Category Archives: University of Washington

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.

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.

Cupcake Royale founder boosts business via Foster’s Executive Education

Click on image above to play video.

Cupcake Royale founder serves up community sweets—and boosts business via Foster’s Executive Education

It takes a neighborhood to raise a cupcake business. That’s the way Jody Hall (Executive Development Program 2010) sees it. Hall is founder and owner of Cupcake Royale, the Seattle region’s innovative cupcake bakery and coffee house.

For Hall, it wasn’t enough to offer customers great coffee and delightful cupcakes. Her entrepreneurial desire was to also create a business where neighbors would come together to cook up ideas, learn something new and inspire each other in conversations about the arts, society and politics.

“The heritage of a coffee house is the penny university,” she said of her inspiration. “You got this penny, you get a cup of coffee in this gathering place and you talk with the business merchants, artists, poets, musicians and get an education about what is going on in your society.”

From Starbucks to cupcake start-up

Cupcake Royale wears its style of business with charm. Slogans such as “Ask me about my cupcakes” and “Legalize frostitution” (also the company blog name) are common. It’s run by an entrepreneur whose professional marketing and branding experience stemmed from a part-time barista gig at Starbucks in 1989 that led to a position in marketing when Starbucks revolutionized how Americans drink coffee.

That combination of coffee, specialty cupcakes and community has been a big success.

The first Cupcake Royale opened in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle in 2003. In 2010, Hall opened her fifth location in Bellevue. Cupcakes range from the Classic, Red Velvet and Salted Caramel to monthly specials such as Bacon Whiskey Maple and Deathcake Royale.

“When people come in and look at that cupcake case, from one to 91 years old, they just flap their arms and are like (dramatic gasp). Little kids almost launch they are so excited,” she said.

Locally grown, locally sourced

When Hall launched Cupcake Royale, you’d have to trek to New York to find a cupcake of substance, let alone one crafted with high-quality, local and seasonal ingredients. “We can tell you with every bag flour, this is from farmer Fred and this is from farmer Carl. We know these guys and have driven their combines. We know about the wheat,” she said.

However, the reality of business is that any store as successful as Cupcake Royale will attract voracious competitors. “Everybody sells cupcakes now,” she said, “not to mention the other cupcake bakeries that are opening up at a pretty hefty clip around here.”

While Hall built a successful foundation for her business, she felt that to grow and succeed in this new competitive landscape she needed to bolster her understanding of finance, operations, management and leadership.

Foster and the competitive edge

To give herself that advantage and engage in the kinds of high-level conversations about strategy and marketing she had when she worked at Starbucks and REI, Hall enrolled in the UW Foster School of Business Executive Development Program (EDP). The nine-month, part-time Foster executive education program helps busy senior managers, executives and other professionals explore each facet of business from an executive’s top-level view.

“I wanted to sharpen my own skills and validate them, and EDP was great,” she said. “After every class I literally would download with my managers: Here’s what I learned and how I think we can apply that to what we are doing here.”

What’s next for Cupcake Royale and Jody Hall?

Hall is building a strong three-year plan that takes the new fierce cupcake competition into account. “One of my strategies has come directly out of the EDP class.”

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.