Category Archives: University of Washington

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.

PotaVida purifies water, wins $25K Grand Prize at UW Business Plan Competition

A demonstration of the PotaVida water purifier.The numbers say it all: 891 teams. $1.08 million in seed funding. 2,768 students from 21 colleges and universities. Those are just a few of the stats we’ve racked up in the 14 years of the University of Washington’s Business Plan Competition.

During his keynote speech at the awards dinner, T.A. McCann, CEO of Gist, spoke about courage, persistence and failure — three cornerstones to life as a successful entrepreneur. “To be an entrepreneur takes a tremendous amount of courage. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to continue to dust yourself off when you fail. And failure happens in every entrepreneurial company almost on a daily basis,” he said. But with that uncertainty comes the reward of being part of a supportive and inspiring community of entrepreneurs in the Northwest. “You’re fortunate to have UW, to have each other, to have the advisors, mentors…and all the organizations that are here. You’re incredibly fortunate to be part of this community. I’ve been in Seattle now about 15 years and I think it’s only getting better. I think we’re on the cusp of becoming one of the top entrepreneurial communities anywhere. Period.”

A record 104 teams entered the competition this year from nine colleges and universities around Washington. Nearly 400 judges and mentors—entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, investors and supporters from the community—gave their time and energy to be part of the competition during the various rounds. Beginning in early April, the teams where whittled down, first to 37 after the screening round, then to the “Sweet 16” after the investment round.

At the end of the day on May 26, five teams were left standing but only one would take home the $25,000 grand prize. After one more round of presentations from the finalists, the judges made a unanimous decision on the winning teams:

$25,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Grand Prize: PotaVida, UW
Provides a low-cost, reusable tool that takes the guesswork out of solar disinfection of water, for use in disaster relief and areas lacking potable water.
Tyler Davis, PhD Evans School of Public Policy; Damon Gjording, EMBA; Charlie Matlack, PhD electrical engineering; and Jacqueline Linnes

$10,000 WRF Capital Second Prize: Stockbox Grocers, Bainbridge Graduate Institute
A mini grocer tucked inside a reclaimed shipping container, to provide fresh produce and basic staples in urban food deserts.
Michael Brooks, MBA; Carrie Ferrence, MBA; Jacqueline Gjurgevich, MBA; and Eliza Michiels, MBA

$5,000 Blue Box Group Finalist Prize: Solanux, WSU, University of Idaho
Produces patented potato food ingredients with high amounts of resistant starch which help lower a person’s glycemic index response, improve insulin levels and lower fat and cholesterol levels.
Gaylene Anderson, EMBA; Anna Hansen, accounting; and Jacob Pierson, JD law

$5,000 Fenwick & West Finalist Prize: LodeSpin Labs, UW
Manufactures tracers for Magnetic Particle Imaging, a new medical imaging technology capable of replacing CT and MRI for imaging patients with heart disease and cancer.
Dave Shivang, PhD bioengineering; Matt Ferguson, PhD materials science; Amit Khandhar, PhD materials science; and Garrett Leischner, MBA

The Best Idea prizes were created to reward teams for their exceptional work in several different categories. Teams that participated in the Investment Round were eligible for these awards, regardless of whether they advanced to the Sweet 16 or not. This year six $2,500 Best Idea Prizes were awarded to the following teams:

UIEvolution Best Technology Idea: Aqueduct Neurosciences, UW
Gist Best Consumer Product Idea: Tripbox, UW
Perkins Coie Best Innovation Idea: PotaVida, UW
DLA Piper Best Service/Retail Idea: Stockbox Grocers, Bainbridge Graduate Institute
Synapse Product Development Best Clean-Tech Idea: Static Flow Analytics, UW
Sensors in Motion Best Sustainable Advantage Idea: Urban Canopy, UW

For teams that made it to the Sweet 16, the fun’s not over yet. Each of the semifinal teams is eligible to receive additional seed funding through the Jones Foundation Milestone Achievement Awards. Five teams will be selected to spend the next six months participating in the program where they will work with CIE staff and a special advisory committee made up of CIE board members and past winners of the Business Plan Competition to draw up a short list of “realistic but measureable” milestones they can reach within that timeframe. And with a lot of hard work on the part of the teams (and a little luck), we’ll share all their great success stories with you again this time next year.

Economic impact of UW Business Plan Competition

Failure rates for start-ups are notoriously high, and college-aged entrepreneurs face even higher hurdles. At the University of Washington, we’ve been running our Business Plan Competition for 14 years. While 891 teams have participated, many never launched their companies or did not survive for long. However, 37 companies do still exist. How are they doing?

In May 2011, UW Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship conducted a survey of the BPC companies still in business, asking them to answer six questions about their growth since the event. 28 of 37 responded, including companies from as recent as the 2010 competition that are only a year old. We also asked each founder for an update of their company’s story.

Of the 28 companies that responded, there were 15 consumer product/retail, 5 technology, 4 life-science and 4 clean-tech companies.

Survey Highlights of Economic Impact:

  • 640+ current employees (with 220 of those at an average salary greater than $75,000)
  • 12 companies raised more than $500,000 (over $60 million in venture capital raised)
  • $92.7 million estimated combined revenue for 2011
  • 3 companies made the Inc 500 list of fastest growing private companies in the US for 2010
  • 8 companies are boot-strapped by choice

Start-Up Founder Comments:

“We’re most excited to be living the start-up dream: building jobs, solving a pain point and taking our place in the local start-up ecosystem, all of which are crucial elements in building a thriving innovation environment and giving back to the community that helped us get our start.”

“We intend to double the number of FTE in 2011 and employ approximately 20 people in well-paying life science research and business operations jobs by 2014. None of this would have been possible without the start we received from CIE and their network of advisors.”

“We have gained a breadth of contacts that we would have been hard-pressed to meet had it not been for our experience in the Business Plan Competition. I cannot express my gratitude enough for all the support that we have received as former students.”

“None of this [success] would have been possible without CIE and the UW Business Plan Competition. Because of the competition we were able to make a lot of our mistakes before they counted and could derail our business.”

“If it weren’t for all we got from the Business Plan Competition, we would have never gotten off of the ground and I would probably be working for someone else’s start-up in Minneapolis or the Bay Area. Instead, I have people working for me here in Seattle.”

Learn more about some of the companies that have launched from the UW Business Plan Competition.

$60,000 for winners of 2011 UW Business Plan Competition

Budding entrepreneurs from universities across the Pacific Northwest created start-ups in clean technology, medical technology, retail, agriculture, software and other areas at the 2011 University of Washington Business Plan Competition. Business, engineering, medical, law and public policy student teams competed in the finals this week, vying for a combined $60,000 in prize money.

PotaVida team wins grand prize of $25,000 at 2011 UW Business Plan CompetitionPotaVida won Grand Prize worth $25,000 and another $2,500 for Best Innovative Idea for their low-cost, reusable solution to purifying water using solar disinfection. Their device received a design award from the Rockefeller Foundation prior to the UW competition. The UW team includes Charlie Matlack (PhD student in electrical engineering), Tyler Davis (PhD student in public policy), Damon Gjording (Executive MBA student) and Jacqueline Linnes, PhD.

What is the benefit of PotaVida’s product? “We will lower the cost to non-profits of providing safe water to people after disasters and in ongoing need scenarios. At a personal level, our product provides the visual feedback and guidance that people need to use a disinfection process which is otherwise invisible and impossible to know when done correctly,” said Charlie Matlack.

Matlack and the PotaVida team improved their business through the competition. “What meant much more than the money was all the doors it opened for us to incredibly helpful individuals in the Seattle start-up community,” said Matlack. “The more we took advice from those the Business Plan Competition connected us to, the better our business plan got, and the more we knew where to direct our efforts to improve it further.”

Stockbox Grocers wins 2nd place prize of $10,000 at 2011 UW Business Plan CompetitionStockbox Grocers, with a team from Bainbridge Graduate Institute, won Second Prize worth $10,000 and another $2,500 for Best Service/Retail Idea for their affordable fresh produce business targeting urban food deserts. Stockbox offers a mini grocer service tucked in a reclaimed shipping container. Team members include MBA students Michael Brooks, Carrie Ferrence, Jacqueline Gjurgevich and Eliza Michiels.

Two Finalist Prize winners won $5,000 each. LodeSpin Labs, a UW team of engineering, material science and MBA students, have a non-toxic tracer that works with cutting-edge Magnetic Particle Imaging, a new technology aimed at replacing CT and MRI for imaging patients with heart disease and cancer. The other Finalist Prize winner is Solanux, a WSU and University of Idaho team, that manufactures potato-based food ingredients that help lower a person’s glycemic index response and improve insulin levels. Their resistant starch product can replace existing starch in processed foods such as fries.

Rob Salkowitz, consultant and author of book Young World Rising, served as a judge in the competition saying, “I write about entrepreneurs from all over the world. I was amazed and encouraged to see the amount of innovation right here in my own backyard.”

More teams won $2,500 awards for innovations in various industries.

  • Aqueduct Neurosciences (UW team) won Best Technology Idea for their innovative medical device to improve treatment of hydrocephalus.
  • Static Flow Analytics (UW team) won Best Clean-Tech Idea.
  • Tripbox (UW team of Technology Management MBA students) won Best Consumer Product Idea for their travel planning software that optimizes cost, timing and routes of vacation activities.
  • Urban Canopy (UW team) won Best Sustainable Advantage for software that guides consumers through phases of green building initiatives such as LEED certification.

The UW Business Plan Competition is produced by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business. Numerous venture capital, angel and entrepreneurial community firms, consultants and individuals sponsor the event and serve as judges, mentors and coaches for teams.

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.

Taking aim at energy solutions

AIMER SystemIn 2008 Brian Pepin and Anthony Simon were running Energizing Solutions, a small industrial efficiency consulting company, while studying electrical engineering at the UW.  The two undergraduates discovered that while efficiency monitoring systems were available in the marketplace, they were often cost-prohibitive for their manufacturing clients who were already operating on the thinnest of margins and feeling pressure from lower-cost competitors abroad. Passionate about helping their customers save energy and money, Pepin and Simon invented a new type of monitoring system that detects inefficient and abnormal operation in electric motors at a fraction of the competition’s price.

Called the Attachable Indicator for Maintaining Efficiency and Reliability, or AIMER, the system monitors energy efficiency in electric motors and tells the operator what kind of maintenance is needed and when. This, in turn, allows plant operators to move from preventive to predictive maintenance on their electric motors, cutting maintenance costs by more than 70 percent.

More efficient motors equate to reduced electricity costs and consumption. And when you’re talking about the billions of dollars spent each year on electricity costs by the US industrial and manufacturing sector, that’s some serious cost savings.

After recruiting Mark Ramme (MBA 2009) to join the company as chief operating officer, Energizing Solutions entered the UW Business Plan Competition in 2009. They won second place and $10,000. “The BPC was an invaluable experience for us,” said Pepin. “Coming from an engineering background, we were unaware of the start-up environment, from financing to organizational structure. It was great for us to learn what VCs and angels want to see from a company coming to ask for money.”

Since graduating from the UW, Pepin was accepted to the electrical engineering doctoral program at UC Berkeley. Energizing Solutions also applied for and won a spot at the Berkeley Venture Lab, which provided the company with free lab space and mentoring as well as a $5,000 prize. Energizing Solutions then partnered with Far Sciences to produce the first generation prototype, and with Siemens Technology-To-Business Center to conduct a one-year pilot of the AIMER system.

If all goes well with the pilot, the next step will be to enter into either a joint venture or licensing agreement with Siemens. After that, who knows? Perhaps another entrepreneurial adventure. “The entrepreneurial community has a lot of energy and excitement,” Pepin said. “And the appetite for clean-tech solutions in manufacturing is only going to grow. I don’t think we’ll be sitting around for long.”

Update June 2011: Energizing Solutions recevied a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR).

Jai Elliott wins 2010 UW diversity and community building award

Jai2Jai-Anana Elliott, associate director of diversity and recruitment at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, won the 2010 UW Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity Community Building Award.

Elliott manages the recruitment process for undergraduate business students at the UW Foster School and oversees the school’s diversity programs and undergraduate scholarship process. Elliott received Foster’s 2009 Staff Excellence Award and was a two-time recipient of the Staff of the Year Award. She was also presented the UW Brotman Diversity Award in 2002.

“Jai is constantly retooling and envisioning what the Foster School can do in terms of diversity, recruitment and community building,” said Vikki Day, assistant dean for Foster’s undergraduate programs. “If there is a project she feels is important and contributes to the diversity of Foster, she will figure out a way to make it happen, in spite of staffing and funding constraints. She is truly a leader in thought and action for diversity efforts.”

Diversity accomplishments

Elliott envisioned and implemented Young Executives of Color (YEOC), a community outreach program targeting underrepresented high school students. She initiated and now directs Foster’s participation with the Alliances for Learning and Vision for Underrepresented Americans (ALVA), a Boeing intern program for underrepresented high school seniors entering their freshman year. Most recently, Elliott created a bridge program for incoming UW freshmen which launched in the summer of 2010. Elliott’s efforts do not end with recruitment—she also serves as advisor for the Association of Black Business Students and works closely with the Hispanic Business Students Association as well as other UW organizations, helping students connect to the business school.

The 2010 Diversity Award for Community Building will be presented at the Multicultural Alumni Partnership Bridging the Gap Breakfast on Sat., Oct. 16 in Haggett Hall (Cascade Room) from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m.

The award recognizes a University of Washington student, staff or faculty member whose efforts toward positive change on campus have resulted in multicultural community building. Foster School’s Michael Verchot, director of the Business and Economic Development Center, won the award in 2008.

Foster MBA explores Rwanda post graduation

Guest post by Foster alumnus Jim Bullock (MBA 2010)

So, what comes to mind when you think of Rwanda?  Maybe you think of the ethnic tension that culminated in the tragic events of 1994. Maybe you think of poachers in the jungle, hunting mountain gorillas for their heads and skins. Maybe you think of a rapidly developing economy and see opportunity. If you’re like me, you’re not really sure what to think. I guess I thought of all those things and a million more before my flight touched down in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali almost two weeks ago. Now I’m sitting in a sophisticated café, sipping a café au lait, and trying to put this tiny African nation into a category: an impossible task.

A snapshot of my current life – international work and travels

I finished graduate school at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington a few months ago. Before that I worked as an engineer, mostly in California. While at Foster, I received an offer to work with an NGO called Rwanda Girls Initiative (RGI) in order to help them with their business operations. Soon after accepting a three-month position with RGI in Rwanda, I was selected for a fellowship that offered me funding for eight months of international travel. Naturally, I decided to do both. I plan to work with RGI for the next three months before embarking on eight months of independent travel. Now here I am, 12 days into the journey, with almost eleven-months lying in front of me.

It’s hard for me to succinctly explain what attracted me to the Rwanda Girls Initiative and Bonderman Fellowship. Promoting gender equality, meeting people from around the world, providing education in rural Africa, wanderlust, a guilty “western” conscious, curiosity…hey, take your pick or make up another reason. Suffice to say it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience for me to make a real impact in a very interesting way. There’s nothing I would rather be doing right now.

After a week I’ve got some stories about the business culture, regional politics, the Kigali Memorial Center, friendly locals, restaurants and cafes, and of course my neighbor’s rooster (who likes to wake me up at 4:30am). But sadly I’m about done with my coffee and it’s time for me to catch a moto-taxi home. I’ll write again someday soon. Until then, murabeho.

Jim Bullock (MBA 2010) is a UW Foster School of Business graduate, consultant for Rwanda Girls Initiative and recipient of an international travel University of Washington Bonderman Fellowship.

Global health gets global business make-over by Foster MBAs

With more than $4 billion in activity among 190 nonprofit organizations, such as PATH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle has become a magnet for people driving solutions to the health and wellbeing of the poorest people on Earth.

Since the University of Washington Foster School of Business also attracts individuals who seek to make a difference, it was only a matter of time before those crowds mingled.

Take winter quarter 2010, when the Foster School’s year-long Global Business Forum focused on global health and development. Among the 20 speakers brought into the MBA-level forum was Lisa Cohen, executive director of Washington Global Health Alliance, an organization established in 2007 to promote issues and improve collaboration between the dozens of Washington-based global health groups.

“There has been a tremendous increase in funding of global health activities,” Cohen said in a recent interview, “but the great struggle for a nonprofit in global heath is sustainability. When I told that to the class, they asked, ‘What can we do?’ I said, ‘I need a business model.’ ”

“The Foster Four” create road map for global health

In addition to a Gates Foundation grant, the Alliance is funded through membership dues of other well-known organizations such as Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the University of Washington Department of Global Health.

Three full-time Alliance employees, including Cohen, operate like a start-up with early investors who want results – a start-up with a bold mission: “… engage in, and advocate for, Washington state as a center for global health on the world stage.”

When Foster MBA students Bala Balamurugan, David Cohen, Colin Hanna and Jason Moll (aka “The Foster Four”) heard Lisa Cohen’s talk about the Alliance, they were immediately intrigued with the possibility of putting their business education to work for the nonprofit.

“There is a lot of buzz about global health in Seattle and we saw an opportunity to get to know that whole sector through one very influential point of contact,” said Hanna (Evening MBA 2010).

“We want to make a bigger impact than just working for an organization that is trying to maximize profit,” said David Cohen (MBA 2010). “This was an opportunity to add life to an organization that is trying to make a much bigger difference in the world.”

Not only did The Foster Four (who were given the nickname by leaders in the Seattle global health realm) spend 15 hours a week for nearly 12 weeks consulting for the Alliance and meeting with the organization’s crew and community supporters, but they produced a final report that Lisa Cohen says will be a road-map for growing the nonprofit.

“I have been astounded by their personal dedication,” said Lisa Cohen. “I felt so confident that I had them present their report to my executive board, which is all the top leaders in global health in this region including the Gates Foundation.”

Making a difference (squared)

“It became clear to us right away that the Alliance is making a ton of impact but, with relatively minor changes from a business standpoint, they could do a lot more,” David Cohen said.

“It is a classic start-up environment,” said Balamurugan, who works at Microsoft while attending Foster’s Evening MBA Program. “How do you sustain it? How do you deliver value and keep going?”

The Alliance is not resting on the assumption that its grant from the Gates Foundation will be renewed. Lisa Cohen and her team plan to continue to push for success and prove their worth.

The Foster students’ eight-page report, titled “Roadmap to Sustainability” and signed “The Foster Four,” is a succinct and elegant analysis with recommendations covering everything from a new membership model and performance metrics to the Alliance’s nonprofit legal structure. For example, on the revenue generating side, the students propose increasing fees for the executive members. Some of those members have agreed that was the right move. They also propose adding a basic membership for other nonprofits with fees on a sliding scale, as well as opening doors for companies to sponsor events.

“There is a real push to achieve impact at scale,” Lisa Cohen said. “Rather than just a single project in a single village, the challenge is, What can we do for a country? What can we do for a continent?”

That incredible challenge – improving the lives of potentially hundreds of millions of people – held a deep attraction for The Foster Four.

“I think there is increasing interest among MBA students in this blurring of the lines between the business world and the nonprofit world,” added Hanna.

About the project, David Cohen concluded: “This has been the most rewarding and worthwhile experience of my MBA.”