Bacon…in a glass?

Stefan Schachtell, Sven Liden, and Chris Marshall, founders of Black Rock Spirits.
Stefan Schachtell, Sven Liden, and Chris Marshall, founders of Black Rock Spirits.

In the food industry, bacon is the “it” food of the moment. And if industry awards and late night talk shows are any indication, Bakon Vodka may just be the “it” beverage of the year. Sven Liden (MBA 2004), co-founder of the parent company, Black Rock Spirits, says it all began on a camping trip in 2007 when a friend brought along 20 pounds of bacon. As the campfire conversation turned to infused liquors, they began to wonder if all that bacon could make a good drink. “The next weekend we bought 12 types of bacon and a bunch of different types of vodka and did all of these infusions in Mason jars in my kitchen,” he said.

The best infusion came from a mix of peppered bacon and potato vodka. After getting a positive response from friends who sampled the winning concoction, Liden and his business partners decided to test the product to the commercial market. In May 2009, after a year and a half of working through all of the liquor industry’s requirements and regulations, they produced 1,500 bottles of Bakon Vodka—enough, they figured, to last three or four months.

Posts about Bakon Vodka on Facebook and Twitter soon had the blogosphere buzzing. Within two weeks of its initial release, Conan O’Brien was sampling Bakon Vodka on his late night talk show. And those first 1,500 bottles were gone in no time. While many other small liquor companies struggle to get their products distributed in one or two states, distribution of Bakon Vodka has expanded from two states to 20 in just one year. Black Rock Spirits expects sales of the beverage to top $1 million in 2010 and was recently awarded a Gold Medal in the Beverage Testing Institute’s 2010 International Review of Spirits—a very prestigious award in the liquor industry.

Before entering the full-time MBA program at the University of Washington, Liden already had one start-up under his belt. “My background was in engineering and software development, but I felt that something was missing from my tool box. I wanted that knowledge of business,” he said. While at the UW, Liden participated in the 2004 Business Plan Competition with TeachTown, a company that provides educational software for children with autism. “I’ve been part of three start-ups now and that’s been really interesting because they are all so different,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think all entrepreneurs should try that, but the broad foundation I developed at the UW has allowed me to do that and succeed.”

One million tweeps

Arianna O'DellThe Twitter phenomenon will soon be immortalized in that most retro form of publishing: a book. Remember those? Arianna O’Dell, a UW entrepreneurship undergraduate, is hoping to capture the faces of one million Twitter users in a coffee table book called One Million Tweeps.

O’Dell and software developer Ludo Antonov launched the “One Million Tweeps” website in early October and have received close to 1,500 submissions to date. Twitter users, or “Tweeps” as they’re called, can upload their Twitter photo for free to a tile on the site that will be included in the book. Businesses and public figures are also encouraged to upload photos or advertisements at a cost of $5 per tile. Several marketing and social media firms have already signed on and staked out their spots in the book.

Inspiration for the project came from the “$1 Million Home Page,” a wildly successful website created by a student in the UK to fund his university education by selling ad space for $1/pixel. Similarly, O’Dell and Antonov will use any proceeds remaining after publishing their book to bootstrap their next start-up, “a business focused on making the web a more transparent and informed place.” But this unique project is as much social experiment as it is business venture. “Our goal with this book is also to create a time capsule of the state of social media today,” O’Dell said.

O’Dell is now talking with potential publishers to determine final pricing of the book as well as the layout and design. The pair hopes to reach the one million–tweep point by the end of the year. “We’re really excited about how well it’s all going. The Whidbey News Times and TechFlash.com just ran articles about the project, which was great,” said O’Dell. “Now we’re just focused on getting the word out.”

To contribute to One Million Tweeps, go to: www.onemilliontweeps.com.

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).

Generosity of women leaders in India

Guest blog post by Cate Goethals, UW Foster School of Business lecturer

Women Leadership Trip - India 2010I first noticed it on the plane before I even reached Mumbai when I sat next to a woman who owned a handicraft business. I told her I was bringing a group of 22 students to India. “Come to my home,” she said. “Let me cook for you.” Her sister-in-law, who ran a different business, came to sit in our row. “Please let me host your group,” she said.

University of Washington students and I (their faculty trip organizer) had set out to study women’s leadership in India. I expected the accomplished women we met to be powerful, visionary, confident, charismatic, any number of traits. What I had not anticipated was generosity.  Extreme generosity. The more responsibility someone had, the more time and attention and respect they gave us.  Some more examples:

  • Rohini Nilekani, who runs a multimillion-dollar foundation in Bangalore and is known as “the Melinda Gates of India,” spoke to us and then had to go to a meeting.  After the meeting, she returned and gave us another hour of her time.  Half of that was spent asking us for our ideas.
  • Poorvi Chothani, well-known attorney often seen on Mumbai TV, not only agreed to brief my group on women and the law in India – but went on to spend many more hours organizing a special session of the Ladies Wing (!) of the Mumbai Merchants Chamber to gather dozens of women in our honor. She turned what could have been a personal platform into an exchange of ideas.
  • Veena Mankar, leading banker and co-founder of microfinance institution Swadhaar, had to cancel our visit to go to a funeral. She then rearranged her schedule and spent more than an hour driving across Mumbai to meet with us at our hotel early one morning. “Young people have the best ideas,” she told me. “I talk to them whenever I can.”
  • Amma, “the hugging saint” and most well-known female spiritual guru in the world, heard that we were rushed through our first session with her. Although she hugged thousands of other people that day, she invited us for a second session, asked that we sit at her feet and personally answered our questions about women’s leadership. Then she asked her swami to give us back the money we paid to stay at her ashram. “Students should have pocket money,” she said.
  • Women of the world-famous Self Employed Women’s Association greeted each of us several times with a personal flower, a special bindi (red dot pressed with rice on our foreheads to nourish our spirits) and a bit of sugar to eat.

I was struck by this generosity on nearly every visit.  It may be part of Indian culture, it may be related to gender, it may be a function of the exceptional people we saw.  In any case, it is an overlooked and undervalued leadership trait – and one that is infectious, making the students and I want to give back…and give elsewhere…and do it again, creating new cycles of generosity even now that we’re home.  The ripples are still being felt.

Cate Goethals, University of Washington Foster School of Business lecturer and Seattle consultant, leads global business seminars and study trips focused on women and international business. She has taught at the UW Foster School for more than 20 years—including a class called “Women at the Top” that was named one of the 10 most innovative MBA classes in the country by Forbes in 2010.

The India exploration seminar abroad, called Half the Sky: Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs, included 22 graduate and undergraduate students.

Interning in rural Kenya

Guest post by Nathan Whitson (UW business major graduating in 2012)

SAM_0286As part of my international studies at the UW, I desired to volunteer abroad during my college career. The summer of my sophomore year (2010) I traveled to Kenya as part of an informal internship at a small orphanage called Watoto Wa Baraka.

My time in Kenya lasted 6 weeks, but it was jam-packed with new experiences and encounters. Kenyans are wonderful. They help before you ask and smile before you can react. This attitude puzzled me, because in deep poverty, they persist and love the life that they were dealt. I quickly began drawing differences between Kenya and America, a natural process that creates unique global views.

Global conversations
Kenya was not the only thing new to me. So was everyone around me. While in Kenya, there were few Americans and many of my peers were European. I did not know what to expect, but my understanding grew as we discussed everything from politics to education. In addition to learning about Kenyan culture and society, I gained a unique understanding of different communities from around Europe. I now have a mini network of people from around the world that I can connect with in the future.

Preparing food at a Kenyan orphanage
Preparing food at a Kenyan orphanage

Making an impact
As volunteers, we spent time looking after the children, helping in the local school and hospital, aiding with laundry, harvesting and cooking food and traveling around to different communities in the area. This internship taught me what simple living really is. I am deeply humbled that I was able participate in an international internship this summer because the experience truly cannot be replicated. Kenyans are the most resilient people I have ever met, leaving me with the hope that a bit of this attitude rubbed off on me. I feel that this is true of all internships; they are gateways into the real world. Not every internship defines what your career will be, but it shines a light into what exists at that next level.

Resources
If you are thinking of interning abroad, my recommendation is to fully commit yourself to a program and go with it. A variety of great resources exist for those looking to make a difference abroad or gain experience locally. Here are a few I would recommend: Volunteer Match (opportunities abroad/locally), Intern Match (local internships) or UW Husky jobs.

Nathan Whitson is a junior at the Foster School of Business focusing on finance. He used his “summer break for something more heartfelt than simply a check every two weeks and it definitely paid off.” His Kenyan internship was organized by himself via Volunteer Match.

Entrepreneur Rich Barton on consumer-driven start-ups

Expedia founder and serial entrepreneur Rich Barton spoke candidly to University of Washington Foster School of Business entrepreneurial alumni about his philosophy, lessons learned, venture capitalist experience, owning consumer-driven dot coms and social networking.

Rich Barton is executive chairman of Zillow, chairman of Glassdoor, chairman of new venture Travelpost, board member of Realself (started by CEO Tom Seery, Foster MBA 2000) and involved with numerous other start-ups.

Watch a condensed 12-minute version of his guest lecture:

 Click on image above to play video

Women leadership in India via microfinance

Guest post by Cynthia Sánchez (UW English major, graduating in 2011)

I used to believe microfinance pertained only to those in the banking industry. However, I’ve discovered this is not the case. Microfinance can be utilized by many banks, but also individuals seeking to help others. I learned microfinance does more than lend money. It helps people save, build their resources and reduce their vulnerability.

Microfinance repayment gathering in India
Microfinance repayment gathering in India

Meeting with Grameen Bank in Bangalore, India allowed me to witness the difference the bank makes by giving 97% of their loans to women while they also strive to educate the next generation. Our meeting with Grameen Bank began by attending a repayment meeting. We arrived at the gathering location—encountering a few goats along the way—and entered an open space. A group of women sat leg-crossed chanting the sixteen decisions, a set of values, followed by the recitation of a vow. This was the way they commenced meetings. They welcomed us with smiles and requests to sit next to them, tapping the floor beside them to signal open spots. The women wore saris and a few cradled their children. We took our seats barefoot and watched each member sign in. Their glass and golden bangles slid up and down, synchronized to the movement of their arms.

The session was quick. The women were prepared with the money stacked in their hands, like a deck of cards. They all sat attentive waiting to hear their name to pass the payment to the lender. The money circulated, hand in hand, until it reached him. He counted the amount and recorded the amount in the borrower record sheet which contained the borrower’s picture, her name, the names of her children and spouse and dates of all the past payments.

We learned from the women that with the money they borrowed they had paid for their children’s education, started businesses, resolved personal issues and emergencies and also had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of business. Obtaining a loan from Grameen Bank had empowered them to decide what was best for their families and their future. Women who were once considered “uncredit-worthy” are now beginning to move away from poverty in a country where 41% of its population is still “unbanked”—demonstrating the difference a small loan can make.

Cynthia is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Business women in India and America share hope

Guest post by Emily Gerloff (UW business major, graduating in 2011)

“Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I was told that India is life-changing.  After hearing this on several occasions, I remember thinking to myself: What a strange concept. How can a country be life-changing?

After spending a month on the Half the Sky Exploration Seminar via the UW Foster School of Business, I am still unable to express exactly how India changed my life, but I know with absolute certainty that it did.

Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.
Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.

During the micro-lending meetings I expected to see poor, impoverished women with sob stories capable of making me instantaneously empty my pockets. I was surprised and relieved to find it was nothing like what I had imagined. These women did not have an ounce of desperation in their voices as they told their stories. They are an absolute testament to the power of hope and determination.  They live their lives with an innate sense of duty and purpose I can only compare to an American’s sense of equality and freedom.

Another surprise was how closely the lives of these women parallel my own. The micro-loans they receive are similar to the loans that fund my education.  I come from an underprivileged family (by American standards) and would be unable to attend college if it weren’t for the grants and loans provided to me by the government. Although I am occasionally jealous of my fellow students who will graduate with zero debt, it doesn’t change the fact that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to better my life. I don’t think I am any less deserving of an education just because I was born into a family that couldn’t pay for one. This is a similar stance these women take regarding the micro-loans they receive. They possess gratitude and a humble belief that they deserve the right to prove their worth.

India changed my life.  I have seen first-hand the power of hope and determination and won’t deny myself the chance to see how far my own hope and determination will take me.

Emily is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Expanding cosmos—women in leadership study tour

Guest post by Melanie Sharpe, Foster MBA 2011 with a global business focus

BananaLeafIn the pre-trip brief just hours before we left for India, our professor Cate Goethals made a preparatory comment I’ll always remember as I weave my way through the world: “Becoming cosmopolitan means expanding and pushing the current boundaries and edges of your world.”

The trip to India expanded my cosmos in that very way. It exposed me to a diverse array of Indian leaders that redefined my perspective of business leadership as a woman—an aspect of business school that is largely overlooked and one I admittedly had not taken the time to consider prior to the transformative trip.

Inspiring women entrepreneurs

We encountered a colorful gamut of inspiring women. From workaholic bankers to avant-garde filmmakers to powerful lawyers and wealthy philanthropists to arguably the most influential female spiritual guru in the world to rural tree harvesters—all incredibly ambitious and driven women who seemed to have something very profound in common: They all seemed to be working to uplift others around them.

Call it social entrepreneurship or call it a compulsion to help better their community or family. Sometimes this innate desire compelled them to work 16-hour days to allow their fatherless children to have a better future. Sometimes that internal murmur told them that funding clean water was the only way to ensure the success of future generations of Indians. Sometimes that calling told them to hold and convey love to thousands of people everyday. In each instance, the evidence of that desire to give was palpable and tremendously inspiring.

TajThe pinnacle of the trip was hearing Rohini Nilekani, wife of the Infosys founder, speak at her clean water non-profit, Arghyam. Her profound statement: “Your generation no longer has the luxury of pessimism” was galvanizing. No longer can we absentmindedly guzzle water from plastic bottles or live in first-world luxury flushing away our waste with fresh water without considering the ramifications to the earth or other members of the world community. Her CEO Sunita Nadhamuni was an example of such awareness. Nadhamuni and her husband had reinvented the American business school dream of Silicon Valley wealth, prominent management positions and a constant search for “more” by transitioning their careers to work that directly helped communities of people have access to clean water.

Globally interconnected economy

The trip to India opened my world to the interconnectedness of the global economy. Imagine Dharavi: Asia’s largest slum, prominently featured in the blockbuster film “Slumdog Millionaire” as an impenetrable, crime-filled, filthy dystopia. The reality? The living conditions were certainly difficult: On average there is 1 toilet per 1,500 people! But the families inside the neat and tidy (albeit tiny) apartments were hardworking, entrepreneurial and contributing to global economic epicenters of recycling and clothes dyeing. In fact, many of the raw materials that we consume in the United States are sourced straight from Dharavi.

I left India transformed. The trip confirmed what I had suspected for my own career path: My own compulsion to serve was an innate calling that could be aligned with both business ideals and women’s leadership. Arriving at this realization completed the goal of the trip. My cosmos is expanded forever.

Melanie is an MBA student participant in the University of Washington Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

- Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.