Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

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.

Top four takeaways from Entrepreneur Week 2013

Entrepreneur Week is the Buerk Center’s annual window to the world of entrepreneurship. Over the course of a week, we host events featuring Seattle’s high-profile thinkers, dreamers, innovators, and doers. Whether you’re a die-hard entrepreneur, interested in working for a start-up, or just entre-curious, this is your opportunity to meet and learn from venture capitalists, start-up CEOs, and serial entrepreneurs.

Since we started EntreWeek in 2007, guest speakers have provided us with more than a few kernels of wisdom, and this year was no exception.  Kristen Hamilton, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Maveron, Chris Lewicki of Planetary Resources, and Christina Lomasney of Modumetal  left audiences with a deeper understanding of entrepreneurship and the value of embracing innovation, change, growth, and failure.

While this year’s words of wisdom were plentiful, we’ve chosen a few favorites. Here are our Top Four Takeaways from EntreWeek 2013.

Kristen Hamilton, Kelsye Nelson, Dan Price
Kristen Hamilton, Kelsye Nelson, Dan Price

1. Fail early, fail cheap
“Failure is learning,” said Kristen Hamilton, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Maveron, during Think Like a Start-up, EntreWeek’s panel focused on how entrepreneurs’ curiosity, creativity and fearlessness drive their start-up ideas. Hamilton, along with co-panelists Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, and Kelsye Nelson, CEO of Writer.ly, stressed the importance of allowing yourself to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and move on. “At the end of the day,” said Price, “you just have to take action and try things. You will fail, but your failure might take you to that next place where you can make an incrementally better failure.”

2. Get comfortable with a to-do list that’s never done
Entrepreneurs never have enough time. Getting a start-up running involves back-to-back schedules, little time for extracurriculars, and minimal sleep. So how do you avoid the exhaustion, and the guilt of saying no to friends, family, and work-life balance? “I no longer say I’m too busy. Instead, I say it’s not a priority,” said Kelsye Nelson. “When you start a business, you have to let go of some things. You might not be able to have all the friendships or hobbies you want. It’s a choice.” Dan Price offered another solution – he’s figured out how to combine some of his to-do’s into one. “I want to exercise and I want to talk to a client,” he said, “so I ask some clients to go jogging with me.”

Christina Lomasney, CEO of Modumetal
Christina Lomasney, CEO of Modumetal

3. Know yourself and believe in your abilities
EntreWeek’s Wonder Women panel featured three CEOs: Christina Lomasney of Modumetal, Adina Mangubat of Spiral Genetics, and Katie Thompson of Sigby. When asked how she managed to pursue her business idea despite criticism and fear of failure, Lomasney responded, “Have a vision for what you want to be. If you know what you’re trying to accomplish in your own life, it won’t matter if someone else comes along and tells you you’re not going to make it.” Thompson added, “I don’t think it’s fear of failure. I think it’s fear of judgement. If you can embrace the fact that you are going to be judged, you can look at every encounter and say, ‘what can I take from this’?” The point is clear: believe in yourself and your abilities, and let criticism be an opportunity for improvement, but never a force to knock you off your path to success.

Emerald City Beer canned lager
Emerald City Beer canned lager

4. Stand Out from the Crowd
To succeed, new businesses need to cut through the noise and make an impression in the market. So how does a start-up stand out? Jeff Shaffer, founder of Agave and Bluer denim, spoke during a presentation titled Designer Denim: Born in the USA. His company is dedicated to recycled and American-made denim products. “Gimmicks don’t have any lasting value,” he said, “but if you create social value for your brand, and you are true to those values, your message will resonate with a lot of people.” Rick Hewitt, CEO of Emerald City Brewing, chose to focus on niche craft beer product: canned lagers. Hewitt, who spoke during Off the Vine Ventures, a panel of wine, beer, and alcohol entrepreneurs, said, “Cans are new. It’s a segment nobody else is really playing in right now. We were the first in the state to offer lager in cans.” The message is clear: Be a little different, identify your niche, and you won’t get lost in the crowd.

 To see videos from EntreWeek 2013 visit the UW Entrepreneur Week page on our website.

Forty chances

buffettHoward G. Buffett and his son Howard W. Buffett spoke at the Foster School on November 5 about their recently published book, Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World. The talk was moderated by Linda Nageotte, president and CEO of Food Lifeline. The premise of the book and the talk was that farmers typically have 40 crop seasons during their lives. Howard G. Buffett remarked that’s a short, finite period of time and there are no do overs. Therefore you need to focus and have a sense of urgency and be willing to take risks.

Howard G. Buffett is the son of investor and philanthropist, Warren Buffett, and he received $3 billion from his father in 2006 for his foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to assist the one billion people on earth who lack access to food. The foundation focuses its efforts primarily on food security, water security and conflict mitigation. During the talk, Buffett made the point that food is more powerful than money in many parts in the world. He said, “You can use food to avoid conflict, but hunger causes conflict and conflict causes hunger.”

In addition to being a farmer and philanthropist, Buffett is also a photographer. In addition to Forty Chances, each member of the audience received a book which featured photographs Buffett took while traveling the world. He explained that photography is a way for him to document and prove what he sees. He also mentioned the importance seeing the problems he was trying to solve in person. He emphasized it’s important to show up. He said in order to understand something you have to feel it, smell it, see it and experience it. He said for him, there is no other way to gain that level of understanding.

All in

Barry SchulmanBarry Shulman brings his “A” game to business, poker and life

Barry Shulman (BA 1967) is not a professional poker player.

Sure, he has a pair of championship bracelets from the World Series of Poker, 16 tournament titles, and 119 finishes in the cash—adding up to winnings in excess of $4.7 million. And he’s authored five books and a video on the game’s intricacies.

But it’s not how he makes his living. “People think I just played poker all my life,” says Shulman, whose inscrutable granite scowl at the card table is straight out of Central Casting. “That’s never how I paid my rent. My whole life I’ve worked, worked, worked.”

After graduating with a degree in accounting from the Foster School, Shulman started in his father’s wholesale liquor business.

Real money

But Shulman had his own ambitions. He began selling non-traditional securities in oil and gas and real estate—“anything that wasn’t stocks and bonds,” he says.

Throughout the 1980s his expertise in real estate was quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Businessweek, Fortune, Barrons and a host of other media.

He also developed real estate of his own. In the ’80s and early ’90s, Shulman bought, developed, managed and sold condominiums in 19 Northwest communities, usually with a trusted group of investors. The deals were conservative, and lined up before seeking capital. And he always had skin in the game.

“I never did deals that I didn’t have a big investment in,” Shulman says. “I wasn’t just making money by raising money. If it was going to make money for me, it had to make money for the other guys, too.

“No investor in any of my deals ever lost a penny.”

What happened in Vegas

Having accumulated a tidy nest egg—and zero debt—by the early 1990s, Shulman decided to retire to Las Vegas, travel a bit, and maybe play a little poker, a hobby back in his college days.

Retirement didn’t suit him, intellectually. But poker did. He studied the game voraciously. And he began winning money in progressively bigger tournaments.

Shulman couldn’t help but notice that interest in the game was exploding. The venues had gone upscale, a long way from the game’s smoky backroom past. There were more and bigger-money tournaments. And they were on TV. Plus, the Internet was just about to break.

“It was crystal clear to me to me that poker was going to boom,” Shulman says. “And I wanted to get in on the business.”

Ruling out a casino, he instead purchased Card Player Media with his retirement funds. With Shulman as publisher and son Jeff as president, Card Player has become a major force in the industry. Shulman & son are as responsible as anyone for poker’s continuing ascent.

The sweet life

At 67, Shulman remains the right kind of busy for one averse to retirement. He travels the world by cruise ship with his wife Allyn, and blogs about his experiences at JetSetWay.com. He’s the CEO of the Shulman Family Foundation, and keeps a hand in the real estate business with a few low-risk commercial properties.

He leads Card Player and plays a lot of cards, a hobbyist of the highest order. This makes Shulman patriarch of the “First Family of Poker”—Allyn is a champion in her own right (with more than $1 million in winnings) and Jeff is one of only three people this century to make the final table at two World Series of Pokers (2001 and 2009).

Reflecting on a still-vibrant career, Shulman believes that success in business and in poker comes from the same place.

“In business,” he says, “if you do the right things at the right times in the right places and with the right people, sometimes you get lucky. I’ve never won a poker tournament without getting lucky. I’ve also never won one where I wasn’t playing my best game. The two go together.”

The who, what, why, and Howe of Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle
Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle makes a great first impression.  It has that industrial chic thing down to a T: exposed brick, grand staircase, rustic wooden beams. There are Herman Miller chairs and 24” monitors at every desk, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, hot showers for bike commuters, and blazing fast internet, of course.   But the HUB is more than just a pretty face. It’s a space where entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and innovative start-up companies work side by side with the shared goal of making the world a better place.

“That’s Mark,” says HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe, waving at a young man through the glass walls of a sleek conference room.  “He’s the CEO of Moving World. It’s a for-profit start-up that connects professionals with vacation volunteer projects that match their skill sets.”  He turns and gestures in the other direction. “Two offices down,” he continues, “is the Seattle Good Business Network. They promote the benefits of buying and thinking local.” The HUB is filled with start-ups and nonprofits like these – organizations committed to treating contribution to the common good with the same reverence as financial gain.

Howe’s fascination with entrepreneurship began in law school, when he and an MBA student were assigned to help entrepreneurs in underserved communities with their business plans and legal issues. “It turned out I enjoyed the business side more than the legal side,” says Howe. So after getting his law degree, he set out to build his entrepreneurial expertise and earn what he calls a “poor man’s MBA,” competing in the UW Business Plan Competition with Safety Innovation, a company that produced protective garments for hospitals.

Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe
Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe

As Howe became more confident of his start-up skills and his law firm found its niche serving impact entrepreneurs, he found himself spending more time helping clients with introductions to investors, writing business plans, and polishing pitch decks. He was passionate about the work, but it did not match the billable hour model of a law firm. Howe asked himself, “Is there a business model that allows me to do the work that I love doing?” His answer: Yes, start an incubator.

Howe went looking for inspiration and came across the global HUB network, an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs. Started in London in 2004, the HUB network had grown to about 40 outposts worldwide, and one had just opened in San Francisco. “I fell in love with the energy of the space,” says Howe, of his visit, “and thought, this is it. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I need to bring this to Seattle.”

Roughly a year later, HUB Seattle has 500 members who use the space to work on their start-ups, hold meetings and workshops, and share ideas with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. The HUB’s “everything under one roof” model means that members can help each other with just about every aspect of running a start-up, from accounting to web design. HUB Seattle has built partnerships with organizations like Social Venture Partners and Bainbridge Graduate Institute, aopens its space up for community events like Startup Weekend, film screenings, and Tech Meetups.

So what’s next for HUB Seattle? Howe is thinking globally. “The HUB is arguably the largest network of impact entrepreneurs in the world,” he says.  He plans to develop a globally dispersed consulting network made up of HUB members who can share their talents, collaborate on ideas, and help each other change the world.