”—best in the region), offers advancement, and builds deep loyalty.

“We make some good products,” Natsuume says. “But what I’m really proud of is that we’ve created this enormous opportunity for people in Southeast Asia that just didn’t exist before.”

Check it out: www.boomzap.com

Giant Campus is virtually everywhere

Pete Findley saw the writing on the wall. Or rather, the pixels on the screen. After spending a decade building Giant Campus from a scrappy start-up into a nationwide network of technology summer camps for kids, the inaugural Business Plan Competition champ floated the company’s first online course in 2005. Findley (BA 1998) envisioned a giant campus for the Internet age, a virtual school majoring in technology, science, engineering, and innovation courses that are all too often unavailable to teens attending thinly populated rural schools, cash-strapped urban districts, or who are home-schooled.

It took a few years for technology to catch up. But today broadband is pervasive, Web-based education delivery is rapidly becoming mainstream, and Giant Campus is virtually everywhere. “We’ve been waiting for this time,” Findley says. “Education has evolved, and we believe that we can transform the way specialized education is delivered, particularly to high school students.”

The company offers an accredited program with an array of online elective courses in computer science, digital arts, and business innovation—plus a core curriculum of language arts, math, science, and social studies. Through Giant Campus Academy, the curriculum is available on a tuition basis to high school students around the world (and is free for students in Washington, thanks to a partnership with the state Board of Education).

By shedding the constraints of camps and classrooms, Giant Campus offers students both accessibility and affordability. And the company is rapidly becoming the essential framework for such education providers such as Kaplan, K12 and Insight, as well as other state public school districts.

“We’re basically the ‘Intel Inside’ for every online school operating today. We provide them the curriculum and, many times, the teachers,” Findley says. “In five years, I expect to see us in a lot of school districts in a lot of state systems.”

Brass Media: philanthropy before you’re wealthy

How’s this for brass? Bryan Sims has committed the majority of his future earnings to philanthropy—and he’s just 27. Ambitiously joining an A-list of multi-billionaires in their highly publicized Giving Pledge, the founder and CEO of brass|MEDIA says it’s all in keeping with his fast company’s philosophy: “Young today, rich tomorrow.”

Brass|MEDIA is dedicated to helping young people—those 15- to 25-year olds known as “millennials”—understand money and learn to handle it responsibly. That effort builds around brass|MAGAZINE, a lifestyle money magazine written by young people for young people, and cleverly distributed to nearly half a million readers in partnership with a nationwide network of credit unions that has everything to gain from a fiscally savvy generation of up-and-comers.

Sims defines himself as a “regular guy doing something worth doing.” After watching his own family struggle through adversity, he founded brass|MEDIA in his Oregon State University dorm room at age 19. He partnered with Brent Sumner, an undergraduate friend at the University of Washington, to enter the UW Business Plan Competition, and the team sailed through to the Final Round. After college, Sims quickly led brass|MEDIA to Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing private companies. In 2007 BusinessWeek named him one of its “25 Best Entrepreneurs Under 25.”

Sims may be a bit older now, but he still wants what his own audience wants: to make money, invest wisely, give back. But he’s also a willing role model.

“I’ve always known I was going to make a major contribution to charity when got older,” Sims says of his attention-getting pledge. “But I thought that if I started to tell people about it early on, it might have a compounding effect on long-term philanthropy.”

Check it out: www.brassmedia.com

Let Climate Solutions be part of your business solution

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganWe all know the song, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Building a business is all about relationships.  The conundrum of many minority-owned businesses is how to build those relationships with people for whom there is no history of social interaction. 

What do you have in common with successful and established business people in the emerging green economy? Plenty. Fundamentally, you share a mission and a commitment to a better and healthier planet. This provides a common cause that can only strengthen with broad and diverse support. Many of the most exciting companies in the local clean energy economy are minority-owned or have key managers from the minority community. And there are opportunities for every type of business.

It’s easier than you think. 

I recently had a chance to chat with Ross Macfarlane who is the senior advisor for business partnerships at the Seattle-based organization Climate Solutions. He observed that, “Global warming is a fundamental issue of our time. The transition from dirty energy to clean energy is happening.  It is now not a question of whether we will make this transition, but whether Northwest businesses can lead in attracting jobs and finding profitable opportunities.” He added, “We are working with businesses, environmentalists, government and public interest groups to lead that transition.”

Climate Solutions offers a range of educational, business support and policy advocacy programs.  They also work with other coalitions to advance the fight against global warming. He offered some interesting tidbits of information:

  • The “Business Leaders for Climate Solutions” network of more than 800 business executives and entrepreneurs is a way for those who share a common mission to lead rather than follow to engage on policy, education and networking.  Membership is free, and the Climate Solutions website posts a calendar of events of interest.
  • Many other great organizations partner closely with Climate Solutions and also provide opportunities.  For example, NW Energy Angels provides opportunities to network with potential  investors and get additional tips about how to get financing. Local businesses should also check out the Clean Energy Committee of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which is working to boost participation by minority businesses in these opportunities. 
  • Climate Solutions authored a report that highlights many of the most important opportunities in this sector: “Carbon Free Prosperity 2025.” This report identifies some of the  most promising business-development opportunities that will be in the fields of energy-efficient green building design,  smart grid and information technology, advanced biofuels and biomaterials and clean energy.  A statewide effort, the Clean Energy Leadership Council, will be completing a report later this fall that highlights key sectors and outlines an action plan for making this a more robust part of our economy.

In the meantime, Climate Solutions continues to advocate on the policy side for new financing options, revolving loan funds and stimulus-related resources for green businesses.  It wants to hear from businesses what will help create jobs and drive investment in this sector.

The key to success?  Make sure that you are providing as much to your business relationships as they provide to you. Climate Solutions provides an opportunity for you to contribute by helping lead the way to a green economy.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is 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 twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Congratulations to the 2010 Business Plan Competition Winners!

We had a record 92 student teams from 15 universities apply to participate in the competition. Over 120 judges devoted a full week-end the beginning of April to screen that group down to 36 teams—and provide feedback. At the Investment Round in late April, those 36 teams pitched their hearts out to 205 judges in the HUB Ballroom—and 16 advanced to the next round. Yesterday the Sweet 16 teams made their full presentations to another set of judges.  Six highly credible teams made it to the Final Round, where they presented to seven entrepreneur judges.

The next generation of start-ups are focused on recycled glass for building materials, windows that turn sunlight into energy, helping Korean students learn English, mobile payments, camera systems at mountain resorts to capture and share the activities of enthusiasts, devices for rapid quantitative immunoassays, measuring fat loss, and enhancing the wheelchair-bound person’s ability to walk, and a revolutionary enzyme that can mix with clay to build roads.  We would like to thank the judges, sponsors, volunteers, faculty, and our colleagues at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Central Washington, Edmonds CC, Embry-Riddle, Gonzaga, North Seattle CC, Seattle Central CC, Seattle Pacific, Seattle University, University of Puget Sound, University of Washington, UW Bothell, UW Tacoma, Western Washington, and Washington State University.

$25,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Grand Prize
YongoPal, UW
A service for South Korean university students that allows them to practice conversational English with their American peers via webcam, and that also allows university students in America to profit from those interactions.
Kyung Hee Yun, BA in Political Science; Jon Hickey, Master of Communication in Digital Media; Darien Brown and Daron Hall

$10,000 Bristlecone-Selamat Challenge Second Prize
Empowering Engineering Technologies, UW
EETech is developing a medical device called ExoWalk that utilizes patented ExoTendon technology to dramatically reduce the muscular force required to walk, enabling people with wheelchairs to stand up and walk their way to better qualities of life.
Brian Glaister, PhD in Mechanical Engineering; Katie Mulholland, MS in Mechanical Engineering; Chie Kawahara; and Jason Schoen

$5,000 Fenwick & West Finalist Prize
Febris, WSU
Produces a point of care viral diagnostic, based on patented processes, that can detect a viral infection days before the subject manifests physical symptoms and becomes contagious.
Jason Burt, MBA; Alice Lombard, DVM-Doctor of Veterinary Medicine; Andrew Lombard, MBA; and Michael Whittaker, MBA

$5,000 WRF Capital Finalist Prize
Emergent Detection, UW and UWT
Working to solve the worldwide obesity epidemic with its handheld device that immediately and directly measures personal fat loss in the home user.
Eric Fogel, Eve MBA; Joel Gjuka, MBA -UWT; Keegan Hall, MBA -UWT; Amanda Mathes, Eve MBA

BEST IDEA PRIZES
The BEST IDEA prizes were created to reward teams in the Business Plan Competition for their exceptional work in several different categories. The teams receiving these prizes were selected by a special group of judges during the Investment Round. This year we gave away SIX $2,500 Best Idea Prizes.

OVP Venture Partners Best Technology Idea
Empowering Engineering Technologies
, UW
EETech is developing a medical device called ExoWalk that utilizes patented ExoTendon technology to dramatically reduce the muscular force required to walk, enabling people with wheelchairs to stand up and walk their way to better qualities of life.
Brian Glaister, PhD in Mechanical Engineering; Katie Mulholland, MS in Mechanical Engineering; Chie Kawahara; and Jason Schoen

Synapse Product Development Best Consumer Product Idea
Native Roots
, WSU and U of Idaho
Positioned to become a major supplier of native plants, the breeding program currently has 40 native plant varieties in position to be patented with plant variety patents (PVPs).
Kathryn Leonard, MBA – WSU; Casey Neumeyer, BS Agribusiness – U of Idaho; and Mac Reynolds

Perkins Coie Best Innovation Idea
GreenStone International, Seattle U
Has developed a revolutionary enzyme that when mixed and compacted with clay creates a durable, low cost, waterproof and environmentally friendly road with a lifespan of more than 15 years.
James Spaulding, MBA; Heidi Han Yu, MBA; Emily Marshall, MBA; Ping Chee; John Craig; and Dick Polley 

DLA Piper Best Service/Retail Idea
Snovision, UW and Seattle Central Community College
Automated camera systems for mountain resorts that allow their terrain park participants to capture, share and further enjoy their mountain experience at home through our online community.
Rob Hammond, MBA; Jonas Harris, BA International Business; Josh Scotland, Undergrad CS and Business; Scott Stucker, Associate of Applied Sciences in Graphic Design; Sterling Swigart, Undergrad CS; Eli Rosenberg, MBA; and Robert Capogna

Sensors in Motion Best Sustainable Advantage Idea
WISErg, WSU
Will provide earth-friendly solutions to the growing problems of food waste disposal and energy consumption by offering a unique food-to-fuel solution to the nation’s largest consumers, starting with Fortune 500 corporate campuses.
Brandon Baker, Undergrad Business; Jaimee Jewell, Undergrad Business; Larry LeSueur; and Jose Lugo

Keeler Investments Best Clean-Tech Idea
EnVitrum, UW
Using the consumer glass waste stream to produce 100% recycled building materials and agricultural products.
Serena Batten, TMMBA; Scott Coil, Eve MBA; Grant Marchelli, MS Mechanical Engineering; and Renuka Prabhakar, BS Mechanical Engineering

Khoo TIME: Foster alumnus an influential entrepreneur

TIME magazine has named the founders of Seattle-based Internet comic strip Penny Arcade among its 2010 “TIME 100,” a roster of the world’s most influential people. While recognizing the artist/writer duo of Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins as the “tastemakers, and conscience,” of the massive computer gaming industry, the magazine also credits Foster School of Business grad Robert Khoo (BA 2000), Penny Arcade’s business director who turned an obscure comic into a mighty—and fiercely independent—media empire.

With Khoo at the helm of business affairs, Penny Arcade catalyzes a tight-knit Web community of 3.5 million hardcore gamers, throws an annual expo called PAX that draws 60,000 fans to Seattle each summer, and runs Child’s Play, a thriving charity that delivers video games to 60 children’s hospitals around the world.

Foster MBA alumnus lands crossword puzzles in LA and NY Times

What does it take to create a crossword puzzle of sufficient challenge and cleverness to be published in the New York Times? A bona fide polymath, well-read and widely-experienced. A serious student of popular culture, equally versed in history, sport, art, science, architecture, medicine, warfare, European languages—a renaissance man.

Jeff ChenFoster MBA alumnus Jeff Chen fits the bill. An entrepreneur, personal wealth manager, writer, rock climber and world traveler, Chen is also an avid puzzle-solver. A friend turned him on to the venerable New York Times daily crossword a couple of years ago. “It was love at first sight,” he says.

Last year he began composing his own. He’s already had four published in the Los Angeles Times and his first puzzle was recently accepted for the New York Times, a gold standard in the crossworld.

Chen says constructing crosswords is as much a test of strategy as vocabulary. He begins with a theme that ties together four or five long answers, and then builds around them. Devising appropriate, accurate, pithy clues is an art in and of itself.

Crossword puzzles are not a lucrative hobby. Each one takes Chen 15 to 20 hours to complete—before revisions. He has created 30-something puzzles and sold only five, each fetching between $85 and $200.

Entrepreneur, wealth manager, globe trotter, writer
It doesn’t threaten to supplant Chen’s day job. After earning his MBA from the University of Washington Foster School in 2002, Chen helped launch Acucela, developer of a novel treatment for degenerative eye disease. Since leaving Acucela last year, he has done private wealth management and is working on a new venture (currently undisclosed) with some friends. He has been an active board member with local non-profits Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Passages Northwest and Treehouse and recently traveled to Bolivia to examine microfinance operations for Global Partnerships.

Chen is also 90,000 words into his first novel, a story set at school in the mountains of Peru where kids learn how to be secret defenders of justice. “My brother and I were talking about how sad it was that there would never be another Harry Potter book,” he says. “So about two years ago I decided to write something that could start a similar kind of series. I’m not a published author, but I thought I’d give it a try.”

Chen still challenges himself daily with the puzzles of both newspapers (each escalates in difficulty from Monday forward), and says he can complete a New York Times Friday puzzle 75 percent of the time.

Match wits with Jeff Chen’s recent 2010 Monday and Tuesday Los Angeles Times puzzles.