Category Archives: Green Economy

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.

Video: Michael Potts on a renewable energy future

Michael Potts, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, spoke to a group of University of Washington students in all fields – business, engineering, public affairs – about solutions for a renewable energy future.

He addresses energy efficiency, building efficiency, 21st century electric cars, trucks, planes – and gives success stories such as a recent project to retrofit and “green” the Empire State Building in New York City, which resulted in both money and energy savings.

Watch this 15-minute video of highlights from Potts’ lecture.

This lecture is part of the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge organized by the UW Foster School of Business.

$22,500 awarded to clean technology winners

Teams who won the 3rd annual University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge invented solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. Wind energy. Electric car improvements. Biomass energy. Water purification. Algal biofuel efficiency. The 2011 event also had a range of other clean-tech innovations with 17 teams from Washington state universities (UW, WSU, WWU and SPU) competing. Undergraduate, graduate and PhD students from engineering, business, economics, philosophy and a number of other disciplines joined forces to tackle the environment.

VoltaicGrand Prize of $10,000 = Voltaic

A group of UW undergraduate engineers and business students created an electric vehicle modular drive train that can replace drive trains of gas-powered engines in existing models. The electric module can be customized to fit inside any car and the team displayed a Honda outfitted with its prototype electric engine to show how it powers the car.

2nd Prize of $5,000 = PotaVida

This UW PhD team (an electrical engineer, bio-engineer and policy analyst) created a device that measures water quality with a reusable, solar-powered electronic indicator for monitoring solar disinfection of drinking water. Their inexpensive indicator won a $40,000 design award last year and will be field tested in Bolivia this summer. PotaVida is advised by experts at PATH and Microsoft as well as UW professors.

Three honorable mention prizes of $2,500 each went to other UW interdisciplinary teams. Pterofin invented an affordable, more versatile alternative to wind turbines; the new device is lighter than current wind technology and harnesses wind energy at lower wind speeds. BioTek has a patented and patent-pending suite of tools to help optimize and scale the growing algal biofuel industry; their instruments and software are low-cost and field-ready. C6 Systems created a novel system to turn woody biomass into charcoal (or biochar) at forestry sites; their biochar can be sold to heating/electric plants or used as soil enhancement.

Starbucks VP of Sustainable Procurement Sue Mecklenburg, one of many business, science and venture capital judges at the event, said, “It just gets better every year.”

“The Environmental Innovation Challenge is supposed to be more than a university-level science fair. The goal is to be able to take these ideas into a real, revenue-generating business,” said James Barger, UW undergraduate mechanical engineering student who serves as VP of finance for Voltaic.

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.

Clean technology: the next industrial revolution

Guest post by Trenten Huntington, UW Foster School of Business MBA student

I recently had the opportunity to interview US Representative Jay Inslee (WA-01) about his thoughts on clean technology and the economy. The timing for this was perfect, as we get set for the third annual University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge. As student chair of the Challenge, I realize how solutions to the environmental problems we face require the support of our elected leaders.

As an MBA student interested in entrepreneurship and clean-tech, I feel like I have limitless opportunities to change how we interact with the planet. After speaking with Representative Inslee, I see that the private sector working alone may not have the resources to enact the change we seek. With this in mind, it’s good to know that people like him are working on energy independence and sustainable development for Washington State and the nation.

Watch the video of highlights from my conversation with the congressman.

If you’d like to join us on March 31, 2011 for the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge, please RSVP soon to Pam Tufts.

Trenten Huntington is a full-time MBA student at the Foster School of Business specializing in environmental management. He is the first-year representative for Net Impact and is an active member of the Foster community. Originally from Los Angeles, Huntington is passionate about minimizing our environmental impact through business.