Category Archives: Green Economy

It’s not all about the money!

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

This month’s innovation blog focuses on an organization: Craft3. Craft3 is an old organization with a new name. Once known as Enterprise Cascadia, Craft3 is a financial institution that operates as a non-profit, lending capital to help businesses, communities, and consumers unable to secure regular financing.

Since 1995, Craft3 has invested $233 million in over 2,800 business and individuals in Pacific Northwest communities. Based in Ilwaco, Craft3 also has offices in downtown Seattle, Port Angeles, Astoria and Portland. In 2013, Craft3 will open new offices east of the mountains in both Washington and Oregon.

“This means that Craft3 can more effectively serve both rural and urban customers,” says Sue Taoka, Craft3’s Executive Vice President in Seattle. “In urban areas, we are more focused in helping targeted areas, like depressed neighborhoods and communities of color. With our strategy to expand in rural, regional centers, Craft3 will serve broader areas that have a potential for growth.”

Pippa's Real Tea
Pippa’s Real Tea, a Craft3 project

As a “triple bottom line” organization, Craft3 measures its success in terms of economic, social and environmental outcomes. Its mission, to “strengthen economic, ecological and family resilience in Pacific Northwest communities,” is great news for those who have suffered during this economic downturn.

Craft3 fulfills this mission by offering loans to entrepreneurs to start or grow their business, and conservation organizations to acquire sensitive lands and restore habitat. It also makes loans to individually-owned tribal businesses, tribal enterprises, tribal government and non-profit organizations. Energy efficiency retrofit loans are available to homeowners and small businesses in Seattle and Portland.

And it doesn’t stop there. Craft3 also provides support to its customers by referring them to other sources, and making connections. For example, Craft3 was able to help a Quinault fisherman connect his caviar products with an urban store that also benefits from Craft3 services. Craft3 financed an Oregon organic creamery so that it could place its products in urban markets. Craft3’s loans to The Freshwater Trust, helped to plant trees along the Rogue River, to cool industrial effluent.

“We make loans to innovators of all kinds, to those who have difficulty getting loans from a for-profit financial institution,” says Sue. One of her favorite success stories? In the late 1990’s few babies were being born in the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. Most were stillborn. Craft3 helped fund a new health clinic, and when Sue visited 18 months ago, a healthy baby had just been born.

Small business entrepreneurs, small industry, human service agencies and farmers have all benefited from Craft3. And so has the environment, the community, and our future. For more information, go to www.craft3.org.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Challenges drive environmental innovation

Why are “challenges” so crucial in driving innovation?  We asked Connie Bourassa-Shaw, the director of UW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship about this, specifically in relation to the Center’s annual Environmental Innovation Challenge.  Here’s what she had to say:

We launched the Environmental Innovation Challenge in 2009 because we believe that “challenges” drive innovation, and we were looking to engage smart, passionate students in the quest to produce real, market-conscious solutions to environmental problems.  My story at the time was the Solar Car Challenge, which has been going on for the last decade or so. Most people know it. But the point is that we’re still not driving solar cars. That’s what I didn’t want to see. I wanted to see market results with the EIC.

So we narrowed it down to this: Tell me what the environmental problem is, tell me about your solution, show me that it works, tell me about the market opportunity, and demonstrate the potential for impact. Now, what we’re asking students to do is hard. Designing and building a prototype is hard. Getting it to work is even harder.  And we’re not interested in the $5,000 solution to the $500 problem. It’s got to be appropriate technology, especially when you’re looking at technologies targeted for third-world countries.

The Challenge is run by CIE (which is in the Foster School of Business), in partnership with the College of Engineering and the College of the Environment. We want cross-disciplinary teams–from undergrads to PhD students. We start the process with a fall quarter class–the Environmental Innovation Practicum. Those students walk through the process of thinking about and planning for the Challenge, which happens late March or early April. We get $25,000 from the College of Engineering to provide small grants ($500 to $5,000, but generally under $2,000) to teams that need prototype funding. We give all the money away.

This year (2012) GIST won the $10,000 grand prize. Barrels of Hope and Urban Harvest won prizes as well–and both went on to our annual Business Plan Competition, which follows the Challenge. In fact, about half of the EIC teams go on to do the BPC.

What happens is really interesting–students get caught up in the excitement of thinking about making this a real company. Many are very serious.

The EIC is full of great stories, and the “challenge” process itself is the key.

2012 Business Plan Competition innovations inspire

Business plan competitions are never just isolated, one-off events. Instead, not only do they help advance the participant innovations along their entrepreneurial paths, but such competitions also help identify overall trends and patterns. What we learn from watching changes in participation, the width and breadth of the ideas and the increasing professionalism of submissions over the years may also serve as an indication of where our economy is (or will be) heading and how prepared our emerging innovators are to address it.

As the University of Washington Foster School of Business’ 2012 Business Plan Competition gets underway, student co-chairs Alan Blickenstaff and Annie Koski-Karell (both MBA 2013) wrote a submissions review letter noting key developments. Letter excerpts:

The first submission I picked up from the daunting stack of papers in front of me described an innovative online service that would connect entrepreneurs seeking funding to would-be investors. Out of the gate, I knew I was in for a fun and inspiring time. Indeed, I was: the entries I reviewed ran the gamut from high-tech cooking tools to DIY veggie gardens in wooden boxes. Across the board, participants demonstrated a remarkably creative, savvy ability to pinpoint business opportunities among a myriad of industries. In addition to the plans addressing some of the more familiar sectors such as medicine and fashion, I was introduced to businesses in fields that I was completely unfamiliar with, including drone aircraft manufacturers and crowd-sourced charity funds. Before I knew it, the stack had disappeared. I came away brimming with excitement for this year’s competition, and more glad than ever for the privilege to be a part of it.

This year, 101 teams of students submitted their innovations, visions and start-ups to the Business Plan Competition. While most entrants classified their idea as a technology or consumer product, the ventures continue to blur the lines between industries. Current trends include a focus on food (15% of plans feature innovations to help you source, cook and enjoy your favorites), crowd-funding platforms, language learning tools, and creating social networks for motivational and educational purposes (such as getting in shape or learning to program). Additionally, 2012 sees environmental innovation infused throughout all categories with focuses on local, efficient and sustainable ideas. Not only does this year’s field represent a wide range of ideas, but the entrepreneurs are already getting their ventures off the ground; more than 25% of entrants have incorporated their venture, raising nearly $400K in combined seed capital and generating more than $120K of earned revenue thus far.

This year’s cohort of young entrepreneurs also represents an amazing range of northwest schools. Nine regional universities are represented with their innovations: Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Eastern Washington University, Evergreen State College, Gonzaga University, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, University of Washington, Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University. Additionally, several teams include partnerships across universities, including team members from UCLA, UC Davis, University of Montana, and University of Tokyo.

Follow the 2012 UW Business Plan Competition on Facebook, or search #UWBPC12 on Twitter. The competition is the largest Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship annual event.

Clean-technology winners awarded $22,500 in 2012

If our future will be driven by clean-tech innovation, universities are the laboratories for a green economy. University of Washington engineering and business teams won all five prizes at the 2012 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge, with 23 teams from 5 Pacific Northwest universities competing. Teams displayed prototypes and plans for clean-tech ventures that address market problems with forward-thinking, scalable solutions.

Recycled tires converted to highway barriers$10,000 Grand Prize = GIST
An alternative to concrete highway jersey barriers, Green Innovative Safety Technologies (GIST) is a start-up that revolutionizes a transportation sector with recycled technology. They take used tires that otherwise get dumped into landfills and convert them to highway barriers. Judges viewed a full-size prototype and 3-D animation demo of how their barriers increase safety. The team consists of three UW engineers who specialize in chemical, mechanical, environmental and civil engineering and a Foster School of Business MBA student.

“Last year alone in this country there were 300,000,000 used automotive tires thrown away with no good secondary purpose. That’s where we come in. The GIST solution uses proprietary, rubber-recycling technology,” says MBA student Ricky Holm. “We have designed a recycled alternative to concrete lane separation devices. Not only is our product environmentally friendly, it is more aesthetically pleasing, safer for vehicle occupants and it increases the safety of people living near highways.”

Wiancko Family Foundation’s Brad Parker, a judge, says, “GIST caught my attention from the beginning; anybody who can take discarded waste material and turn it into something productive is doing something fabulous.”

Sustainable housing for disaster relief$5,000 Second Prize = Barrels of Hope
Replacing post-disaster relief transitional housing with sturdy, long-lasting, sustainable shelter, Barrels of Hope, improves the lives of natural disaster victims.

“We’ve developed a safe, affordable, environmentally friendly house that can fit inside of a small rain barrel. Organizations such as USAID, American Red Cross, World Vision International and Habitat for Humanity raised nearly $4.5 billion for the relief efforts to Haiti after the earthquake struck in 2010. Unfortunately, there were no truly transitional and scalable shelter solutions at the time. Stuck with the next best option, nearly half of the 200,000 families who lost their homes in the earthquake are still living in the tents that they received nearly two years ago. Our houses are earthquake and hurricane-resistant. With disasters continuing to occur… it’s time that we change the way that we approach post-disaster response,” says Ryan Scott, MBA student.

The UW team of entrepreneurs consists of four MBA students and a civil engineering student and two consultants.

Three $2,500 Honorable Mentions = LumiSands, OmniOff, UrbanHarvest
Ambient-pleasing LED household lighting (invented by UW team LumiSands), a non-toxic alternative to Teflon cookware (invented by UW team OmniOff) and rooftop urban greenhouses (invented by UW team UrbanHarvest). Those are the product innovations designed by three University of Washington teams that each won $2,500.

The UW Environmental Innovation Challenge is sponsored by the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UW College of Engineering, UW College of the Environment and UW Center for Commercialization.

Watch two videos below with demonstrations from winning teams GIST and UrbanHarvest.

Video: McKinstry CEO Dean Allen on recession-proof innovation

How do you recession-proof your company? McKinstry CEO Dean Allen talks about how his firm broke down the silo approach in the construction industry and grew to be a full-service mechanical and electrical engineering, design and construction firm.

By integrating services, they operated faster, cheaper and with fewer change orders, improving customer relations and growing through strategic planning and innovation instead of reactive project by project. His now nimble company retrofits buildings and builds new ones that are energy efficient, earning McKinstry sustainability accolades from President Obama.

A few years ago, Obama visited McKinstry and called them a model for the nation, also saying, “They’re retrofitting schools and office buildings to make them energy efficient, creating jobs, saving their customers money, reducing carbon emissions and helping end our dependency on Middle Eastern oil.”

Watch video highlights from a Dean Allen lecture.

Dean Allen was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

From local to national design—UW students progress on hybrid car

Guest post by Trevor Crain, UW engineering student and Environmental Innovation Challenge winner

The Voltaic team is finishing up its sixth month of participation in the US Department of Energy and General Motors-sponsored EcoCAR2 competition. It’s been a wild ride!

There’s been some really excellent work done the last few months as we tackle difficult automotive engineering challenges. We’ve considered a myriad of complex plug-in hybrid vehicle architectures for our Chevy Malibu along with all the drivetrain components required for each, simulated the performance of each of those configurations and selected the ideal vehicle design for our team down to every major drivetrain component. We also began work on the system for the vehicle that monitors and controls most of the systems of the hybrid vehicle.

And while we’re doing all of this, we were building a research lab from scratch from four to more than 40 members, and traveling to Detroit five times for training from the competition sponsors. We haven’t had too much free time, but seeing our vehicle and program start taking shape makes it all worthwhile. And we get the amazing opportunity to work with real automotive companies to develop a production-level hybrid prototype, while helping train our team’s engineers to make the vehicles of the future.

This unforgettable experience of being in EcoCAR2 started when we competed in and won the Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) last year. The relationships we built during the EIC, both with faculty and team members helped us get where we are today. One of our faculty advisors, University of Washington Professor Per Reinhall  first alerted us to EcoCAR2. Along with UW Professor Brian Fabien, he’s continuing to help our team succeed. Rich Wurden, Kerwin Loukusa and Trevor Fayer, members  from the Voltaic EIC project team, are team leaders now and doing a great job.

Overall, we’re having an awesome time on the design process. We can’t wait to get our vehicle running!

Read the Seattle Times article on UW team’s progress in the national car-design competition. Learn how the UW Foster School of Business Environmental Innovation Challenge helps new ventures seed a greener economy.

McKinstry’s David Allen offers sustainability industry insights

Guest post by Katie Collier, graduate student at UW Foster School of Business and Evans School of Public Affairs

This month, McKinstry Executive Vice President David Allen sat down with University of Washington students to deliver the message that green jobs are real and abundant, and available in surprising places.

David should know. Several short decades ago, McKinstry was founded as a small plumbing company in Bellevue, WA. By responding to an increasing demand for sustainability in building design, construction, operations and maintenance, McKinstry realized enormous growth potential. Today the firm employs over 1,800 people, earns more than $400 million in annual revenue, and continues to innovate and create value in the energy-efficiency sector.

A generation of Americans who care deeply about environment may be disappointed by recent headlines challenging the legitimacy of the “green economy.” The way Allen sees it, the green economy is alive and well, blossoming from every corner of the economy; rising costs of energy are naturally changing the way America does business, and the green economy is made up of those who tweak their business models to accommodate demand for more sustainable products and services.

Green job trends

Allen explained that some of the most important jobs in sustainability are not where we expect them to be: “Not everyone can be an environmentalist. We need people to be in business, to be in Congress and to create jobs.” At McKinstry, where many employees are engineers and construction professionals, Allen says a dozen or so “sustainability-specific” positions are added every year. This was good news for Allen’s audience, students in the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Practicum.

Data analysts and engineers were among the promising environmental career pathways Allen emphasized. Building owners responding to new municipal energy standards, or inevitably rising energy costs, need professionals to “monitor, measure, verify and act” on changes in building BTU usage.

Allen delivered a hopeful prognosis for continued growth in the energy-efficiency sector, citing the following trends:

  1. Rising need for efficiency as costs of energy and water continue to increase
  2. Clean technology innovation boom
  3. Aging infrastructure that must be replaced

Students interested in careers in sustainability can learn more about McKinstry online and explore the clean-tech industry by entering the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge.

Katie Collier is a joint master’s student at the UW Foster School of Business and Evans School of Public Affairs. She has a background in energy policy, urban land use policy and private utility development and is currently the MBA co-chair for the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge, and a student representative for Net Impact’s UW Chapter.