Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

The 2014 UW EIC challenges student innovators to think like entrepreneurs

The U.S. Department of Energy recently held its fifth Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy  (ARPA-E) Innovation Summit—an annual event that brings together academics, entrepreneurs, innovators, and thought-leaders to discuss our most pressing energy issues, the technologies being developed to address them, and the market potential of innovative energy technologies.

A central message of the three-day summit was the importance of entrepreneurship. Keynote speakers like U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman stressed the importance of commercializing new technologies. Their message was clear: it’s one thing to develop a breakthrough technology. It’s another thing to turn that brilliant technology into something commercially viable. If you want to advance energy innovation and solve our energy crises, you have to think and act like an entrepreneur.

Pure Blue Adam Greenberg
Pure Blue Technologies, UW EIC 2013

For the past five years, the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) has been delivering that same message to innovative and entrepreneurial students from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Each year, interdisciplinary student teams are challenged to define an environmental problem, develop a solution, produce a prototype, and create a business summary that demonstrates market potential. The quarter-long process culminates in a large, DemoDay-like event where a select group of teams pitch to a group of 150+ judges—investors, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and experts from across sectors. The top teams are awarded up to $10,000 in prize money, and everyone comes away with valuable feedback and experience to help them realize the market potential of their innovations.

The 23 teams selected for this year’s UW EIC run the gamut of clean technology and environmental innovation: Loopool is addressing waste in the garment industry by creating a closed-loop supply chain that transforms reclaimed cotton garments and textiles into high quality, bio-based fiber; NOVA Solar Window combines the power-producing capabilities of a solar panel with the utility of a traditional window, providing renewable energy where traditional solar panels cannot. Korvata, in response to the harmful environmental effects of greenhouse gas emissions, has created a mixture of proprietary gasses to replace the use of nitrous oxide as a whipped cream propellant.

For the next month, these competitors, along with 20 others, will refine their prototypes, perform market analyses, hone their pitches, and prepare to prove that their innovation has the potential to succeed in the marketplace—and transform our world.

Follow the progress of the 2014 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge:

Science & Technology Showcase highlights student innovations

Many students at the University of Washington are working on science and technology-based innovations that have potential for commercialization. The annual Science & Technology Showcase (co-hosted by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and SEBA) is a tradeshow-like event where students have the opportunity to share these innovations with an audience of fellow scientists and engineers, as well as to business students interested in working on the marketability of new technologies.

STS participants also have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges—Seattle-area entrepreneurs and investors—who give awards to the most commercially viable ideas, along with prizes for categories like “Best Poster” and “Most Enthusiastic Pitch.”

Congratulations to this year’s award winners:

$1,000 Grand Prize: Flu Finder
The Flu Finder is an inexpensive, easy-to-use, rapid and accurate flu test that operates similarly to a home pregnancy test, providing a yes/no answer from a swab of the patient’s nose.

$500 Second-Place Prize: ElectroMetal Solutions
ElectroMetal Solutions has developed a new approach to plating metals onto surfaces using metal ions dissolved in water—a technology that may be of use to industrial manufacturers who require precise applications of high-cost metal materials (think gold).

$300 Third-Place Prize: Find Nano
FindNano has developed a rapid, simple, affordable and portable technology to assess the presence of nonparticles in liquid samples (e.g. blood, rivers), solid surfaces (e.g. soil, food), and textiles.

Best Poster: Terra Mizu
TerraMizu’s goal is to design an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective clay-pipe irrigation device for use in developing nations.

Most Innovative: Seahorse Robotic
In order to more accurately develop oceanographic  weather forecasting models there needs to be a higher density and quality of measurements supplied by observation platforms on the ocean’s surface. Seahorse Robotic oceanographic platform was created as part of an ongoing attempt to design energy-independent surface vehicles.

Most Enthusiasm: GO+OD
GO+OD is a process and program developed to encourage millenials—the most civic-minded age group—to “go + do good.”

Best Communicator: H2.O
H2.O is developing a patent-pending technology that uses water as a medium to convert ambient infared radiation energy into electricity.

Best Marketing Strategy: ElectroMetal Solutions
(see above)

From concrete bunker to startup hub

CondonHallSince 2003, Condon Hall, former home of the UW Law School, has sat half-empty, providing temporary overflow space for various departments. Soon, Condon Hall will  become Startup Hall, a home-base for promising early-stage companies and the hub of what’s expected to be Seattle’s next hot startup district.

Startup Hall was the brainchild of a core committee of UW and entrepreneurial community leaders, including Paul Jenny, vice provost of the Office of Planning and Budget, and Chris DeVore, the director of Techstars and chair of the City of Seattle’s Economic Development Commission. It’s the first step in what will be a multi-year effort to transform the University District into a thriving entrepreneurial hub.

“It’s clear that this area is going to see major changes over the next 10+ years,” says DeVore, citing a recent economic study and the light rail build-out to the U-District that has stations slated to open in 2016 and 2021. The neighborhood’s anticipated improvements, along with its proximity to the UW, an institution buzzing with entrepreneurial energy, will make it a logical place for innovative businesses to put down roots.

The question has been, says DeVore, “what will it take to get these innovative, high-growth businesses to choose the U-District for their next office move?” The answer: Startup Hall. DeVore explains, “By beginning to shift early-stage startup activity to the neighborhood—with Startup Hall as the catalyst, but with the bigger goal of filling as much existing office space as possible with innovation-based companies—we’ll begin to integrate the university and the neighborhood with the innovation community.”

TechStars and UP Global,  Startup Hall’s first anchor tenants, will share an atrium-like space on the north side of the building. Across the hall, an open co-working space will house up to 20 small, early-stage tech companies. The building will also have an office for UW programs, including the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, plus spaces for meeting, eating, and the occasional Ping-Pong match. The entire structure has been redesigned to facilitate creativity and collaboration. With any luck, Start-Up Hall will open the U-District to a flood of ideas and new ventures. Who knows? In a few years, students might pass by the next Google or Amazon on their way to campus.

$120,000 awarded to student-led startups

JonesPresentation2014_ZGirls2
Z Girls co-presidents Libby Ludlow and Jilyne Higgins present their progress to a panel of judges

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones + Foster Accelerator is a TechStars-like program that helps student-led startups get off the ground.

This year, five teams completed the six-month accelerator program, identifying and meeting milestones with the guidance of top entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors from Seattle’s entrepreneurial community.  From July 2013 to February 2014 they worked to build their teams, develop their services or technologies, get their products to market, and raise early-stage funding.

On February 4, the five teams made final presentations to a panel of judges and were awarded up to $25,000 in follow-on funding to pursue their next set of milestones.

  • PolyDropPolyDrop manufactures additives that transform regular coatings (think paint) into conductive coatings that dissipate static electricity and prevent interference caused by electric current flow.  PolyDrop has been awarded a Commercialization Gap Fund grant of $50,000 and a National Science Foundation STTR grant of $225,000, providing the funds necessary for 2014 operations and develop a prototype proving the viability of their product.
  • PureBluePure Blue Technologies, a water treatment technology company that provides visible light photo disinfection and desalination technology, is currently finalizing a license with the UW Center for Commercialization. The company has negotiated lab space with Ondine biomedical and has a term sheet for up to $1.5 million in equity funding, which will give them 18 months of runway to cover additional research and development and get them to the pilot stage.
  • ZGirlsZ Girls educates female athletes ages 11-14 on the mental and emotional skills important in sports and life. The company has received a $100,000 convertible note, raised $50,000 to provide scholarships for girls who demonstrate need, and hired 27 program leaders (all college or pro-level female athletes). In the last six months 182 girls have gone through Z Girls’ Seattle-based programs. (Check out Z Girls’ promotional videos on their website!)
  • StudentRNDStudentRND runs programs aimed at educating students (middle-school through college) about programming and engineering.  The nonprofit has created an advisory board, raised over $135,000 in sponsorships, and put together an operations plan that includes hosting 20 Code Days in Spring 2014.
  • LuckyStepsLuckySteps, a wellness program for companies and their employees, has raised $30,000 in the past six months. The company is working with a UW Human Centered Design and Engineering group on a usability study and has run beta tests with four prospective clients in order to prove its business model and pricing structure. Lucky Steps plans to wow the judges in this year’s UW Business Plan Competition.

The art of failing

This event was hosted by Neal Dempsey, the Foster School’s visiting 2013-2014 Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership.

art-of-failing-eventFailure is part of life. In fact, success often starts with failure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or painful. On January 21, a panel at the Foster School tackled the art of failing. The panelists were Steve Singh, CEO of Concur; Sean Dempsey, founder and general partner of Merus Capital; and Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA, Class of 2014. Bruce Avolio, professor of management and executive director of Foster’s Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, moderated the discussion.

The discussion covered a range of topics and often oscillated between risk, failure and success. It’s difficult to have real success without risk and the potential for failure. There was also an emphasis on the ability to adapt to change, particularly when faced with the potential for failure.

Griswold spoke about changing her strategy for finding an internship after several months of no success. Ultimately, she was successful in landing an internship because she approached her goal from a broader view and was willing to risk failure. She said this experience taught her three things:

  1. Focus on the goal. She came to the MBA Program as career changer. For her, conducting informational interviews with people who had successful career paths, not people who worked at a particular company, was most effective.
  2. Believe in yourself. If you’re trying to convince someone else you can do something before you have convinced yourself, it won’t work.
  3. Embrace risk. Look for opportunities that scare you—ones where you could actually fail.

In order to cope with risk, you have to possess the patience and persistence to work until it pays off. Dempsey said, whether you are building your career or a company, “You should be short-term impatient and long-term patient.” In other words, you have to keep moving forward on a day to day basis, but you also have to realize change happens over time. Persistence, even in the face of failure, is critical for success.

Trying to accomplish a goal too quickly can also lead to failure, especially if you don’t consider the big picture. Instead of making decisions based on the next 90 days, Singh, who has been the CEO of Concur for over 20 years, said he considers the impact of his decisions on the next five to ten years. He said he realized, “There are goals along the way, but there is no end goal.” For him, getting to success is a long-term process. He tells his team, “Your job is to define the world the way it should be defined. Not in the way that is best for you, not in the way where you get the most value out of it, but the way it should be.” Once you figure that out, he said, “You step back and think about how you get from here to there.”

When implementing what you’ve defined as the way the world should be, be prepared to face challenges and failure. Dempsey likened this process to being at the top of a black diamond ski run. From the top, it looks long and intimidating and there are obstacles to overcome, but he said, “The thing to do is only worry about what you can control.” From there, the strategy is to take it one step at a time.

The panelists also talked about how failing can be the ultimate teaching tool, and they pointed out that not failing is also risky—it means you’re not challenging yourself. Click on the video below to watch the entire discussion.

Pivoting for success: a CEO panel on adapting for growth

DempseyPanelWhen most people hear the word “pivot” they imagine the agile, effortless movement of an experienced athlete. But, for CEOs like Chet Kapoor, Christopher Cabrera, and Joe Ruck, pivoting in the business world–making sharp turns in strategy to capitalize on new opportunities–is anything but effortless.

On Thursday, November 21, in a room packed with students and faculty, a panel of three CEOs discussed their theories and hands-on experience in adapting their businesses for growth. The event was moderated by Professor Charles Hill and hosted by Neal Dempsey–the Foster School’s visiting 2013-2014 Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership–who brought the three Silicon Valley CEOs to Dempsey Hall.

The discussion began with each CEO describing how they knew when the time was right to “pivot”–i.e., redefine and reconfigure their business–and how they managed to enact such drastic change. Afterwards, the floor was opened for audience questions. Prompted by students, the CEOs launched into a discussion on the difficulties of managing both internal and external buyin. Cabrera emphasized the need for decisive action: “You’re the CEO; you’re on the ground; you have to make the decisions.” Kapoor mentioned transparency as an effective method of earning internal and external trust, and Ruck underscored the importance of having a core team of true believers.

The three CEOs combined brought over a half-century of experience to bear in the discussion. Kapoor, CEO of Apigee, has spent more than 20 years in leadership positions in innovative software and hardware companies. Cabrera, founder, president and CEO of Xactly, is a seasoned executive with more than two decades of successful senior management experience at both early-stage and public companies. Ruck, President and CEO of BoardVantage, held marketing and executive positions at several software companies prior to leading his company from being a startup to its current position as a technology leader.

Over the course of the evening, Cabrera, Kapoor, and Ruck discussed topics such as how to foster a culture of open dissent, how to react when pivoting goes awry, and what the life of a CEO is truly like. They offered a diverse array of strategies and opinions; however, on the subject of the challenge of maintaining a competitive advantage, the three CEOs professed similar beliefs in maintaining momentum by being open to new opportunities. “You don’t win a race by looking back. You win by looking ahead,” Kapoor said.

NeuroVentures: the emerging neuro-economy

NeuroVentures_AstrocyteOn Seattle’s First Hill, at the Virginia Mason Neuroscience Institute, a 70-year-old Lou Gehrig’s patient is “banking” her voice so that once the disease takes away her ability to speak she can use her eyes to prompt a computer system to speak for her. A few blocks away, University of Washington spinout Impel Neuropharma recently completed a successful human trial of a device that delivers drugs from the nose directly to the brain to treat central nervous system disorders. And across town, UW scientists have developed a way for people who use cochlear implants to process the sounds of musical melodies and notes.

Neuroscience is a rapidly developing cluster in Seattle, and the driving force behind “NeuroVentures,” a new entrepreneurship course that hopes to capitalize on advances in neuro-fields, from biotech and medicine to law and advocacy, and train entrepreneurs for the emerging neuro-economy.  The course, taught by Sam Browd, attending neurosurgeon at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Harborview Medical Center, and faculty at the UW Medical Center, will teach graduate students in engineering, neuroscience, medicine, health sciences, business, and education how to take the technologies they’re developing in school and turn them into successful ventures.

“I’m incredibly excited to be the course director for NeuroVentures,” says Browd, who will be joined by an “all-star lineup of the who’s who in biomedical entrepreneurship from Seattle and around the country,”—guest speakers like Craig Sherman, partner at Wilson Sonsini, Michael Hite, CEO of Impel Neuropharma, and Lance Stewart, senior director of alliances at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. “Our goal is to provide a roadmap from idea to funded company,” Browd explains. Course lectures will cover every aspect of neuro-related entrepreneurship, from intellectual property and conflict of interest to marketing and competitive analysis.

But the class isn’t simply a lecture series. As any good entrepreneur knows, the way to gain experience is to start something. To that end, students from various disciplines will form teams and collaborate to develop their ideas, research the competition, develop a business model, and construct an executive summary of their neuro-related start-up. The experience could give these entrepreneurial students a leg up in the annual UW Business Plan Competition. It will also prepare them for real-world entrepreneurship. Equipped with the necessary skills, NeuroVentures students might just go on to form companies that address autism, Alzheimer’s, sports concussions, or PTSD.

NeuroVentures is offered starting in Winter Quarter 2014.