Category Archives: MBA

The paradox of reduce-reuse-recycle

2011 EIC Grand Prize Winner Voltaic shows off their electric vehicle drive train
2011 EIC Grand Prize Winner Voltaic shows off its electric vehicle drive train

Guest post by Daniel Schwartz, Chair, UW Department of Chemical Engineering

When I think Cleantech, my mind goes straight to the triangular logo on my waste container at work: “reduce, reuse, recycle.”  These three words are central to most enduring cleantech innovations, though sometimes in paradoxical ways.  “Reduce” is the most prone to paradox, since reducing one thing generally happens by increasing another. Let’s explore this “reduce” paradox via two well-known examples in that space.

In recent years, Washington has done a good job of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Today, the average American emits 41% more greenhouse gas than the average Washingtonian (2012 State Energy Strategy report). We reduced our emissions by increasing our reliance on hydropower. Here’s where the “reduce” paradox comes in. Increases in hydropower have led to fewer salmon in our waters. Thinking long term, if we want to grow our economy and further reduce our emissions while avoiding consequences like this, we’ll need major innovations in the cost and performance of solar energy and grid-scale batteries. And we’ll need to make sure those innovations don’t lead to a depleted Earth.

The same “increase-to-reduce” paradox holds in transportation. Hybrid and all-electric cars reduce emissions by increasing efficiency. The 787 Dreamliner reduces its fuel use, in part, by adopting the “more electric-aircraft” approach. Innovations in transportation electrification are largely tied to electrochemical energy storage and conversion (batteries, super-capacitors, and fuel cells) as well as control systems that enable vehicle-scale “grids” to operate reliably on their own and when plugged into a utility’s grid. Transportation electrification is currently going through painful growing pains. Have no doubt, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in transportation electrification, but as transportation electrification increases, we need to use foresight to adapt our current electrical infrastructure, or we’ll break it.

My colleagues at the UW Institute for Molecular Engineering and Science are among the leaders charting a sustainable energy pathway that balances technical innovation with the economic and social dimensions of scalable energy. Students, too, are looking at the paradoxes – the potential Achilles heels of cleantech – and finding potential for enduring innovations. I am looking forward to seeing how students at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge apply their understanding of cleantech and “reduce, reuse, recycle” – paradoxes and all—  to innovations that will improve our world.

The vastness of the Middle East

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management. Bruce traveled with Technology Management MBA students as part of their International Study Tour to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I, like the students from Foster’s TMMBA program and staff, have visited many parts of the world. However, none of the staff or students had been to the Middle East. Of course, when we say Middle East, it’s like saying North America, in that the Middle East is made up of many different types of people, regions, climates and of course cultures. My goal for this trip was to develop our respective global mindsets as a basis for being a global leader—our assumptions, framing, perceptions and knowledge about other cultures. During our time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we certainly triggered A LOT of challenges to our respective global mindsets. Indeed, during our first corporate visit at Thompson Reuters, one of the top managers hosting us said, “Next time you hear the words—The Gulf—on CNN or Fox or where ever, I hope you consider how vast and diverse an area that reporter is referencing.” Boy was that ever an insight to retain in our global mindsets!

Zulily and Maveron: Building a successful company

Guest post by Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA 2014

Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily
Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily

Foster students were recently treated to a discussion of “What Makes a Successful Company” with Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily.com, and Dan Levitan, co-founder of venture capital firm Maveron. Maveron led the initial funding for Zulily, and this was a rare opportunity to see a founder and investor speak candidly about their partnership. Cavens and Levitan, along with moderator Emer Dooley of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship discussed start-ups, venture capital, and building high-performing teams.

The recent $1 billion valuation of Zulily prompted several questions about how a billion dollar company gets started. The answer, from both Cavens and Levitan, was hard work. Zulily was started by Cavens and former Blue Nile CEO Mark Vadon with little more than a spreadsheet and whiteboard. Although they didn’t have much of a business plan, Maveron believed in the team. The people, Levitan pointed out, are what a company is all about. With the Zulily team, Maveron saw leaders with the ability and vision to bring others along for the ride and a staunch dedication to constant improvement. Cavens and Levitan agreed that Zulily never thought of itself as a billion dollar company, but as a company focused on doing and growing. And fast.

By creating a culture with an “iterate and grow” mindset, they could run on Zulily Time: twice as fast as anyone would think is doable. To illustrate Zulily Time, Cavens told the story of getting the first fulfillment center up and running in 10 weeks—instead of the 7-12 months that was originally estimated. That lesson of maintaining focus and going after what everyone thinks is impossible certainly resonates with many students. And Levitan had more advice for those just starting out and lacking Cavens’ pedigree: be comfortable thinking on your feet, surround yourself with entrepreneurial people, and take time in school to figure out who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you excel at.

Dan Levitan
Dan Levitan, Co-founder of Maveron

Cavens emphasized that part of developing yourself is developing a team that compliments your skills. When he was building the initial Zulily team, he looked for people that would not only add value, but also take risks and thrive in ambiguous situations. Cavens advised taking time to find investors with whom you really click, because they are also part of the team. Funders can add networks and resources as well as validation of your idea. Because Maveron knew Cavens and his capabilities, they were even willing to let Zulily write their own term sheet tied to a specific set of milestones. And unlike many start-ups, Cavens knew that if this idea didn’t work out he wasn’t going to pivot, he would just give the investment back and go do something else.

Ultimately, Levitan noted, it’s great entrepreneurs and their teams that build an amazing company—not venture capital firms. But no one, Zulily in particular, can deny the importance of money and resources to get a company off the ground. Zulily is proof that incredible things can happen when driven founders and the right investors come together.

This event was organized by Foster’s Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club.

BEDC grad students provide consulting for Ketchikan Indian community

BEDC Alaska MBA StudentsThe BEDC is again working to support small business growth in Southeast Alaska. A team of four UW Foster MBA students has spent winter quarter working with the Ketchikan Indian Community in an effort to grow local business and tribally-owned enterprises. The students taught entrepreneurship classes over the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend for 30 current and aspiring business owners. Ketchikan, the southernmost city in Alaska, has an economy based on tourism and fishing; and many of the new business ideas will cater to tourists from cruise ships or independent tourists.

Since the entrepreneurship classes, the MBA students have been working with outdoor adventure, culinary training, historic tourism, clothing retailer, and construction companies.

MBA student Jennifer Yanni believes she learned as much or more as her clients did “I had never written a business plan before so this gave me some real-world experience to put on my resume. It also helped me think about how you sell new ideas to an existing market.”

This is the 15th project that the BEDC has completed for a Native American Tribe or Alaska Native Corporation and we’re already looking for our next projects. If you know of a tribe that would like a MBA team please contact Michael Verchot.

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship awards $170,000 to eight student-led start-ups

Haiti Babi Blanket
Haiti Babi

When Katlin Jackson returned from her second trip to Haiti in January 2012, she was a woman on a mission. After spending time in a Haitian orphanage, she’d discovered that a good number of the children there weren’t orphans at all. Their parents were simply too poor to care for them. Within months, Katlin, along with UW junior Kari Davidson, cofounded Haiti Babi and entered the 2012 Business Plan Competition.

Haiti Babi now employs four Haitian mothers to knit and crochet high-quality, incredibly soft baby blankets and accessories that are sold to moms in the United States. In 12 months, Katlin and Kari have taken an idea, defined a mission (Moms helping Moms), and created a start-up company that is making real headway. They have a well-thought-out brand, fashionable products, and a detailed operations plan. Their Indiegogo campaign brought in double their fund-raising goal, pre-orders for their first blankets surpassed all expectations, and Haiti Babi has been featured in Seattle Magazine, Social Good Moms, and Disney Baby.

Much of Haiti Babi’s success can be attributed to the intelligence, drive, and dedication of its founders, but they’ve also had great help along the way. They were admitted into the Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator in July 2012.

The JM/FA at the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship is a TechStars-like program that provides a milestones-based framework, monthly coaching from Seattle entrepreneurs and investors, and connections that help student teams make the transition to start-up companies.  From July 2012 to February 2013, 10 teams worked to recreate their teams, develop their technologies or get product to market, and raise early-stage funding. On February 13, eight teams were awarded between $10,000 and $25,000 for their efforts.

  • PatientStream, a cloud-based electronic patient-tracking system for hospitals, licensed its technology from the University of Washington and secured a $500,000 investment from the W Fund.  Ben Anderson (TMMBA 2012) is the founder, and brought in Keith Streckenbach as COO and co-founder to drive sales. Anderson quit his day job at UW Medicine/Harborview in October.
  • Haiti Babi provides mothers in Haiti with employment to keep their children out of orphanages. As part of their “Moms helping Moms” mission, Haiti Babi’s mothers knit and crochet high-quality, incredibly soft baby blankets that are sold in the United States. Co-founders Katlin Jackson and Kari Davidson (BFA 2014) raised funding through an Indiegogo campaign, pre-orders for blankets surpassed all expectations, and Haiti Babi has been featured in Seattle Magazine and Disney Baby.
  • LumiSands was awarded a $150,000 National Science Foundation SBIR Phase-I Grant and a $50,000 gift from the Washington Research Foundation for the development and manufacture of its silicon-based alternative to rare-earth phosphors used in LED lighting. Co-founders Ji-Hao Hoo (PhD 2013) and Chang-Ching Tu have negotiated an agreement with the University of Washington, and are still in the technology development phase.
  • JoeyBra, “the first sexy and comfortable fashion bra with a pocket,” closed a successful angel investment round, produced a new, quality sports bra with a waterproof pocket in a full range of sizes, and has been featured by Forbes, MSNBC, and CNN.  Mariah Gentry (BA 2013) and Kyle Bartlow (BA 2013), the co-founders, have contracted with a former Miss America as a spokesmodel and will launch their product nationwide in April 2013.
  • Microryza, a KickStarter-type site for smaller science and research projects,was admitted into Y-Combinator in October and moved to the Bay Area. Cindy Wu (BS 2011) and Denny Luan (BS 2011) have raised more than $170,000 and their site has funded projects from tracking Magellanic penguins to sustaining native bees and student-designed electric racecars.
    Update: March 28, 2013 – Microryza was named one of the top 5 Y-Combinator start-ups to watch by Inc. Magazine.
  • Strideline sold more than 60,000 pairs of their signature city skyline crew socks in 2012. Co- founders Jake Director (BA 2013) and Riley Goodman (BA 2013) have organized a national sales team, are now selling in Nordstrom and Zumiez, and were the subject of a UW TV short feature
  • SuperCritical Technologies has designed and will build compact modular power plants that provide up to 5MW of clean, reliable electricity for heating and/or cooling. Chal Davidson (MBA 2012) is the CEO, with Max Effgen (MBA 2012) as a co-founder. The company raised $200,000 in angel funding to complete the conceptual design and establish supplier relationships, and is currently fundraising to build the prototype.
  • UrbanHarvest is an urban farming company that grows high-value hydroponic lettuces and herbs within feet of where they’ll be consumed. The brainchild of Chris Bajuk (MBA 2011) and Chris Sheppard (MBA/JD 2012), UrbanHarvest is currently negotiating with a large SoDo corporation to build a rooftop greenhouse.

So what’s next? The work certainly doesn’t stop here. As any entrepreneur knows, it takes more than six months to grow a thriving business. And that’s what the JM/FA ultimately provides at the end:  additional runway.  This follow-on funding is a testament to the companies’ hard work so far, and an investment in what we know they can become.

The Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator is funded by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation and additional private donors who, like us, believe in the ability of student entrepreneurs.

The Rainier factor

RainierFoster MBAs climb Seattle’s iconic volcano for challenge, charity and camaraderie

You’ve seen the posters. Taut bands of rugged mountaineers, clad in Gore-tex armor, inch their way up frozen alpine landscapes as beautiful as they are forbidding—captioned with inspirational sentiments on such corporate virtues as leadership, collaboration, passion or persistence.

Some MBAs at the University of Washington Foster School of Business are learning that mountain climbing is more than a metaphor.

The past two summers, Scott Heinz (MBA 2012) has guided classmates of varying climbing experience on revealing expeditions to the thickly glaciated summit of Mount Rainier, the highest point in the contiguous United States.

“One of the highlights of the program for me,” says Heinz. “And not only the climb itself, but the collaborative nature of people across the program. Everyone got really excited about helping each other achieve this goal, all the while raising money for charities that everyone is passionate about.”

Base camp

An avid climber and skier, Heinz quickly found in the Foster MBA Program a large cohort of fellow outdoor enthusiasts. He also became involved in the MBA Challenge 4 Charity—the year-long competition among west coast business schools to provide the most financial and volunteer support to local non-profits. It occurred to him that a Rainier climb could make a potent fundraiser for the Foster School’s C4C beneficiaries.

Somewhat to his surprise, this idea was met with enormous interest.

Working around the rigors of the MBA curriculum, Heinz designed an ambitious but manageable training regimen to prepare the mostly novice climbers for a technical, high-altitude glacier climb. They began in January. Casual group runs led to thigh-busting slogs up nearby peaks. Mountaineering workshops led to advanced expeditions on the lower flanks of Rainier and neighboring Cascade peaks, including Adams and Sahale.

Climb on

For ascendant MBA types, it was a chance of a lifetime.

“I am an outdoor-loving person,” says Amy Widner, a second-year MBA who joined last year’s summit team. “But I’d never done anything like this before. The technique and equipment was a lot to get my head around. But Scott was great at leading the charge.”

That charge—both years—was a great success. Eleven Foster MBAs safely reached Rainier’s summit in July of 2011 and eight in August of 2012, with many others participating in various legs of the preparation. The climbers raised a two-year total of $13,000 to support Boys & Girls Clubs of King County and Special Olympics of Washington.

And, true to their generation, they chronicled the experience in a blog, a photographic storyboard, and even a music video (soundtrack provided by the 2011 Foster house band, Death Spiral).

The Foster fabric

A passion for the natural world—and its challenges—is etched in the Foster DNA. “When we ask students during admissions week what they want to do for fun, it’s incredible,” says Dan Poston, assistant dean for masters programs. “Hiking. Kayaking. Mountain climbing. Almost every response has a common theme. Something about coming to the Northwest. When we have a break, we get on our gear and go outside.”

These high-altitude expeditions took the “Rainier Factor” literally. But pushing individual limits was not the only positive outcome. Poston sees much of the program’s core curriculum put to practice in the process, including planning, preparation, financing, promotion, collaboration and leadership.

He also sees a defining trait of the Foster MBA Program: initiative.

“We’re one of the few schools that ask people, before they come, how they plan to get involved,” Poston says. “If they don’t find an organization or activity they’re interested in, we expect that they form it. We’re looking for people who have that kind of motivation.”

That DIY element is a point of pride for Heinz, who graduated in June to a position creating marketing analytic processes with Ecova, the Portland-based energy and sustainability management firm.

“A lot of MBA programs offer outdoor leadership courses,” he says. “But most of them are professionally guided where you tie into a rope and they carry you up. What do you learn from that? Ours is a much richer experience. Everybody has to develop the skills, take ownership of the process, and rely on each other—take what we learn in the classroom and put it to work in an environment that really puts it to the test.”

View more pictures from the Rainier climb
Read an account of the MBAs’ adventures in mountain climbing
Learn more about the Foster School’s involvement in the MBA Challenge for Charity.

The Rainier Factor

MBA students at Mt. Rainier
Foster MBAs climb Seattle’s iconic volcano for challenge, charity and camaraderie

You’ve seen the posters. Taut bands of rugged mountaineers, clad in Gore-tex armor, inch their way up frozen alpine landscapes as beautiful as they are forbidding—captioned with inspirational sentiments on such corporate virtues as leadership, collaboration, passion or persistence.

Some MBAs at the University of Washington Foster School of Business are learning that mountain climbing is more than a metaphor.

The past two summers, Scott Heinz (MBA 2012) has guided classmates of varying climbing experience on revealing expeditions to the thickly glaciated summit of Mount Rainier, the highest point in the contiguous United States.

“One of the highlights of the program for me,” says Heinz. “And not only the climb itself, but the collaborative nature of people across the program. Everyone got really excited about helping each other achieve this goal, all the while raising money for charities that everyone is passionate about.”

Base camp

An avid climber and skier, Heinz quickly found in the Foster MBA Program a large cohort of fellow outdoor enthusiasts. He also became involved in the MBA Challenge 4 Charity—the year-long competition among west coast business schools to provide the most financial and volunteer support to local non-profits. It occurred to him that a Rainier climb could make a potent fundraiser for the Foster School’s C4C beneficiaries.

Somewhat to his surprise, this idea was met with enormous interest.

Working around the rigors of the MBA curriculum, Heinz designed an ambitious but manageable training regimen to prepare the mostly novice climbers for a technical, high-altitude glacier climb. They began in January. Casual group runs led to thigh-busting slogs up nearby peaks. Mountaineering workshops led to advanced expeditions on the lower flanks of Rainier and neighboring Cascade peaks, including Adams and Sahale.

Climb on

For ascendant MBA types, it was a chance of a lifetime.

“I am an outdoor-loving person,” says Amy Widner, a second-year MBA who joined last year’s summit team. “But I’d never done anything like this before. The technique and equipment was a lot to get my head around. But Scott was great at leading the charge.”

That charge—both years—was a great success. Eleven Foster MBAs safely reached Rainier’s summit in July of 2011 and eight in August of 2012, with many others participating in various legs of the preparation. The climbers raised a two-year total of $13,000 to support Boys & Girls Clubs of King County and Special Olympics of Washington.

And, true to their generation, they chronicled the experience in a blog, a photographic storyboard, and even a music video (soundtrack provided by the 2011 Foster house band, Death Spiral).

The Foster fabric

A passion for the natural world—and its challenges—is etched in the Foster DNA. “When we ask students during admissions week what they want to do for fun, it’s incredible,” says Dan Poston, assistant dean for masters programs. “Hiking. Kayaking. Mountain climbing. Almost every response has a common theme. Something about coming to the Northwest. When we have a break, we get on our gear and go outside.”

These high-altitude expeditions took the “Rainier Factor” literally. But pushing individual limits was not the only positive outcome. Poston sees much of the program’s core curriculum put to practice in the process, including planning, preparation, financing, promotion, collaboration and leadership.

He also sees a defining trait of the Foster MBA Program: initiative.

“We’re one of the few schools that ask people, before they come, how they plan to get involved,” Poston says. “If they don’t find an organization or activity they’re interested in, we expect that they form it. We’re looking for people who have that kind of motivation.”

That DIY element is a point of pride for Heinz, who graduated in June to a position creating marketing analytic processes with Ecova, the Portland-based energy and sustainability management firm.

“A lot of MBA programs offer outdoor leadership courses,” he says. “But most of them are professionally guided where you tie into a rope and they carry you up. What do you learn from that? Ours is a much richer experience. Everybody has to develop the skills, take ownership of the process, and rely on each other—take what we learn in the classroom and put it to work in an environment that really puts it to the test.”

From Norway to Foster to Boeing: a conversation with MBA alum Hans Aarhus

Hans Aarhus bio pictureHans Aarhus is the director of Estimating and Pricing for Boeing’s 787 program. He received his MBA from the Foster School in 1989 and is a member of the Global Business Advisory Board.

In 2011 you were named Director of Estimating and Pricing for Boeing’s 787 program after serving as the Director of Financial Planning for the program. Tell us about your new role.

In my new role, I’m responsible for all of the estimates that are done on the 787 program.  These estimates can be broken down in a couple of different categories: the engineering changes that are being considered for the airplane, customer requested changes to the airplane, new derivative airplanes being studied and any production system investment under consideration.   All of these estimates require my team to reach out to all of the different organizations that would have impacts due to the proposed changes, including engineering, procurement, production and support.  Most of these estimates get presented in a business case format that includes a number of financial metrics and considerations.  We also work with our pricing organization for estimates that include pricing considerations with our customers.

I also have responsibility for all systems, processes and tools that support our function in our day to day activities.

What was it like to come to the US from Norway to study at UW? Did you plan to stay in the US after earning your MBA?

It was a great opportunity that also included quite a culture shock.  I had not been to the US before and I still recall very vividly the first day which included the I5-I405 Hwy interchange coming out of Seatac, the downtown skyline and Bellevue Mall.  My impression was, “wow everything is bigger in the US.”The first couple of days on the UW campus were also very impressive in regards to the sheer size of the campus and all of the great architecture of the buildings. My first quarters were certainly influenced by the fact that English is my second language and some of the challenges it drives.  I also recall the excitement I always had talking to friends and relatives back in Norway in regards to my experiences that UW offered including my first Husky football game with 60,000 plus fans in the stands.I did not have any plans whatsoever to stay in the US in the beginning but that changed very quickly when I ran into a student from Oregon in the McMahon dining room in the spring of 1986.  A very long and great story but here we are 25 years into our marriage with 2 great sons.

How has your global experience helped you in your various positions?

I think the global experience has been very important for me throughout my Boeing career.  English being my second language has always made me pay very close attention when other people are communicating so I end up doing a little more listening than talking, which I have found to be a good thing.  I also think having a global experience enables you to recognize that most people come from different cultures and the more you understand about their background and can take that into consideration, the more productive your interactions will be.

What would you tell students about the world of global business?

The world is becoming a smaller and smaller place every day.  By that, I mean that advances in transportation and technology enable a much simpler way to connect with people around the world.  It is paramount for us to recognize this and embrace it.  The quicker you can adapt yourself to operate and efficiently interact with people in all of the different cultures, the more successful you will be.

I think the UW is an excellent place to start that journey. You have a tremendous opportunity at UW to really reach out to the diversity that the school has to offer. Taking advantage of these opportunities will put you ahead of a lot of your peers that you will be compared to and compete with as you progress in your school work and your professional career.

Great manager vs. great leader

Guest post by Ben Flajole, Evening MBA 2014 and Evening MBAA VP of Alumni Affairs at the Foster School of Business

“If you’re up at a whiteboard listing all of the things that make a good leader, I don’t think many of you would put ‘4.0 student,’ right?” With that remark, Eric Sprunk, VP of Merchandising and Product at Nike, saw most, if not all, of the crowd breathe a sigh of relief. As the featured speaker at the MBA Perspectives on Leadership event on January 10, Sprunk spent time discussing what, if not perfect grades, makes people great leaders.

Sprunk’s presentation on leadership at Nike highlighted some key differences between being a good manager and a good leader. To him, a good leader creates an environment in which people are encouraged and allowed to achieve their best work every day; a good manager makes sure the employees have what they need to be able to do that. He then referenced the traits he considers necessary for good leadership, which were defined by a student in a prior session as “soft skills”:

  • Courage: having authenticity and honesty in your interactions with others.
  • Energy: bringing great enthusiasm to your team and never asking for more from them than you are willing to give yourself.
  • Balance: knowing that burnout is real and that feeling like a good son, daughter, dad, mom, husband, and/or wife is crucial for producing your best work.

Ideally, as Sprunk stated, we’re able to be great managers and leaders simultaneously. However, that’s not always the case. While good managers generate good results, it is often good leaders that produce the best results by leading with vision, strategy, and having and exercising the traits listed above.

Watch the video below for more highlights from his talk.

Eric Sprunk, VP of Merchandising and Product at Nike from the Foster School of Business.

The MBA “Perspectives on Leadership” Speaker Series is organized by the Full-time and Evening MBAA and the Foster School’s Alumni team.

The sweet sniff of success: Kyle Polanski finds great potential in dog treats

Kyle Polanski
Kyle Polanski and Havana

Kyle Polanski eats dog food. So do his employees. In fact, he says, “It’s rare that we have a staff meeting and don’t taste some of the product.”  A little strange, perhaps, but if you’re picturing them spooning up mouthfuls of that smelly canned stuff, you’ve got the wrong idea.

Polanski, MBA 2008, is the CEO of Blue Dog Bakery, a dog treat company headquartered in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood. The bakery produces all-natural dog snacks made with the same kinds of ingredients you might find in your favorite cookie (minus the sugar and salt), and sells to retailers across the country.

Blue Dog Bakery was started in 1998 by Margot Kenly, who directed her passion for healthy, natural foods toward making natural dog treats with pure ingredients like whole wheat flour, molasses, oats, and peanut butter. Initially sold at Costco, the treats were a hit, and the bakery soon began receiving calls from other retailers like QFC, asking when they could get Blue Dog Bakery products on their shelves.  By 2008 the company was distributing biscuits to Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Petsmart outlets throughout the Northwest and the Northeast.

At about this time, Polanski, an MBA student at the UW Foster School, established Halibut Flat Partners, a search fund backed by 12 investors who had agreed to finance his acquisition of a promising local company. His plan, once he found a company to purchase, was to use his business savvy to make it grow.

During his search, Polanski met Kenly, and spent several months doing a deep dive into Blue Dog Bakery. “There was clearly potential for expanding the company, evolving the brand, and scaling distribution to a national level,” he said. Polanski acquired Blue Dog Bakery in 2009 and the rush was on.

Since then, the bakery has grown its geographic and retail footprints (its products are now in 12,000 stores across the country) and increased sales (30% since the beginning of 2012 alone). The brand has become popular in stores like QFC and Safeway, and gained attention from the media, appearing in the Puget Sound Business Journal, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News & World Report. Blue Dog even won the 2010 Supermarket News Category Excellence award.

Polanski and his now 7 employees have expanded their product line to include items like Doggie Cremes and Bakery Bones, and redesigned their packaging. The company also started Pet Treat Pantry, a program that donates boxes of dog treats to animal shelters in five regions across the country.

As he looks ahead, Polanski is focused on competing in the national market, vying with billion-dollar brands for the attention of pet-owners and their pups. He believes Blue Dog’s all-natural products can go head-to-head with anything the competition throws their way. “People want healthy, natural, and affordable for their pets,” he said. “That’s Blue Dog.”