Evening MBA student Melanie Sharpe came to a career turning point midway through her program. With a prior background in education, she planned to use her MBA to further her career in the finance business, where she was then working. But she suddenly came to the realization that finance wasn’t a good fit for her. She had always enjoyed working with people, so with the help of the staff in MBA Career Services, she reworked her resume to bring out her existing strengths in that field and began to make contact with Foster’s extensive network of HR executives. Along the way, she also added a certificate from Foster’s Global Business Center to her resume. The result was a global HR internship at Microsoft, which quickly led to other assignments with a global reach. As of August 2012, when she gave this interview, she was leaving for a challenging new assignment in China.
With a degree in industrial engineering from Lebanese American University, Joelle Bassily (MBA 2012) had forged a successful career in the Middle East. But she realized that lack of business knowledge and experience would limit her career options, so she enrolled in Foster’s Full-time MBA Program. Like most international students seeking a job in the U.S. after graduation, she faced the challenges of a smaller pool of openings and the need to obtain sponsorship from her employer. With grit, determination and help from the MBA Career Services and MBA Mentor Program, she overcame these challenges and had three offers in hand before she graduated. Along the way, she unexpectedly realized a dream of working in the health care field through an internship at Philips Healthcare and a research assistantship at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And she found a new route to her long-term dream by landing a consulting job at ARRYVE.
The 2012 University of Washington Foster School of Business’ Business Plan Competition had a record amount of seed funding and record participation. Winning start-ups are innovating in sectors like hyper-local agriculture, functional fashion, health care patient tracking technology and alternative forms of mobile advertising.
UW Foster School Dean Jiambalvo says, “If you look at the basis for having a free and prosperous nation, it’s job creation. And where are jobs created? They are created by entrepreneurs.”
At the awards banquet, Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of Foster’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, announced a new innovation lab to open soon at the Foster School where students can utilize office space to incubate and start ventures.
$25,000 Grand Prize + $2,500 Best Clean-Tech Idea
UW’s UrbanHarvest will grow the healthiest, tastiest and most environmentally sustainable produce available anywhere, all on a rooftop near you. Two students are both Foster School MBAs: Chris Bajuk (MBA/MS Real Estate) and Chris Sheppard (MBA/Juris Doctorate). “We are two locally raised, UW-educated military veterans creating green, sustainable business,” says Bajuk.
A pilot project is underway to build a rooftop, hydroponic greenhouse on a Microsoft garage. They reduce the fossil fuel burn of transporting produce from elsewhere to consume locally. Bajuk adds, “We’re going to be supplying Microsoft food services with their entire lettuce and herb quotient. They currently source it all from Salinas Valley, California.”
Washington Research Foundation Capital sponsored the Grand Prize. CEO Ron Howell says, “We have invested in 57 companies in this [Seattle] area and most of those have been related to technology coming out of the University of Washington. The best of the best this year is Urban Harvest.”
$10,000 2nd Prize
UW’s Xylemed is a cloud-based electronic patient tracking and operations management system that leverages existing information systems to manage hospital workflows—improving communication and safety, while reducing expenses. Students are all enrolled in the UW Foster School of Business Technology Management MBA Program: Ben Andersen, Marc Brown, Anoop Gupta, Jason Imani and Glen Jensen.
CEO Ben Andersen, who created and successfully deployed his new technology called Ember at UW Harborview Medical Center, says, “You would be shocked at the number of hospitals still using white boards as a way to track patients. [Ember] really improves communication inside a hospital. We’re in 55 locations across three medical centers.”
$5,000 Finalist Prize
UW’s JoeyBra, a unique pocketed bra design that allows women of all ages to go to dances, parties, or events without having to worry about bringing a purse. Two Foster undergraduate students founded JoeyBra: Kyle Bartlow and Mariah Gentry.
$5,000 Finalist Prize
UW’s Biking Billboards is a new kind of mobile advertising combining billboards pulled on bicycle trailers with savvy and engaging brand ambassadors to promote our client’s messages. Team includes: Curtis Howell (Foster entrepreneurship undergraduate), Claire Koerner (Foster entrepreneurship undergraduate), Andrea Lieberman and Alyssa Norwood.
$3,000 Low-Income, Senior-Service Prize
UW’s Flash Volunteer offers a set of mobile and social tools to create, discover, track and easily share volunteer service events via a variety of integrated channels. Team consists of Brad Wilke (MBA 2012), Damon Gjording (Executive MBA 2012), Logan Buesching and Janis Lee.
$2,500 Best Technology Idea
UW’s EchoGuide Medical is developing a disposable ultrasound based catheter guidance technology that will address the current high rate of error in placement of catheters during ventriculostomy procedures while reducing cost. Team consists of Daniel Butts, Evening MBA; Edward Lo, PhD bioengineering; Molly Moore, Evening MBA; Revathi Murthy, MS bioengineering; Michael Robinson, graduate in chemical engineering; Ryan St. John, Evening MBA; and Anning Yao.
$2,500 Best Consumer Product Idea
UW’s GroBox aims to make it super easy to grow your own fruits and vegetables in a small amount of space. The entire team consists of UW Foster School of Business Technology Management MBA students: Amador Abreu, Jared McInelly, Aaron Parsley, Steve Stroberger and Murat Yanar.
$2,500 Best Innovation Idea
UW’s SuperCritical Technologies provides a compact power solution that will revolutionize the way we generate and distribute electricity. Team includes Chal Davidson, Evening MBA; Max Effgen, Evening MBA; Nico Spitz, Evening MBA; Brooke Macomber and Josh Walter.
$2,500 Best Service/Retail Idea
UW’s ViewPointe, UW, is a real time software tool that enables emergency response agencies such as police, fire and utilities to collaborate, communicate and track resource locations on an interactive geographic map. Team consists of all UW Foster Evening MBA students: Anna Atlasova, Abhishek Gupta and Ross Town.
$2,500 Best Sustainable Advantage Idea
UW’s Barrels of Hope provides safe, affordable and sustainable permanent shelter solutions to disaster victims and citizens of developing nations. Team: Sloan DuRoss, MBA; Sarah Jeglum, MBA; Corina Popescu, BS civil engineering; Ryan Scott, MBA; Sushant Wad, MBA; and Travis Corigliano.
A record 101 student teams representing colleges and universities across Washington state applied to participate in the 2012 University of Washington Business Plan Competition. 36 teams pitched a who’s who list of 200 Seattle-area venture capitalists and entrepreneurs at the investment round trade show. Sweet 16 teams advanced to semifinals and the top 4 teams polishes their pitches for the final round on May 24, 2012.
Start-up teams at various stages of the competition came from a range of institutions: Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Eastern Washington University, Evergreen State College, Gonzaga University, Northwest University, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University, University of Washington, University of Washington Bothell, Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University.
The UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship puts on this competition every year.
Guest post by Chris Rodde, CEO of SeniorHomes.com and 2012 UW Business Plan Competition judge
In April of 2012, I participated as a judge in the screening round for the University of Washington Business Plan Competition. I have never served as a judge before in this competition, nor do I have any personal start-up investing experience (as many judges do). However, as an experienced founder/CEO of a start-up, I have good experience to leverage as a judge. My start-up, SeniorHomes.com, is now in its fourth year. We’ve raised two rounds of financing from angels and institutional investors and now employ more than 25 people. Based on my experience as a start-up founder and as a judge in this competition, I have a few tips for next year’s entrepreneurs.
My top 5 tips for entering a business plan competition:
- Don’t submit a plan until you have traction. My biggest surprise as a judge was the lack of traction demonstrated by many of the teams. Three of the six plans I judged didn’t even have a website. During the investment round of the UW competition, judges are asked to invest a hypothetical $1000. So the same mentality used by investors in the real world comes into play in the competition. Investors in the real world pick companies that have momentum and that demonstrate that they can execute. Execution is everything in a start-up and to stand out in a business plan competition, show more progress than your competitors. Simple things like having a website (even if it just says “coming soon”), a working prototype, a first pilot completed, or actual paying customers will go a long way to make you stand out. Customers using or paying for your product is particularly important as this will help eliminate unknowns and back up the assumptions in your business plan with real world data.
- Be complete. There are some critical things every business plan must cover. Make sure that you cover all of these things, even if briefly. There are tons of great sites out there with advice on what to include in a business plan so I won’t elaborate but only suggest that you find out who the current thought leaders are with regards to business plans and make sure you’ve covered everything. Two to three of the plans I read had critical elements missing.
- Write like a NY Times reporter. Write in clear, objective language and avoid unsupported claims. Investors pick teams in which they have developed trust. This trust begins with the words you put in your plan. Don’t sound like a playground braggart boasting about your future $1 billion business. Instead build your case piece by piece in an objective fashion using real data. The key claims that you make in your plan should be well supported with evidence you’ve gathered through experimental learning or research.
- Market your team. Investors invest in people not plans. Several plans I read simply listed the names of the people involved, without any bio at all. This gave me no chance to get to know the team. Why should I invest in you? What makes you uniquely positioned for this opportunity? Showing personality is good.
- Find mentors to critique and edit your plan. There are two types of editors you should seek. First, and most importantly, find someone that has credibility in reviewing business plans and have them critique it for content and completeness. Find someone who won’t hold back on asking the hard questions. Judges will likely find these same weaknesses so knowing these in advance and doing something about them (even if you simply point the weakness out as a risk) will help inspire further trust that you have thought things fully through. Second, find someone who can help you with writing and tone (this being especially important for techie founders who may have floundered in English 101). A business plan is a marketing document for your business, so you need to ensure you are putting your best foot forward.
She discussed the importance of the big picture marketing process. From there the focus was on the decision metrics, advertising strategy and execution, and ultimately how that contributed to Schwab’s overall brand objectives.
Saeger’s also great in her capacity as guest lecturer, which was her role in Marketing 540, taught by Elizabeth Stearns, senior lecturer. Saeger brings to life the lay of the land at Schwab. The year was 2004 and the CEO who hired her was replaced by Charles “Chuck” Schwab himself, reclaiming his role as CEO of the $4.2 billion company he founded in 1971. Saeger reinforced the problem as described in the Harvard case, on the potential for losses and eroding customer loyalty, as the company struggles to fulfill its promise to the individual investor.
Following Professor Stearns’ lead, Saeger asked as many questions as she answered. One interesting aspect of this class is that Stearns does not play the role of professor—but rather that of a marketing client. Students have formed teams acting as advertising agencies vying for Stearns’ business. There’s very little handholding – and that’s good, because as any marketing agency veteran will attest, clients expect initiative and brilliance. The students demonstrated considerable chutzpah—one memorable moment occurring when a student agency, Drapers’ Disciples, turned down Saeger’s request for an additional $50 million budget with their excellent ROI analysis.
In the end Saeger won out with exceptional rationale; moreover, she proved success.
This teaching model brings intense realism into the classroom, as do guests like Becky Saeger. There was an exhilarating quality to the session, and an overwhelming sense that Foster MBAs are getting the best of rigor where it intersects relevance to their futures.
As a side note, there was some irony that the ‘agency’ challenging Saeger’s budget request was “Draper’s Disciples.” As it turns out, she began her career at Ogilvy & Mather in NY, where she made a name for herself with global brand campaigns for American Express, among other clients. A true Madison Avenue prodigy.
Dodge ball…last time I played dodge ball was in 5th grade. If my memory serves me right, I was pretty good back then.
ZING! I managed to avoid the first ball, but the second one knocked me out of the game. The next three games were no different. Apparently I’m not as quick as I used to be. That’s okay, the women’s basketball game was about to start and I wanted to join the Dawg Pack as we cheered them in the championship game against Stanford.
Sports Weekend is an annual event in which Foster students join students from 8 other MBA programs including Stanford, UCLA, USC and Berkeley to celebrate our year of hard work in volunteering and fundraising for local charity organizations. The weekend is filled with sunshine, new friends, school spirit and competitions in every type of event imaginable. Team sports – football, ultimate, volleyball, trivia. Individual sports – swimming, running, spelling bee and just for fun – cheerleading, battle of the bands and challenge races. At the end of the weekend, there is an epic celebration and the program that has raised the most money, volunteered the most hours and successfully competed in the most sports is announced as the winner of the coveted Golden Briefcase.
Foster is famous at Sports Weekend. We are known for our terrific student turnout, fun-loving personalities and because the men arrive with creative and sometimes hilarious facial hair. After a sun-filled Saturday of sports, new friends and school spirit, we ended with the annual Battle of the Bands. Death Spiral, the favorite UW band, got the party started with a rousing song by Seattle favorite Nirvana before following up with the entire crowd singing along to Cee-Lo’s “Forget You.”
2nd place among 9 West Coast universities
UW has a history of winning the Golden Briefcase and yet again we were in the hunt! Everybody was on edge as the final announcement was made. UW took 2nd place in both volunteer hours and fundraising efforts and took 2nd place overall. WHOO HOO! Although we didn’t win Sports Weekend this year, our hard work (over 1,600 volunteer hours) and effort was justified with a 2nd place finish.
On Sunday, we took one last chance to sit by the pool and top off our tans, said goodbye to our new friends, traded business cards (we are MBA students after all) and shared a few more stories. It was hard to leave California, but I, for one, was excited to get back to Seattle. I had a speech to prepare. I finished my quantitative methods homework on the plane and after landing checked a voicemail from my friend and co-president:
“Hey Jay, it’s Jessica. I had a great weekend, so much fun. That football game was intense! We need to talk. It’s time to start strategizing about how we are going to win the Golden Briefcase next year. Oh yeah, one other thing. Please shave, your mustache is scaring the little kids.”
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.
On March 3, 2012, an undergraduate case competition team from the University of Washington Foster School of Business won the Intercollegiate Marketing Competition held at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Eight teams were tasked with developing a marketing plan for Zajak Ranch, a non-profit summer camp for disabled children.
Looking to become financially self-sustaining while attracting the next generation of donors and corporate sponsors, the camp had asked students to find ways to increase revenues during the winter months while also signing reoccurring monthly donors in the younger demographic. Teams were given only three hours to deliberate, design a full presentation and practice before immediately giving a 20-minute presentation with 15 minutes of Q&A. Only four teams would then move on to the final round where they would present in front of a panel of judges consisting of marketing professionals, members of the camp’s management, as well as the managing member of the Zajak family.
Foster’s team consisted of Allen Kuceba, Alex Diaz and Caitlin Snaring, all members of the American Marketing Association student organization. Kuceba is a senior with a focus in finance and entrepreneurship, Diaz is a senior focused on marketing and communications and Snaring is a junior focused on marketing and accounting. The three were selected from a pool of applicants from the UW American Marketing Association.
“I am extremely proud of this team. They worked hard practicing case analysis and presentation skills. With only three hours to prepare, they demonstrated the ability to critically analyze a business problem and develop a viable solution,” says faculty advisor Leta Beard, who coached the students.
An MBA team from the University of Washington Foster School Business and Economic Development Center took first place at the 2012 National Minority MBA Case Competition held at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University.
The team of first-year Evening MBA students, Brent Bauslaugh, Ben Lapekas, Ksenia Karpisheva and Rakesh Saini, beat out teams from 18 other business schools from around the US including University of California Los Angeles, Carnegie Mellon, Indiana University and Boston College. The grand prize for Foster’s Evening MBA students? $7,500. Additionally, Lapekas was recognized as the best presenter and Bauslaugh won first place for best question and answer session.
All 18 competing teams had 20 minutes to provide a solution to a case dealing with strategic choices for third party commercial loan servicing business at Key Bank. “Our students’ ability to handle ambiguity of the case and yet provide firm recommendations backed up with hard data were ultimately what differentiated them from the rest,” says team advisor Geraldine Rodriguez, assistant director at the UW Business and Economic Development Center.
EJ Burke, Key Bank’s head of real estate capital and corporate banking services adds, “The University of Washington team’s presentation represented a thorough understanding of a very complex and difficult case. Their recommended solutions were actionable and thought provoking.”
A team from the UW Business and Economic Development Center has placed in the top three teams nationally for the past four years for this diversity competition.
Each fall, the Business and Economic Development Center hosts a UW Foster School of Business internal Diversity in Business Case Competition in order to select the team of MBA students who represents Foster at the national competition.
What do bee farmers, deaf people, jewelry artists, mature women and cataract sufferers have in common? Their lives will be improved by budding social entrepreneurs who traveled from as far away as Rwanda and Bangladesh to compete in the 2012 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. Winners were announced at an award banquet on March 1, 2012.
Grand Prize $12,500 = Ruby Cup
Copenhagen Business School’s team of graduate students created low-cost, medical-grade, long-lasting silicon cups for women and young girls who menstruate to combat an environmental problem and social stigma in the developing world. They field tested their product in Kenya and are expanding, offering a cup that is reusable and affordable to a community of women who lose out on economic and social opportunities due to existing, sub-par menstrual products or no products at all.
Veronica D’Souza, Ruby Cup general manager says, “When we read about the issues that girls go through in developing countries, it was new to us. We think about clean water and other issues. We couldn’t believe it, as women. We just thought why has no one taken this product to the developing countries? And why does it have to be so expensive? So we made our own product. We found one acceptability study testing the acceptability of menstrual cups in Kenya. There was 90% acceptability.
“We went to Kenya, spoke to women, started our production. We just knew this is where we can make a difference as women and as business students.”
Technology Prize $10,000 = SasaAfrica
SasaAfrica empowers craftswomen in Africa to join the global ecommerce market. While working in the Nairobi slums for the past 2 years Ella Peinovich, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student, witnessed the challenges women working at or near the poverty line face each day. She and Kate Mahugu, a computer science student at the University of Nairobi, joined forces to create a mobile business model that would provide greater economic opportunity for craftswomen, empowering them to become global entrepreneurs. This second plaze prize was sponsored by Microsoft.
Honorable Mention Prize $5,000 = Greenovation Technologies
Greenovation, founded by Bangladesh students, offers affordable, long-lasting, locally-sourced, patent-pending housing material, called Jutin®, to shelter the vast number of homeless and people living in sub-par housing. They will also create job opportunities for Bangladesh residents to build homes and Greenovations will work with numerous microfinance, non-profit and government organizations to help market and deploy their product. This honorable mention prize was sponsored by the University of Washington Department of Global Health.
Two $2,500 National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance awards went to teams – Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering and SasaAfrica – that will use the prize money to attend a new venture workshop.
Seattle Rotary also gave $1,500 in prize money to Srujna, an Indian-based company that provides jewelry-making and entrepreneurship skills to women rescued from human trafficking in India.
Microsoft Senior Director of Global Community Affairs Akhtar Badshah served as a judge for the UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition and says, “We’ve been funding this competition since its inception. This is the only way we are able to learn and identify young innovators that we as a company can continue to invest in. This may not necessarily be financial investment, but there is a time investment, mentorship investment, technology investment. We are looking for innovative people and innovative ideas that are about to make change, and ways we can put them on an accelerated path.”
Starbucks VP of Global Responsibility Ben Packard (Foster MBA 1998) gave a keynote speech at the award banquet, emphasizing the significance of social justice, saying, “Social entrepreneurship is nothing more than the future of business. The purpose of business must be to provide shared value. This is the new norm. Consumers will punish brands perceived to be out of step with their world view.”
Learn more about the University of Washington Foster School of Business Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. The 2012 event had record applicants thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation travel grants.