Category Archives: University of Washington

Making a successful Korea change

Wander's "W" logo of a path around the world exemplifies the company vision.The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For the founders of YongoPal, a 6,000 mile step resulted in a dramatic shift for the better.

In the spring of 2010, Darien Brown and a team of software, political science and business students grabbed the $25,000 grand prize in the UW Business Plan Competition with YongoPal, a web service that connected university students in Korea with their American counterparts for on-line conversation to practice their English. On the heels of that win, the team received seed money from super angel Dave McClure’s 500 Startups and relocated to Silicon Valley to participate in its inaugural accelerator class. Then dark clouds rolled in from the West.

Disappointing reports from Korea showed that YongoPal was proving hard to use and not gaining the expected traction with students. After an intense UX workshop, one fact emerged. The program had huge potential but needed a complete redesign. So just before the make-or-break Demo Day, CEO Brown raced back to Korea and learned that the appeal of the service had nothing to do with learning English: students were actually only interested in its social value as a way to meet foreigners. With no time to create a prototype, and with money running out, the team pitched a new concept and scraped together enough seed money to build it. A better service and a new name were born.

YongoPal became Wander, a free iPhone app that pairs a user daily with a “local guide.” To jumpstart the new relationships, the app suggests daily “photo missions” to help users share their lives. For the armchair traveler, even the mundane is exotic: the street outside the house or the local food market. People can get to know somebody halfway around the world, “visit” places they’ve wanted to experience or study a language. Users find Wander to be simple and engaging, but its potential is even more exciting.

Brown says that, though Wander is something he feels they stumbled into, he believes they have an opportunity to define a new product category.  “We are giving people in digital isolation the ability to reach outside of what they know,” he says.  “China is a great example. We’re seeing users in that part of the world use our app to meet foreigners for the first time in their lives. And the fact that we let people interact through machine translation means that they can do it free of language barriers.”

Online marketing guru Dave Schappell of TeachStreet agrees. “I believe that the true power of the Internet to connect like-minded people is largely untapped. The first generation of social applications focused on connecting people who already know each other. Wander makes new connections a reality by matching individuals around the world so they can learn about one another.”

By any measure, Wander is making new friends around the world, serving users in more than 80 countries at a rate that doubles monthly and adding new meaning to the saying “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.”

Go tech, young man

Chris Ruff, two-time Business Plan Competition award winner“If at first you don’t succeed…” is a mantra for many Business Plan Competition winners who learn their lessons and emerge with laurels at a later date. Chris Ruff made that commitment to win and returned a year later—with a better idea.

Themed retail was still riding high in 1999 when Ruff and his team pitched a chain of upscale barber shops. They won the “Best Retail” prize, but it was the comment of one judge that resonated with him: “Go into technology.” So in 2000 Ruff’s Aptelix team won the competition with a novel concept at that time: e-mail delivered through a mobile phone browser.

Aptelix was just a few years ahead of its time, and in 2000 Ruff joined an early-stage tech company that was gaining traction in the emerging mobile market – UIEvolution. Today Chris Ruff is president and CEO of UIEvolution, which designs platforms and apps to “help make your company a bigger part of customers connected lifestyle.” UIEvolution has more than 100 clients, including AT&T, Bing, Disney, ESPN, Samsung and Verizon Wireless.

Most recently the company is staking its position in automobile “info-tainment.” Today’s car buyers prefer on-board amenities to gas-guzzling muscle. Toyota has enthusiasts buzzing about a UIEvolution-powered, voice-activated, system platform that delivers an easy-to-use, in-car experience that includes personalized traffic, fuel prices, stocks, weather, sports results, movie tickets, restaurant reservations and Internet searches. The system keeps drivers from getting distracted while still offering a rich interactive experience.

In a career that has taken him from being one of the company’s first employees and director of business development to VP of marketing and finance to his current role as president and CEO, Ruff said, “My business degree taught me the value of critical thinking in running a business. Having lived through one tech bubble and two recessions, I would say you will succeed if you have a good vision with the money, time and energy to make it work.”

“You also need integrity, which Chris has in abundance,“ says Satoshi Nakajimi, the original founder of UIEvolution and a current board member. “Decisions affect shareholders, employees and the family of employees. When Chris makes the commitment, you know he will see it through.”

Keeping it real

Simulated businesses with make-believe P&L statements have no place in Professor John Castle’s “Creating a Company” course at the UW Foster Business School. Here, student businesses are awarded real money and expected to turn a profit in 10 weeks. There’s no text book or PowerPoint lectures. The emphasis is on relentless question and answer, to promote “on your feet” thinking—a necessity for young entrepreneurs.

That’s how Castle likes it. Over the duration of the two-quarter sequence, student teams write a business plan, meet with investors to obtain in-house funding, run the business and then exit the firm at the end of the second quarter. All profits are returned to the fund, which has become self-sustaining over time. Though profitability of the company is a major criterion for grading, the ability of the team to deal with the unexpected is considered more important.

The next Google is not a hoped-for endpoint of this entrepreneurship course, but personal enlightenment and growth certainly is. Castle tells students, “You may or may not learn to be a good entrepreneur here, but you will find out whether you want to be one.” Students learn by starting companies that, among other ideas, sell clothing, promote music events or serve a real and immediate need, as in the case of the MS Children’s Book.

The book was the inspiration of William Khazaal, father of two, who returned to the UW Foster School for his BA at age 33. In 2009 Khazaal was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Those with this devastating disease have good days and days when their energy is sapped. On bad days, Khazaal’s kids would be scared and confused, with no resources to help them understand what was happening with their dad. Like any good entrepreneur, Khazaal created one. His team, which included Molly Massena, Zac Raasch, Eugene Kim and Adam Greenberg, produced, printed and sold and donated more than 2,000 copies of MS Children’s Book, a 50-page picture book. The team also generated $12,000—the largest profit in class history.

While Khazaal’s story is uncommon, the take-home message of the course was. “My experience demonstrated the value of working as a team and letting my team members take more of the initiative. I learned how to plan events to get the results I wanted, rather than just jumping into things,” Khazaal reflected.

The book is only the beginning of the story. Khazaal plans to continue the effort past his graduation this fall, with more events to raise money for MS awareness and research.

Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship celebrates first 20 Years

Zino Society CEO Cathi Hatch gives her elevator pitchHow can 17 speakers share their memories of the University of Washington Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship without running too far into the next decade? Easy: make it an elevator pitch. The one-minute brief used by all good entrepreneurs made it possible for alumni and current students, faculty and leaders from the Seattle business community to reminisce. Here’s what some of them said in their 60 seconds at the podium.

“Innovation is not just for start-ups, but the life-blood for any company. If we were really doing the same thing we did when we opened in 1982 and using the same ingredients, our company would not be leading the competition or even keeping up with them. Judging the Business Plan Competition each year leaves me energized and more creative in my own business.”
Fran Bigelow, owner of Fran’s Chocolates and Foster alumna

“Expertise doesn’t reside entirely within the tech transfer office or the College of Engineering or the business school. For entrepreneurship to flourish, these organizations need to work together to weave entrepreneurship into the fabric of the university. That’s CIE’s role. CIE is at the center of it all.”
Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, UW

“We failed horribly twice at the BPC. The third time, we knew what we were doing and took second place. We closed some financing shortly thereafter. Things are going really well. We couldn’t have done it without CIE.”
Brian Glaister, CEO of Cadence Biomedical, UW PhD candidate in mechanical engineering

Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship founder with current director“My interactions with CIE, which include taking entrepreneurship classes through the Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate as well as coordinating events with the Science & Engineering Business Association, have transformed my career path. I’ve discovered my entrepreneurial passion.”
Jeff Chamberlain, PhD student in bioengineering and past president of UW Science & Engineering Business Association

Photos (top to bottom): 1. Cathi Hatch, CEO of ZINO Society, 2. Professor Bud Saxberg, who launched the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship in 1991, with Connie Bourassa-Shaw, CIE’s current director

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.

Out to launch: great start-up stories from CIE alumni

In the 14 years that CIE has produced its annual Business Plan Competition, we’ve had 2,768 students (891 teams) participate in the spring event. We’ve awarded $1.08 million in seed funding to 95 winning teams. Many of them have gone on to make us proud. Here are updates on four of them.

Gravity Payments is the largest payment processor in Washington state. Dan Price, founder and CEO of Gravity Payments, started Gravity Payments in 2004 during his freshman year at Seattle Pacific University. The company has grown by focusing on customer service, transparency and low rates. The company won Second Prize and the Best Service/Retail Idea Prize in the 2007 UW Business Plan Competition.

Dan Price, Gravity Payments CEO, with President Obama

  • Dan Price named Small Business Administration Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2010 by President Obama
  • Increased revenue by 70% in 2010
  • Has grown from 45 to 65 employees in the first five months of 2011
  • Serves nearly 10,000 customers around the United States
  • Donated over $100,000 in 2010 to non-profits focused on alleviating global poverty, local poverty, local disease research and prevention and other local community needs

Cadence Biomedical (formerly Empowering Engineering Technologies) is developing a new class of kinetic orthotic products based on proprietary technologies that utilize long springs and a series of cams to amplify muscular strength for people with disabilities. Cadence’s products provide therapeutic rehabilitation for people who would otherwise require wheelchairs for mobility. The company won Second Prize and the Best Technology Idea Prize in the 2010 UW Business Plan Competition.

  • Helped a woman with Lou Gehrig’s Disease take her first steps on her own since 2005
  • Secured $310,000 in equity financing and $280,000 in non-dilutive grants from the US Army
  • Received regulatory approval to begin a scientific study investigating the benefits of the device and is seeking research subjects with severe mobility impairments in the greater Seattle area to test the prototype device
  • Changed the company name to better describe its mission and establish the company’s brand as it moves forward to product launch
  • Was one of six technology start-ups chosen as finalists by the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Northwest and presented the device at the Northwest Start-up DEMO event in May

Krochet Kidz is a non-profit that exists to empower people to rise above poverty. Their slogan is “Buy a Hat, Change a Life.” They won the Best Non-Profit/Socially Responsible Prize in the 2008 UW Business Plan Competition.

Children working with Krochet Kidz

  • Sells its products in Active Ride Shops, Zebra Club Stores and Nordstrom’s department stores across the United States, as well as online
  • Has grown from employing 10 women to over 100 people in Northern Uganda, enabling more than 600 people to have the food, water, clothing and education necessary to lead healthy, productive lives
  • Plans to launch a similar program in Peru in 2011
  • Featured in a Bing commercial

Emergent Detection created a patent-pending optical sensor technology that has a variety of applications within the health space. The company’s initial product, BodyKey, gives weight-loss seekers an immediate reading of how much fat they have burned from their diet and fitness efforts. Additionally, the accompanying web-based application provides useful tools that allow users to track their daily progress, helps them select foods and exercise programs that are ideal for their body and provides accurate forecasting so they know how long it will take to reach their weight loss goal. The company won a Finalist Prize in the 2010 UW Business Plan Competition.

Emergent Detection founders with prototype sensor

  • Secured $330,000 in funding, both angel investors and non-dilutive capital from grants and awards
  • Produced functional engineering prototypes of the BodyKey™ device. Over the last eight months co-founder Eric Fogel, as “Exhibit A” for the company, has lost more than 60 pounds using the device
  • Working with a product development firm to produce the next generation units, which will deploy into a field beta test with users later this summer
  • Attended the first Quantified Self Conference in Silicon Valley in May, where technology enthusiasts and early adopters gave the start-up great feedback and opportunities for partnering

Foster MBAs summit Mount Rainier and raise $7000 for charity

Guest post by Anders Zwartjes (Foster MBA 2012)

Foster MBA students climb Mt. Rainier's Emmons Glacier

This 4th of July, as the sun crept above the Cascades in the east and many hours before the fireworks would start exploding above Seattle, a team of 11 tired but excited UW Foster MBA students stood at the top of the tallest mountain in Washington state. The group had started the ascent six and a half hours earlier, but had truly started their journey six months earlier during winter quarter.

What began in January of 2011 as an idea to take an exercise from Professor Michael Johnson’s leadership class a step further and to raise money for the Foster MBA Challenge for Charity fundraising drive, quickly took form and resulted in six months of dedicated training and preparation. Although the group that stood on the Summit of Mount Rainier numbered only 11, the entire effort was successful thanks to the support of more than 100 Foster students, faculty, staff, plus friends and family. As a result of their help, the climb raised $7,000 for the Boys and Girls Club and Special Olympics of Washington.

On the mountain, teamwork and discipline were key. During the final ascent up Rainier’s Emmons glacier the group was divided into three different rope teams, with each member paying fastidious attention to the progress of those around them and the tension of the lines as the teams passed over more than a dozen crevasses. Communication is key to a successful ascent, and everyone looked after each other as the elevation increased and the temperature dropped. Collaboration was of even greater importance on the way down, as joint problem solving quickly fixed the few obstacles our group encountered.

As the sun dropped on July 4, 2011, the line of tired MBA students arrived at their cars, tired but healthy and jubilant about the climb. While one party member had been forced by altitude sickness to stay at base camp, the day had seen 11 climbers successfully make it to the top of one of Washington’s greatest natural wonders, but even more importantly marked the safe end to a trying but hugely rewarding feat.

A view from inside one MBA student's tent on the Mt. Rainier trek

This experience would not have been possible without community support. MBA climbers would like to add a special thank you to Eli Rosenberg and Eric Docktor for assisting in climbing training and helping to lead the team up the mountain. We would also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Scott Heinz for patient coaching, impeccable focus on safety, constant encouragement and altogether exemplary leadership.

“It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.” – Ed Viesturs

Entrepreneurship in action: Lavin class of 2011

Lavin 2011 GraduatesThe Lavin Entrepreneurial Action Program prepares a select group of entering University of Washington undergraduates for careers as entrepreneurs and is graduating its first class of students in 2011. Our first class is headed out into the world to put what they learned at the UW into action.

The Lavin Program exposes students from business and other disciplines to the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship—all in a safe environment. Students graduate with a comprehensive understanding of entrepreneurship in its various forms, including experience in starting and running their own company, and a summer internship in an early-stage firm. The Lavin Program integrates students into the local entrepreneurial community by providing networking opportunities and experienced mentors.

A common trait among Lavin students is the degree to which they have been involved in the program and in the educational process as a whole. Lavin students tend to be the cream of the crop, and the 2011 graduates all demonstrate that trait. Keep your eye on them—we’re certain you’ll see these names again.


Denise Ching
graduated at the end of fall quarter from the Foster School of Business in marketing and entrepreneurship. Ching did her Lavin internship at Dry Soda in Seattle and is now working for Google in California. She has her eye on eventually launching an events management business.

Sohroosh Hashemi graduated from the Foster School of Business in entrepreneurship. Sohroosh did a study-abroad program in Spain and recently presented student-designed products at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. He interned at PhotoRocket in Seattle, a photo-sharing start-up, where he is currently employed.

Christy Loftus graduated from the UW College of Arts and Sciences with a degree in communications. She worked in small start-ups along the way and decided to do her Lavin internship at Wunderman, a major international marketing agency in a digital media division. Now employed by MediaEdge Marketing, Loftus’ dream is to someday open her own marketing company.

Vance Roush graduated from the Foster School of Business in marketing and information systems. Roush studied abroad in Italy and South Africa. He did his Lavin internship at 16 Copenhagen, a Seattle design company, where he honed the skills he needed to create a lasting legacy with the Lavin Program. Roush developed the Entrepreneurship Video Project which has spawned the creation of six videos of students interviewing local entrepreneurs. The over-arching theme of “Entrepreneurship is…” has provoked answers such as “art,” “a good team” and “a passionate dream.” The project will continue over the next several years. Roush will work for Google in California starting in August.

Natasha Tyson graduated from the Foster School of Business in marketing and entrepreneurship. She studied abroad in Hong Kong on a direct-exchange program. Tyson did an internship at Chempoint and another at FounderDating, a Seattle organization that works to match technology and business founders. She is joining Teach for America.

The program’s namesake, Leonard Lavin, attended UW in the late 1930s on a basketball scholarship. In the 1950s Leonard and his wife, Bernice, founded Alberto-Culver and took Alberto V05 Conditioning Hairdressing to the consumer marketplace using innovative advertising and marketing strategies. Alberto-Culver was bought by the Unilever Group last year for $3.7 billion. Leonard and Bernice Lavin created the Lavin Entrepreneurial Action Program in 2007 to produce a new generation of successful entrepreneurs from the UW.