Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

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.

Nanocel takes a novel approach to cooling electronics

Dustin Miller and Daniel Rossi show off their productThere are big problems and then there are BIG problems. Cooling electronics, for example. How do you keep large server farms from overheating and how can you extend the battery life of laptops and other portable electronics? “We are currently using over three percent of the nation’s energy on cooling the Internet,” says Dustin Miller, PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and the co-founder, with UW MBA Daniel Rossi, of Nanocel.  The company, which won the $25,000 grand prize at the UW’s Business Plan Competition in May 2009, is introducing affordable fluid-based cooling systems for computer chips.  “Industry calculations say that fluid-based cooling could cut energy use in half,” explained Miller. “That’s a staggering amount.”

Nanocel’s technology uses a combination of microfluidics and novel, moldable plastic materials to cool devices more cheaply than other liquid-based systems and more efficiently than cooling fans. The products use thousands to millions of very thin (between one and 100 micrometers wide) vessels to circulate tiny amounts of liquid in close contact with the computer chips or other device components prone to overheating.  The original process was developed at the University of Washington for food packaging.  “So, for the cost of a coffee cup, you can have a heat sink that used to be made out of copper,” Rossi added.

Rossi’s market research demonstrated that Nanocel wouldn’t have to look far for potential customers and partners. Computer chip manufacturers and designers are obvious candidates, but Nanocel is also talking with companies that make gaming consoles, servers and hardware. “There are tons of shelf-ready products that can’t go to market because they’re too hot,” Rossi says. Fans aren’t powerful enough to cool them down, and liquid technologies are too pricey.

Since the competition, the Nanocel founders have incorporated the company and are gearing up for their first angel funding round in early 2010.

(We’d like to thank Rachel Tompa, Xconomy Seattle, who wrote a longer version of this article. The full story is here.)

InTheWorks goes in for CARB testing

Third-party validation is a critical test of a new technology, and InTheWorks, which developed a catalytic converter for gasoline marine engines (a technology that could set the standard in marine emissions reduction), has survived that particular ordeal. Since winning an honorable mention award at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge in 2009, InTheWorks (ITW) has gone through third-party verification, completed a round of private funding, and is now embarking on the all-important CARB (California Air Resources Board) certification process for its patent-pending AquaCat catalytic converter.

Todd Hanson, a UW biochemistry graduate and the chief technologist of the company, developed the technology that was on display at the Challenge last year. The AquaCat was designed to increase fuel efficiency and eliminate most of the harmful emissions of high-performance engines, which are dirtier and more difficult to address than smaller engines. He calls the CARB test “more rigorous than the federal government’s EPA standards.” Passing this test, he says, will give ITW access to new development and market opportunities.

Hanson’s role in CARB has meant that he’s spent more time in California in the last year than in Washington. According to Hanson’s team mate, Jamie Forsyth (Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA 2009), who is now the company’s business development director, in the works at ITW is an initial proposal for the US Coast Guard for a diesel adaptation of the technology, a memorandum of understanding with a regional transit authority for a passenger ferry project, and new interest by a leader in automotive induction systems technologies. “We think that 2010 will be the year that InTheWorks makes its mark,” she says, “and the marine industry is just the start of something big.” Check it out at www.intheworks.com

Ecowell delivers on its refreshment kiosk promise

“For the Environmental Innovation Challenge in 2009, we had an old computer server rack we’d dummied up to look like a vending kiosk that served water. Our mission was to eliminate a portion of the 500 million plastic bottles and cans that are discarded every day,” said Reid Schilperoort, a 2010 WSU graduate in finance and entrepreneurship. “Of course that first kiosk didn’t work, but it got the message across!”

EcowellToday, the kiosks work. Ecowell, which incorporated in May 2009, provides waste-free, healthy and personalized refreshment to on-the-go customers through its revolutionary vending kiosks. Customers can fill their reusable containers with purified hot, cold, or carbonated water and personalize their beverage with 100 percent natural juices, teas, and nutritional supplements.

After a successful first round of financing, ecowell has manufactured eight new beverage-dispensing kiosks. With installations at three eastern Washington high schools and at Avista Utilities in Spokane, the company’s test marketing is going better than expected. The ecowell  team includes the original UW Environmental Innovation Challenge competitors, as well as four new employees and a board of directors. And they’re well on their way to answering their original question: Can on-the-go purified water and other beverages be offered without polluting our environment and or risking our wellbeing?

2009 grand-prize winner HydroSense is acquired by Belkin International

hydrosense“HydroSense won the grand prize at the inaugural Environmental Innovation Challenge in April 2009 with a water-usage monitoring technology that screws onto a single valve in a home and can detect water use down to each specific toilet, shower, and faucet,” says Jon Froehlich, a PhD student in computer science. “This type of highly granular monitoring data can fundamentally shift how households, utilities, and policy makers think about and understand water consumption.”

After winning the UW EIC, Froehlich and his student team of engineers and computer scientists entered the UW Business Plan Competition, adding MBAs from the Foster School of Business to the team to help refine the HydoSense business model and investment pitch. One of 90 teams at the outset of the event, they made it to the Final Round of the competition, winning a $5,000 prize and the $2,500 Best Clean-Tech Idea award.

“Our success generated a lot of visibility, and we received queries from a number of potential investors and acquirers,” Froehlich said. “The HydroSense research team is led by UW Professor Shwetak Patel, and I’m one of two graduate students on the project. Within about six months, the UW TechTransfer office negotiated a licensing deal, and the HydroSense technology was acquired as part of a larger energy portfolio by Belkin International earlier this year. We went from being a research idea to being bought by a major international company that has the resources to commercialize HydroSense on a massive scale. Now that’s impact!”

For Belkin International’s acquisition of HydroSense/Zensi, see news release.

Winners of UW Environmental Innovation Challenge

“It’s like a science fair on steroids.” That comment by judge and venture capitalist Loretta Little (of WRF Capital) captured the essence of the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge. 19 student teams from 7 Washington state universities and colleges met in Seattle on April 1 to pitch clean-tech, energy-saving business ideas and prototypes to more than 100 judges, venture capitalists, angel investors, professors and business leaders. Watch video highlights.

EIC_EnvitrumGrand prize = $10,000

A team of University of Washington engineers with a business called EnVitrum won the $10,000 grand prize for their innovative glass recycling and green building technology that converts glass into bricks that are stronger and cheaper than masonry and have a dual purpose of cultivating plants.

Second place + honorable mentions = $12,500

Second place with $5,000 went to Triangle Energy (a University of Washington team consisting of two Foster MBA students, one UW doctoral student in mechanical engineering, one UW doctoral student in biochemistry and one UW chemical engineering undergraduate) who created a mobile bioreactor that converts solid biomass into synthesis gas for energy use. Three honorable mention awards of $2,500 each went to interdisciplinary teams of engineering and business students: NanoWAVE (North Seattle Community College) created an energy-efficient, cost-effective LED lighting alternative for growing plants in nurseries, greenhouses and indoor gardens; iDriveSmart (University of Washington) created software that helps predict and encourage fuel-efficient driving; and Idyll Energy Solutions (Seattle Pacific University) created a solution to the idle, wasted energy of household electronics.

The 2nd annual UW Environmental Innovation Challenge was a collaborative venture between the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UW College of Engineering and UW College of the Environment. Learn more or get involved in next year’s Challenge.

NanoString: a big idea turns counting molecules into a thriving business

NanoString founder Amber RatcliffAmber Ratcliffe was close to graduating with her MBA in 2003 and had accepted a job offer at an established Seattle biotech firm when she submitted her plan for NanoString to the UW Business Plan Competition. To her amazement, her plan for the life sciences start-up won the grand prize, the “Best High-Tech Idea” award and $31,000 in start-up capital, leaving Ratcliffe with a big decision to make.  

“I wasn’t going to live my life wondering what might have been,” she said. So she changed course, put the entrepreneurial strategies she’d learned at Foster into practice, and co-founded NanoString Technologies in June 2003. NanoString commercialized an innovative technology invented at the Institute for Systems Biology to use DNA barcodes to detect and count molecules in biological samples. It might sound like science fiction, but the technology is now helping researchers at organizations like the National Cancer Institute gain a better understanding of how to battle cancer.

“Researchers, like entrepreneurs, want to solve the problems that no one else has been able to crack,” said Ratcliffe, who is now the company’s director of marketing.  “Foster gave me the tools to be an entrepreneur and now NanoString is giving scientists the tools to conduct studies that were previously inconceivable. It’s an exciting and rewarding combination.”

Her decision to take a chance on NanoString has been validated: the company has been shipping products internationally since 2008 and has raised over $47 million in venture capital. The next big challenge for NanoString is the competitive clinical diagnostic market. “NanoString’s combination of features are very well suited for this new market,” Ratcliffe said. “We believe this technology has the potential to make a significant contribution to the practice of medicine.”

Hear Amber’s story and check out: www.nanostring.com