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.

Featured minority business: Mundiali

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganFeatured Minority Business: Mundiali
Bellevue, WA

Mundiali means “The World.” for Alex Agudelo it means a business vision that helps traditional business models move to innovative and environmentally-conscious ways of doing business. His business philosophy will inspire minority entrepreneurs who share his passion for the green economy.

He founded Mundiali in 2008 as a “triple bottom line” business that helps other businesses address their impacts on the environment while adding to their return on investment. Agudelo got the idea for his company several years ago when he first became aware of innovations in renewable energy, biofuels and water quality. “I knew instantly that this is the future for the economy—where business needs to go and grow,” said Agudelo.

Today, Mundiali’s  group of ten consultants help clients that include anything from technology companies to farmers—anyone who wants to make the transition to sustainability through energy consumption or other business practices. “Our assessments are refined, scalable and provide a great deal of intellectual property and wealth for clients,” said Agudelo.

The company’s biggest challenges have been developing a market presence and in obtaining financial backing. “It’s a fact that brand and name recognition is critical—people need to recognize the name and understand the value we bring before engaging us. Access to capital support is necessary to take our business to the next level. The Stimulus Package has yet to filter down to businesses like ours!”

Despite these challenges, he believes there is tremendous opportunity for minority-owned businesses to access opportunity in the green economy. “There is an abundance of opportunity for anyone who wants to play in the green economy,” said Alex. He adds, “You cannot waiver from your initial and original goal. Don’t give up. Forge forward. We are diving into a new economy and the field is yet to mature.”

Want to learn more? Visit www.mundiali.com.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She will be writing the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Foster students return to Panama for spring break

This spring break roughly 29 University of Washington students, most from the Foster School, will descend on a mountain village in Panama to help the villagers there improve their farming business and hopefully rise a little further above subsistence-level farming.

The trip was set up by the Global Business Brigades, a nationwide student-led organization with a UW chapter. A dozen students are also getting course credits for the trip through the Foster School. The lead UW student organizers—Foster students David Almeida and Blake Strickland—said the team plans also to revisit a coffee plantation where 18 Foster students spent the 2009 spring break. Almeida’s group will evaluate the impact the students had on the coffee plantation and find out if the farmers have put into practice the team’s recommendations.

“All 29 of us are extremely excited for this chance to make a real and positive impact in the lives of people living in Machuca,” Almeida said. “Through working with the farmers, living in the village, embracing their culture, and making a difference, the next week will be sure to change our lives as much as theirs.”

This year, the team will spend most of their spring break on the Machuca Farm located in the Cocle province, roughly three hours from Panama City. The farm is a 25-minute hike from the end of the nearest roadway. The community has about 800 inhabitants, but the farm group that the students are focusing on has 14 members and supports roughly 35 people. The farm grows yucca, plantain, rice, beans, corn and other crops and also raises chickens, goats and fish in a pond.

In the team’s trip preparations, the undergraduates identified four main areas where they hope to have an impact—processing chickens, bread making, goat milk products and organic products.

Almeida and several other team members plan to post updates on this blog. Stay tuned.

NanoString: a big idea turns counting molecules into a thriving business

NanoString founder Amber RatcliffAmber Ratcliffe was close to graduating with her MBA in 2003 and had accepted a job offer at an established Seattle biotech firm when she submitted her plan for NanoString to the UW Business Plan Competition. To her amazement, her plan for the life sciences start-up won the grand prize, the “Best High-Tech Idea” award and $31,000 in start-up capital, leaving Ratcliffe with a big decision to make.  

“I wasn’t going to live my life wondering what might have been,” she said. So she changed course, put the entrepreneurial strategies she’d learned at Foster into practice, and co-founded NanoString Technologies in June 2003. NanoString commercialized an innovative technology invented at the Institute for Systems Biology to use DNA barcodes to detect and count molecules in biological samples. It might sound like science fiction, but the technology is now helping researchers at organizations like the National Cancer Institute gain a better understanding of how to battle cancer.

“Researchers, like entrepreneurs, want to solve the problems that no one else has been able to crack,” said Ratcliffe, who is now the company’s director of marketing.  “Foster gave me the tools to be an entrepreneur and now NanoString is giving scientists the tools to conduct studies that were previously inconceivable. It’s an exciting and rewarding combination.”

Her decision to take a chance on NanoString has been validated: the company has been shipping products internationally since 2008 and has raised over $47 million in venture capital. The next big challenge for NanoString is the competitive clinical diagnostic market. “NanoString’s combination of features are very well suited for this new market,” Ratcliffe said. “We believe this technology has the potential to make a significant contribution to the practice of medicine.”

Hear Amber’s story and check out: www.nanostring.com

MicroGREEN wins angel investment prize for its “enlightened plastic”

When Krishna Nadella was a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington in 2002, he made that leap of faith that technology entrepreneurs are famous for—he saw that the technology he was conducting his Master’s research on was perfect for a start-up.  Employing that UW technology for microcellular expansion, Nadella and his team described the potential for a new line of plastic cups and food trays that were lighter, held heat better and reduced material costs by as much as 30 percent. The judges at the 2003 Business Plan Competition agreed, and MicroGREEN Polymers took second place honors, winning $15,000 in seed funding and the “Best Technology Idea” prize. The following year, the nascent company was awarded $250,000 in research grants and began negotiating a license with the University of Washington.

By early 2006, MicroGREEN had raised a $2.5 million venture round to establish a scale-up manufacturing facility. But, as Krishna explained to an audience of mechanical engineering students at a February 9 seminar on the UW campus, “we had the right people on the right bus, but in all the wrong places.” The result was predictable, and MicroGREEN scrambled to refocus its technology and reengineer the business model. By the end of 2006, the company hired a seasoned startup CEO, Tom Malone, who put the right people in the right places.

It’s paying off. Last October, MicroGREEN won a $60,000 ZINO Zillionaire investment prize and is in the process of closing their Series B round. The company is using the funds from this round to expand its staff and build its first pilot production facility in Arlington, WA with the capacity to transform 16 million pounds of recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate), made from discarded plastic water and soda bottles, into a broad spectrum of thermoformed products. At the top of the list are food packaging, general packaging and building materials such as insulated wall and ceiling panels.

Nadella, who is now the chief technology officer of the firm, is determined to make MicroGREEN a success. “In the Northwest, software and biotech companies get all the attention,” he said. “I want to prove that there’s good reason to shine an equally strong spotlight on materials technology companies like ours.”

Check it outhttp://www.microgreeninc.com/

Mentors do matter

Students at Lavin Entrepreneurial Action ProgramTake just a minute and ask yourself: Who’s the person who has played the most influential role in your career?  Chances are it was someone who listened to your ideas and gave you feedback—but left the real decision up to you. Or someone who encouraged you just at that point when you were about to give up on your plan. Or someone who made a few key introductions that opened a huge door for your start-up.  A mentor. And mentors REALLY matter when you’re a young entrepreneur.

The Center’s Lavin Entrepreneurial Action Program, named for Alberto Culver’s Leonard Lavin, admits freshmen to an “honors program” in entrepreneurship. No, it’s not based on the students’ GPA or SAT scores, but rather on their level of entrepreneurial drive. Many of these students started their first companies in high school, and most them are already thinking about their next start-up.

Part of the Lavin Program’s promise is matching the students with entrepreneurial mentors, and CIE’s 28-person Advisory Board volunteered to be the “first line of mentors.” At the Center’s winter board meeting, director Connie Bourassa-Shaw moderated a discussion on mentoring, which elicited comments and stories from both board members and students. The group then began “mentor speed-dating,” with 10-minute intervals for striking up new conversations.  “I’d expected the students to be a little reticent, a little shy,” said Lisa Hjorten, the founder of Informia, “but there was none of that. The Lavin students had business cards ready to hand out. And had come to the meeting knowing which of us they wanted to meet. I never could have done that as a sophomore!”

There are now 20 mentor-student pairings going forward, with more on the way. Read more about the Lavin Program.

The CIE Alumni Network is for working entrepreneurs

“What I need is a group of people who are like me—in the throes of growing their start-ups,” said Tom Seery, the CEO of RealSelf and a 1999 MBA graduate. “I’ll make time for a peer group I can count on for advice, shared experiences and empathy.” And that’s how the CIE Alumni Network, whose goal is to create a cohesive community of University of Washington alumni who share a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation, was born.

Sara Weaver, the owner of Ogborn Investments and a 2001 MBA, is the president of the network (with co-founders and fellow MBA alumni Chris Howard, Ben Lower, and Elizabeth Morgan). “Most of our members were actively involved in CIE during our time at the UW, whether it was through the Business Plan Competition or the entrepreneurship classes,” she said.  “We’re fervent supporters of the program. We want to stay connected to each other and to CIE, and we believe there’s tremendous value in the collective knowledge of our members.”

In addition to staying connected with an entrepreneurial peer group, network members have access to CIE Advisory Board members and other contacts in the larger entrepreneurial community, invitations to hear UW entrepreneurship faculty talk about their latest research, intimate dinners with Seattle’s entrepreneurial icons, the opportunity to mentor student entrepreneurs and of course the ability to give back to what Weaver calls, “the entrepreneurship program that helped us get started.”

To apply for membership in the CIE Alumni Network, email Weaver at saraweaver201@yahoo.com. You must be a UW alumnus who has started a company, is engaged in a start-up or is working in an entrepreneurial role in a larger firm to join the network.  Dues are $50 a year.

More information

Athleon: the team that keeps on pitching

Brent Lamphier, member of the Athleon teamWhen Brent Lamphier and the Athleon team pitched at the Investment Round of the 2008 Business Plan Competition, there was a collective moment of surprise from the judges. In a room filled with high-energy teams, Athleon was over the top—immediately riveting and undeniably compelling. Throughout the competition, Athleon, which provides an internet platform taking professional-level sports software to the mass market of competitive amateur sports teams, was the bulldog team that wouldn’t let go.

Less than two years after the event that won them second place and a “Best Consumer Product Idea” award, Athleon is picking up speed. In a tough year, the company signed up over 500 teams across the country, bringing its total to 800 paying teams in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe. It also launched its subscription-based business model—a unique element in the amateur sports market—which allows teams to fund their site themselves or solicit team sponsors, either from their local business community or Athleon’s ecosystem of national brands.

At Athleon, every high school or amateur sports team has its own private hub that can be accessed by coaches, players, parents and others.  Workout schedule? On Athleon. Moving playbooks, game film, practice plans, event alerts, stats tracking and analysis, group text messaging and photo albums? All through Athleon.

Lamphier, the firm’s CEO, just opened the San Francisco office of Athleon to raise a $2M venture round and says that he’s seeing substantial growth in the first few months of 2010, as spring sports teams ramp up and prepare for their seasons. “In July the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester (the Olympics of the Lacrosse world) will feature at least four teams who are using Athleon,” he said. “England, Wales, Finland and Austria are customers, and that brings us huge international credibility.”

Check it outwww.athleon.com

First legislative visit: a student’s perspective of minority business policy

Guest blog post by Caroline Gabriel, Foster undergraduate student

Caroline Gabriel at WA State CapitolLegislature.  Am I the only one who cannot correctly pronounce the term? I looked it up and found it is pronounced “lej-is-ley-cher,” courtesy of dictionary.com. I mention this word for a reason. I am a student assistant at the UW Foster School Business and Economic Development Center (BEDC). Since coming to the University of Washington, I have had many amazing experiences.

One memorable experience transpired the morning of March 3 when I journeyed with my boss and BEDC Director Michael Verchot to the marble steps of the state’s capitol to attend a hearing of the Washington State Legislature Community & Economic Development & Trade Committee. Here, Michael gave a speech on Washington small minority-owned businesses. He drew attention to some startling data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—that while Caucasians have dealt with increasing rates of unemployment, minorities have dealt with outstandingly high rates for many years. With African-American unemployment rates at 7.8% in 2006 to 12.9% in 2009 and the Caucasian unemployment rate at 4.9% in 2006 and 8.8% in 2009, it represents a stark contrast. This fact seems to have been swept under the table of economic affairs recently. One thing the BEDC director was trying to convey was how existing policies address the problems of Caucasian businesses, such as high taxes and regulation red tape, but have failed to subscribe policies to the more prominent and recurrent problems within minority businesses.

Friendly legislators

Sitting from left to right were representatives Parker, Orcutt, Smith, Kenney (madam chair), Maxwell and Chase.  All dressed in business attire, some appearing happier than others. I always imagined representatives, any politicians really, to be boring, dry shells of government policy. I was proven wrong as I saw Representative Smith chatting away with a broad smile. Perhaps I had a misguided opinion of the people in power. It was interesting to listen to, after Michael’s presentation, a number of representatives quickly responding with very intellectual questions. I suppose you have to be intelligent and likeable to be a politician, but I was surprised by their excellent speech, even their perkiness.

Not-so-friendly questions

They asked very direct, yet sometimes infuriating questions. It was disheartening to hear them inquire why some data was not present and if BEDC could include it in its next report. The truth is that the economy, as the statistics describe, affects everyone. As a result, BEDC does not have enough funding to conduct such extensive surveys as the legislature would have liked. It seems meetings such as these would be more efficiently spent if the representatives asked beforehand what exactly they were looking for as far as numbers and statistics were concerned, rather than reprimanding the presenter about limited information after they have put much time and effort into their presentation.

Okay, I am done venting. As for the whole meeting, it was conducted with civility; everyone addressed each other formally, never interrupting, and everything else went very smoothly. I had the pleasure of sitting at the presenter’s table and was recognized for collecting and analyzing the data, and was able to get an up-close-and-personal view of committee procedures and protocols.

Despite going to a university, I have met some really naïve people. People who cannot pronounce “legislature” or do not know how to get to UW’s Red Square are just victims of naiveté. I would be one of them. The only way to cure this is to experience more of what is right at our fingertips. I encourage you to sit in on a committee meeting. It was both educational about government policies and eye opening to glimpse everyday tasks of policy-making.

3 teams win high honors for global solutions to poverty

gsec-nuruGrand Prize of $10,000

The 2010 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition winning team was Nuru Light, also winner of the People’s Choice Award and Investor’s Choice Award, for their affordable, clean, safe alternative to kerosene as a light source in Rwanda. Nuru lights can be recharged quickly via the world’s first pedal generator. Team Nuru consists of students from Adventist University of Central Africa and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Photo (L-R): Charles Ishimwe, Bill Gates, Sr., Max Fraden

 

gsec-touchhbGlobal Health Grand Prize of $5,000

UW Global Health’s largest prize went to TouchHb, an affordable, prick-less anemia scanner used by low-skilled village health workers in rural India that measures, helps diagnose, monitors and screens for anemia. Team TouchHb consists of two doctors from the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences.

 

 

 

gsec-maloJudges’ Choice Prize of $3,000

Judges this year created a spontaneous award and personally pitched in a total of $3,000 for an on-the-fly Judges’ Choice Award which went to Malo Traders for their business plan that provides technological consultation that minimizes risks of post-harvest losses for small-scale rice farmers in Mali. Team Malo consists of two brothers who grew up in Africa and are now pursuing degrees—one is a PhD student in political science at Purdue University and the other a business student at Temple University.

The Global Business Center at the UW Foster School of Business puts on the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition each year – when international student teams are coached, critiqued and judged by Seattle-area business leaders. A record number of applicants (161) from around the world applied for the 6th annual event with innovative ideas to help solve global poverty. Watch the video.

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