Category Archives: Sustainability

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

Alumnus invents revolutionary oil spill cleanup technology for $1 million X prize

Let no one doubt the power of competition to spark innovation.

Vying for the $1 million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge, Paul Smith (Executive MBA 2000) was part of a team that made the first significant advancement in oil-skimming technology in decades. Just 45 days from conception to prototype, Team Elastec/American Marine produced a grooved-disk skimmer that won grand prize and quadrupled the industry standard for oil removal.

“Past X Prizes—for commercial spaceships and a 100-mpg car—seemed to me like neat photo ops,” admits Smith, who recently joined Elastec to head new product development. “But now, having seen what all the competitors bring to the game, I’m fascinated by it as a mechanism for innovation.”

New oil standard

It worked for Team Elastec. Engineers from the Illinois-based firm created a skimmer with grooved disks that spin on an axle, picking up oil to be scraped into a holding tank and leaving water behind. The real innovation is the grooves, which collect much more oil than flat disks as they pass through the water.

But to compete in the X Challenge—and to work in the real world—the skimmer needed to perform in open water under any conditions. So Smith and colleagues from the Glosten Associates, a Seattle marine engineering firm, designed the “wrapper,” a vessel that ferries the abacus-like rows of skimming disks through moving water, fooling them into feeling stationary.

In the X Challenge test, team Elastec’s skimmer proved capable of removing 4,670 gallons of oil per minute from open water, with nearly 90 percent efficiency. The old industry standard recovery rate for skimmers—unchanged from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill to the massive BP Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010—was 1,200 gallons per minute.

Career of innovation

For Smith, it was another maritime innovation in a career full of them. After earning a BSE from Michigan and an MS in ocean engineering from MIT in the 1970s, he worked for years in marine operations and salvage. Salvors are never far from oil spills, so when he sought to come ashore after Exxon Valdez, he joined Seattle-based MARCO Pollution Control in 1992. There he managed an engineering and manufacturing operation with worldwide reach.

Feeling he needed a greater grasp of the business, he enrolled in the UW Foster School of Business Executive MBA Program, where he was valedictorian of his class. “I went initially to learn accounting,” Smith says. “But I really fell in love with all of the management sciences, especially finance.”

Expertise in business and marine engineering made Smith a hot prospect. He joined Glosten as a principal in 2002, and for a decade managed its marine consulting group, specializing in “anything nobody’s done before,” he says. “It was a great opportunity to applying my background in operations and engineering to solve strange, unique, fun problems.”

Among them, he’s been working with Lockheed-Martin to generate continuous, renewable energy by harnessing the temperature differential of water at the surface and depths of the ocean, a technology first envisioned in the 1800s.

A better mousetrap

Smith also developed sophisticated financial modeling tools for Glosten’s clients that have “killed a lot of marine transportation projects,” he says. “But it has shown others to be homeruns.”

One of the biggest was a next-generation oil skimmer, built on the hope of a prestigious prize. “For us to take on a job like this on speculation was out of character,” Smith says. “Were it not for my Foster background, I’m not sure if I could have sold the business case to my partners.”

Good thing. The prize could get a lot bigger if Elastec’s skimmer can be refined for the commercial market. “We still need to convince response organizations that this really is a better mousetrap,” Smith says, “and that they owe it to the world to put the best machinery available out in the next spill.”

Lasting alumni network

Now leading new product development for environmental innovation firm Elastec/American Marine, Smith’s world is potentially scattered to the seven seas. But wherever he goes, his far-flung classmates from Foster School’s Executive MBA Program continue to be an important part of his life and career. “They are like my personal consulting group,” he says. “Whenever I have a problem that needs some added expertise or perspective, I send out a blanket e-mail to my classmates and it’s never more than two hours before I have a solution.”

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.

$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.

$33,500 awarded to best social innovations

The 2011 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the UW Foster School of Business brought in more than 100 entries from university teams around the world who seek to reduce poverty and solve social problems through sustainable business and technology endeavors.

Sanergy won grand prize
Sanergy won grand prize

“How do we help make social innovations scale? It’s through visibility, encouragement and investment,” said GSEC award banquet keynote speaker Dan Shine, senior innovation advisor at the Office of Science & Technology at USAID.

Grand Prize of $12,500 went to Sanergy. Led by a diverse team (of engineering, business, urban planning and design students) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA), University of Cambridge (Cambridge UK) and Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA), Sanergy addresses both social and economic issues among Kenya’s poor by making sanitation safe, affordable and accessible through innovative technologies—such as small-scale toilets—that collect waste and convert it to energy or fertilizer. Their business model ultimately seeks to reduce sanitation-related disease in Africa. Sanergy also won the new Rotary Prize for Social Impact of $1,000.

welloGlobal Health Prize of $10,000 went to Wello. Led by University of Michigan MBA students, Wello provides clean, affordable water to rural India communities through their innovative, mobile WaterWheel that alleviates the burden of carrying water from source to house while also providing entrepreneurial opportunities for rural residents via delivery service.

A new Information & Communication Tech Prize of $10,000 went to NextDrop led by a diverse team (of business, engineering, public policy and information technology students) from University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University. NextDrop addresses clean water scarcity in rural India by improving the distribution of information about water availability via mobile phone technology. NextDrop works with both local water utilities and consumers to provide more predictable water supplies and improve water management.

“GSEC is a gem among University of Washington programs. Global health is a quest that relies on new tools and alliances… to alleviate disparities,” said Dr. Judy Wasserheit, professor and vice chair of the University of Washington School of Public Health.

The Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition is organized each year by the Global Business Center at University of Washington Foster School of Business.

People’s Choice Award winner: Wello at 2011 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition

welloTeams from around the world gathered for the 2011 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. Last night, Wello won the People’s Choice Award at the trade show, where more than 50 investors and the public heard about novel business ideas to solve global poverty.

People’s Choice winning company: Wello
Team: Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
Business idea: Using their WaterWheel, Wello provides affordable, clean water to rural India. The wheel is a tool to retrieve clean water without heavy lifting and can be used directly by families or employ people to work their way out of poverty by serving as water distributors.

Teams are still competing for grand prize at the UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. Later this week, we’ll announce finalist winning teams who will leave Seattle with seed money for their projects.

Video: Clean energy trends and challenges

Wind power. Natural gas. Hydro power. Solar power. When Puget Sound Energy President Kimberly Harris spoke with University of Washington Foster School of Business alumni, students and faculty about clean energy recently, she was also speaking with her customers.

Puget Sound Energy is the 2nd largest owner and operator of wind power in the United States and the utility’s Green Power Program was named one of the US Department of Energy’s “top 10” renewable energy programs in the nation. The Washington-based company continues to look for new ways to address energy efficiency, smart grids and power Washington residents and businesses with heat and electricity. While offering a public service and being heavily regulated, Puget Sound Energy also operates like a business, focusing on customers, return on investment, return on energy, operations management and technology innovation.

What challenges and opportunities face our energy suppliers? How can we as consumers, communities and businesses contribute to clean energy and energy efficiency? What is the future of energy? Watch this 7-minute video of excerpts from Harris’ clean energy lecture.

Click on the image below to watch video.

Kimberly Harris 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.

Engineering and international studies students get involved in Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition

Guest post by Ryan Kelley (UW international studies student) and Adrian Chu (UW engineering student)

Why is an international studies grad student engaged in social entrepreneurship?

I am a second year student at the University of Washington Jackson School of International Studies with a focus in political economy. Both politics and economics have developed to a point of interconnectivity that cannot be ignored, as political issues often are economic issues, with the reverse being true as well.

I see the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the UW Foster School of Business as a focal point where bold global contestants—each having a unique window to a concept as broad and penetrating as “poverty,” represent the vanguard of beneficial changes that can be made to the world. What about each team makes their project the most apropos to how they see poverty? Does this say something about where they are from? Does their solution have a regional impact or transferability beyond a region?

If questions such as these have the possibility of being answered, what this means to me, as it should to anyone currently in international studies, is that GSEC is a global lobby where the problems of the world are brought to light in the context of their possible solutions. What the contestants ultimately bring to the table will in some way be a representation of the future in a way that we have not seen before. I believe that that promise alone begs the attention of everyone.

Ryan Kelley is a UW international studies graduate student fluent in English, Japanese and Spanish who is serving as a 2011 GSEC ambassador to foreign teams who meet in Seattle to compete.

Why is an electrical engineering undergrad student engaged in social entrepreneurship?

Growing up, I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship. The concept of social entrepreneurship occurred to me a few years ago when I came across the paper entitled “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition,” by Sally Osberg and Roger Martin on the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the past few years, I have become increasing interested in entrepreneurial endeavors. I have been participating in a number of competitions offered by the UW Foster School of Business’ Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship: the Environmental Innovation Challenge, Business Plan Competition and the Science & Technology Showcase. Each of these activities taught me valuable lessons on the pathway to creating a successful business.

My own curiosity drew me further. Being environmentally friendly is one thing, but how can something be “green” and at the same time improve social welfare around the world?

My motivation to participate in the UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition was driven by the desire to apply my past professional and academic experiences in order to learn new things, meet new people and play a role in saving the world one step at a time. As an engineer, our primary occupation is to solve challenging problems. A typical business venture consists of identifying a problem and proposing a solution, while trying to maintain a profit. Social entrepreneurship is an amazing feat, where its success synergizes traditional principles of business and the ability to make a positive difference. Serving as the 2011 GSEC marketing co-chair and team ambassador for Sanergy, I am looking forward to seeing how an idea can transform into engineering design that can be developed into a product that will make a positive difference in the daily lives of people in developing countries.

Adrian Chu is a senior in electrical engineering at the University of Washington and the marketing co-chair and team ambassador for this year’s GSEC.