Category Archives: University of Washington

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.”

Microsoft’s cloud platform becomes an MBA sandbox

The MBA field study group assigned to Microsoft Cloud poses with their certificates.By the time Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer came to the University of Washington in March 2010 to tell the world that he was betting the company on cloud computing, four Foster School of Business MBA candidates already had their heads in the company’s cloud.

Second-year MBA students James Berres, Chris Coffman, Winnie Lin and Scott Macy consulted with Microsoft during winter quarter through Foster’s Field Study Program. The program matches companies that have a complex business problem with Foster MBAs, who form a team and attack the problem to gain experience.

In November 2009, Microsoft proposed several cloud computing projects through the Field Study Program. In a competitive bidding and intense screening process, Foster MBAs won the right to delve into the newest wave of computing with Microsoft.

Cloud computing defined

Cloud computing can be thought of as “utility computing.” Like a utility company providing electricity, Microsoft will sell companies access to its computing and storage infrastructure comprised of massive data centers located across the globe. Companies will only pay for the computing power they use.

In October 2009, Microsoft unveiled its technology to run the cloud: Windows Azure platform. External developers and others have already started using the operating system.

“We are in that switchover mode where companies might not necessarily have to have their own data centers or pay someone to host their data center,” said Coffman (MBA 2010). “They can just grab the storage and the computing power they need as they need it.”

Why Microsoft needed Foster MBAs

In the software giant’s effort to once more revolutionize computing, Microsoft worked for years and spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing its new operating system and building data centers to support it. Consequently, Microsoft’s internal teams held expert, in-depth knowledge about its new technology.

One thing those teams couldn’t do? Shed their identity.

“Microsoft had a very good understanding of cloud computing. They knew what their technology was. They knew how their internal groups felt about the technology, the risks, the rewards, the benefits, all of that,” said Berres (MBA 2010). “What they didn’t have a good feel for was, what do other large enterprise companies feel about it?”

Basically, Berres explained, when Microsoft asks a company’s chief information officer (CIO) and other IT leaders what they think about the cloud, the answers might reflect that group’s desire to play ball with Microsoft, the biggest “kid” on the block.

“So,” he said, “they brought us in to get that outside perspective.”

The Foster MBA team established a matrix for what questions they would ask and how they would categorize answers, built a list of target companies from their own contacts and through Foster School professors, staff and alumni, then set out to interview leaders of those companies. To help insure objectivity, the team guaranteed anonymity.

From strategy to real-world results

Microsoft’s Mike Olsson, principal solution manager, Product Group Strategic Initiatives, said the students uncovered a surprising attitude.

“Where we might have predicted that cost and security would be the issues that would be top of mind for a CIO, the things people asked about most at first revolved around agility and integration. So there was a little bit of an adjustment for us in the way we looked at customer attitudes in the enterprise IT environment.”

The Foster team also confirmed for the Microsoft team many of the attitudes they expected to see about moving to the cloud.

Another benefit, said Olsson, “is that discussing interesting technical subjects with smart people is a really good thing to do, particularly when they have a new or slightly different viewpoint than we might have internally.”

Jeff Finan, general manager of Microsoft’s Product Group Strategic Initiatives, echoed Olsson’s assessment of the Foster MBAs and added that “in terms of wanting a repeat performance with the University of Washington Foster School, I’m very much in favor of that. The students were just outstanding.”

Being part of the next big technology trend

Students on the MBA team said they knew going in that the field study would give them the opportunity to discuss the next big thing in computing with world leaders. But when Ballmer came to the UW Seattle campus, it really hit them just how pivotal the project was.

“The fact that, just about a week before we gave our final presentation, Ballmer gave his big presentation about the cloud, that Microsoft was ‘all in,’ ” Coffman said, “That told us that, Hey! We are really working on important stuff here.”

Berres added that not only did the field study open doors at Microsoft and sharpen their own understanding of business consulting, but it also put them in front of tech leaders in the biggest and best companies in the country.

“It gave us a reason to go to executives at Fortune 500 companies who otherwise we wouldn’t have a reason to talk to,” Berres said. “So, it not only gave us all of this information, it also gave us contacts we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Gordon Neumiller, director of the Field Study Program, has organized hundreds of consulting opportunities for second-year MBAs and similar projects for first-years. Nearly 10 years ago he helped the program mature from a student club to a more formal and significant part of the Foster MBA experience.

While the success of Foster MBAs in cloud computing didn’t surprise him, the timeliness and quality of the work made it stand out. With Steve Ballmer saying Microsoft was ‘all in,’ Neumiller said, the project was as leading edge as it gets.

“At the end of the final presentation,” he added, “it was like this big group hug. Everyone was so happy. I said, ‘I don’t know what they are doing at other business schools, but it cannot be any better than this.’ “

Nanocel takes a novel approach to cooling electronics

Dustin Miller and Daniel Rossi show off their productThere are big problems and then there are BIG problems. Cooling electronics, for example. How do you keep large server farms from overheating and how can you extend the battery life of laptops and other portable electronics? “We are currently using over three percent of the nation’s energy on cooling the Internet,” says Dustin Miller, PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and the co-founder, with UW MBA Daniel Rossi, of Nanocel.  The company, which won the $25,000 grand prize at the UW’s Business Plan Competition in May 2009, is introducing affordable fluid-based cooling systems for computer chips.  “Industry calculations say that fluid-based cooling could cut energy use in half,” explained Miller. “That’s a staggering amount.”

Nanocel’s technology uses a combination of microfluidics and novel, moldable plastic materials to cool devices more cheaply than other liquid-based systems and more efficiently than cooling fans. The products use thousands to millions of very thin (between one and 100 micrometers wide) vessels to circulate tiny amounts of liquid in close contact with the computer chips or other device components prone to overheating.  The original process was developed at the University of Washington for food packaging.  “So, for the cost of a coffee cup, you can have a heat sink that used to be made out of copper,” Rossi added.

Rossi’s market research demonstrated that Nanocel wouldn’t have to look far for potential customers and partners. Computer chip manufacturers and designers are obvious candidates, but Nanocel is also talking with companies that make gaming consoles, servers and hardware. “There are tons of shelf-ready products that can’t go to market because they’re too hot,” Rossi says. Fans aren’t powerful enough to cool them down, and liquid technologies are too pricey.

Since the competition, the Nanocel founders have incorporated the company and are gearing up for their first angel funding round in early 2010.

(We’d like to thank Rachel Tompa, Xconomy Seattle, who wrote a longer version of this article. The full story is here.)

2009 grand-prize winner HydroSense is acquired by Belkin International

hydrosense“HydroSense won the grand prize at the inaugural Environmental Innovation Challenge in April 2009 with a water-usage monitoring technology that screws onto a single valve in a home and can detect water use down to each specific toilet, shower, and faucet,” says Jon Froehlich, a PhD student in computer science. “This type of highly granular monitoring data can fundamentally shift how households, utilities, and policy makers think about and understand water consumption.”

After winning the UW EIC, Froehlich and his student team of engineers and computer scientists entered the UW Business Plan Competition, adding MBAs from the Foster School of Business to the team to help refine the HydoSense business model and investment pitch. One of 90 teams at the outset of the event, they made it to the Final Round of the competition, winning a $5,000 prize and the $2,500 Best Clean-Tech Idea award.

“Our success generated a lot of visibility, and we received queries from a number of potential investors and acquirers,” Froehlich said. “The HydroSense research team is led by UW Professor Shwetak Patel, and I’m one of two graduate students on the project. Within about six months, the UW TechTransfer office negotiated a licensing deal, and the HydroSense technology was acquired as part of a larger energy portfolio by Belkin International earlier this year. We went from being a research idea to being bought by a major international company that has the resources to commercialize HydroSense on a massive scale. Now that’s impact!”

For Belkin International’s acquisition of HydroSense/Zensi, see news release.

Executive Development Program: Swedish testimonial

Click image above to play video.

Why Does Swedish Medical Center Support the Executive Development Program?

Swedish Medical Center is the largest, most comprehensive, non-profit health care provider in the Greater Seattle area.  For Swedish, it’s not just about facilities, research, and new techniques.  It’s about people coming together to provide the most compassionate care possible.  One of their values is continuous learning and improvement and as a way to achieve that value they turn to the Foster School of Business.  Watch the video above to see why they believe the Executive Development Program is such a good fit for their busy administrators.

Winners of UW Environmental Innovation Challenge

“It’s like a science fair on steroids.” That comment by judge and venture capitalist Loretta Little (of WRF Capital) captured the essence of the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge. 19 student teams from 7 Washington state universities and colleges met in Seattle on April 1 to pitch clean-tech, energy-saving business ideas and prototypes to more than 100 judges, venture capitalists, angel investors, professors and business leaders. Watch video highlights.

EIC_EnvitrumGrand prize = $10,000

A team of University of Washington engineers with a business called EnVitrum won the $10,000 grand prize for their innovative glass recycling and green building technology that converts glass into bricks that are stronger and cheaper than masonry and have a dual purpose of cultivating plants.

Second place + honorable mentions = $12,500

Second place with $5,000 went to Triangle Energy (a University of Washington team consisting of two Foster MBA students, one UW doctoral student in mechanical engineering, one UW doctoral student in biochemistry and one UW chemical engineering undergraduate) who created a mobile bioreactor that converts solid biomass into synthesis gas for energy use. Three honorable mention awards of $2,500 each went to interdisciplinary teams of engineering and business students: NanoWAVE (North Seattle Community College) created an energy-efficient, cost-effective LED lighting alternative for growing plants in nurseries, greenhouses and indoor gardens; iDriveSmart (University of Washington) created software that helps predict and encourage fuel-efficient driving; and Idyll Energy Solutions (Seattle Pacific University) created a solution to the idle, wasted energy of household electronics.

The 2nd annual UW Environmental Innovation Challenge was a collaborative venture between the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UW College of Engineering and UW College of the Environment. Learn more or get involved in next year’s Challenge.

Video: Cherry blossoms in full bloom on UW Seattle campus

It’s a cruel joke. Cherry blossoms are at their peak over spring break when students have fled the campus for vacations and a little off-campus reprieve between winter and spring quarters.

Seattle wakes up each spring and begins teeming with outdoor activity in anticipation of longer days, warmer weather and fewer rainy afternoons. UW campus, in the heart of the Emerald City, is a foot-friendly space of natural and architectural wonder. We hope you find a little inspiration in this cherry blossom video.

The UW Foster School of Business is just a few steps from the quad and Yoshino cherry trees. Considering a business degree? Prospective students might find this an ideal time to visit the Foster School and check out life on campus. Visit the undergraduate or graduate program offices – Full-time MBA, Evening MBA, Executive MBA, Master of Professional Accounting – or just get a feel for life around the UW Seattle campus by walking around. Spring is a perfect time to stroll.