In Seattle, where start-ups are part of the local DNA, there are high-profile organizations that take early-stage companies with traction under their wings. The Alliance of Angels is one of the preeminent angel groups in the world, TechStars set up shop on South Lake Union in 2010, and Google, Facebook and Twitter now have Seattle addresses to attract talent.
But is it possible for a public research university like the University of Washington to create a Y-Combinator or TechStars-like environment for early-stage student-led companies? We’re betting on it.
Two years ago the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) launched the Herbert Jones Milestones Awards with $80,000. This month, CIE announced $185,000 in follow-up funding available to companies coming out of the UW Business Plan Competition, the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge or entrepreneurship courses. The goal is to turn more student teams into start-up teams—and see them through that challenging first six months.
Here’s how it works
Student teams apply to the Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator by early July 2012. Their job (in a 3- to 5-page executive summary and a 30-second video) is to convince the committee that they’re 100% serious about starting their companies. They also have to give us a list of 7 to 10 “reasonable but measurable” milestones they can achieve in six months—and each milestone needs to have a date associated with it.
CIE provides desk space in Foster School’s new Business Hall for six months for any team that wants it, mentors for each company and connections. Miles and miles of connections to other entrepreneurs, potential investors, start-up professionals, potential customers, etc. And yes, milestones can be modified along the way—as long as there’s good reason to do so. At the end of the six months, we award up to $25,000 to each company that has made significant progress.
Does this seed funding work? Here are two of our six success stories to date:
- Cadence Biomedical, which recently raised $1.1 million in Series A2 funding, makes an easy-to- put-on medical device that enables wheelchair-bound people with physical disabilities to walk again.
- Stockbox Grocers, which just won a 2012 Echoing Green award (ideas so bold and convictions so strong they could shake the world), promotes healthy communities by improving access to fresh produce and grocery staples in urban food deserts. Their newest store opens in August 2012 in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood.