Seattle Metropolitan Chamber expands support for multicultural and small businesses

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has expanded its support for small and minority-owned businesses with a new executive position. Since February 2012, small business owner Regina Glenn has served as the Chamber’s vice president of multicultural and small business development.

The new position will integrate the functions of the Urban Enterprise Center (UEC) into the operations of the Chamber. Established in 1993 as an affiliate of the Chamber, the UEC was charged with helping grow minority-owned businesses. Last spring, UEC and Chamber leaders convened a task force to determine how best to serve this mission. Their top recommendation was to create a Chamber executive role that would build on the UEC’s work while taking better advantage of the Chamber’s small-business services. These programs include networking events, professional development workshops, policy advocacy and employee benefits like health insurance and 401(k) plans.

Regina Glenn, Seattle Chamber of Commerce VP of multicultural and small business development

“The Chamber is quite the resource if you know how to use it,” says Glenn. She brings to this position her decades of commitment to advancing diverse businesses. She first moved to Seattle in the late 1970s as Mayor Royer’s director of licensing and consumer affairs. In the early 1990s she began a consulting practice, Pacific Communications Consultants, that specialized in diversity training and contracting outreach to minority-owned businesses. At the same time she published Diversity Business News from 1990-1994.

Glenn’s hands are full. She is busy establishing partnerships with organizations such as the Tabor 500, the Northwest Minority Supplier Development Council, Filipino Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest, King County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and others.

She is also launching a number of new initiatives that will help multicultural and small businesses take full advantage of the Chamber’s business services such as:

  • An online resource for small businesses with information such as how to access capital.
  • A “how to do business with…” series to help smaller businesses form ongoing relationships with larger corporations.
  • A business growth and development series starting this winter, featuring successful business speakers.
  • A business accelerator program that will match established minority businesses with a major corporation in the region, starting in fall 2013.

“This is not a social service,” says Glenn. “We are about increasing profits for multicultural businesses and integrating them into all aspects of the Chamber’s programs and policy advocacy.”

We will be announcing the Chamber’s new multicultural programs as they come on line. It promises to be a great resource for minority entrepreneurs.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, 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 writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

Is it possible? Accelerating student start-ups

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.

Standing room only: celebrating “entrepreneurial speed”

Outside the sun set gloriously over Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains.  Inside, even the sky couldn’t distract the entrepreneurs, student teams, judges, press and guests in Seattle’s Pier 66 ballroom from the excitement of the main event—the 15th annual University of Washington Business Plan Competition (BPC) awards.  Having no idea how the finalists had placed for the $68,000 in prizes, the crowd listened with rapt attention to each team’s one-minute pitch.

The diversity of the four finalist start-ups made it difficult for audience members to venture a guess who would take grand prize. Would it be Xylemed or Joey Bra? Bicycle Billboards or Urban Harvest? As each student ended his or her team pitch minute, you could almost hear guests thinking, “Fantastic idea!”

What Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens then shared during his keynote speech was how to get such fantastic ideas to market by leveraging what he calls “Zulily time.” Called “an entrepreneurial speed freak if there ever was one” by Geekwire, Cavens emphasized not only the importance of “going fast” but of using the Internet as a tool to tweak the offering, making it better each day along the way. “Don’t spend five months on your business plan—apologies to the professors in the room! Put that plan together, and try it, innovate on it, adjust it, move forward.”  Now launching 1,400 new styles of kid products a day, Zulily focuses on beating rivals to the punch while delivering exceptional customer service. “It’s what we do every single day,” Cavens explained.

The BPC prize winners are now putting that sentiment into practice.

The $25,000 WRF Capital Grand Prize winner, Urban Harvest, will soon convert one of Microsoft’s Redmond parking garage rooftops into an active garden, allowing them to “grow their own” lettuce and herbs rather than continue to truck their food service salad fixings from the Salinas Valley. The team of two Foster School of Business MBAs, Chris Sheppard (MBA/JD)  and Chris Bajuk (MBA/MS real estate), intend to put many more  commercial rooftops to better use as hydroponic gardens that serve building owners as well as the local community. In addition to delivering the benefits of local agriculture, the Urban Harvest co-founders, both former military, have made hiring fellow veterans a priority.

Xylemed, the winner of the $10,000 Jones Foundation second-place prize, provides cloud-based electronic patient tracking and operations management system for hospitals. Their  goal is to eliminate patient care white boards used in surgery departments and replace them with 60-inch screens that can be updated with current information from any hospital computer. Ben Andersen and Marc Brown led the team of Foster School Technology Management MBAs that designed the system.  Xylemed’s product is already used in several of Seattle’s top hospitals—including Harborview Medical Center and the UW Medical Center—to improve safety and communications while reducing costs and administrative headaches.

After gaining incredible national press coverage with their initial product launch, Joey Bra’s fashion- forward bra with a discreet cell-phone pocket garnered the team one of the BPC’s $5,000 finalist prizes. Marketed initially to female college students who need a place to stow their phone and keys while out on the town, the two Foster School undergraduate co-founders, Kyle Bartlow and Mariah Gentry, are now working quickly to introduce a sports bra version to market.

Finally, Biking Billboards, which brings mobile marketing focused on building strong, personal customer connections, won the second $5,000 finalist prize.  The company, whose founding team includes Foster undergraduates Curtis Howell and Claire Koerner as well as two non-students, is now expanding to Los Angeles. As existing clients T-Mobile and PEMCO can attest, Biking Billboard “brand ambassadors” are able to more authentically engage with micro-targeted consumers on specialized routes.

Executive Development 9-month Certificate pay-off

Click image above to play video.

Executive Development 9-Month Certificate Pay-Off

Many professionals seek to up their game, retool or improve their skills at some point in their career. The 9-month, Seattle-based University of Washington Foster School of Business Executive Development Program offers people a chance to learn from renowned faculty and peers from a wide range of industries. What’s the pay-off? Sharper skills. Expanded network. Strategic thinking. Business growth and improved operations.

Watch the video above to hear from program participants, including Cupcake Royale founder Jody Hall, Washington Research Foundation CEO Ron Howell and more leaders in health care, retail, tourism and other industries.

Senior leadership lecturer Pat Bettin, PhD, says, “Each faculty member tries to let you leave every Monday evening with… this is what you can be doing tomorrow.”

Strengthen your skills and grow your business via the Executive Develpoment Program.

Foster entrepreneurs bring “Swagga” to Husky nation

It’s official. Onesies are not just for babies anymore. 

Undergraduate students at the University of Washington Foster School of Business have invented—and are pre-selling—the “Swagga Suit,” a purple one-piece jumpsuit with a giant gold “W” across the chest… for grown-ups.

Foster’s entrepreneur student-founder Gillian Pennington (BA 2012) says, “We have gotten a lot of interest from UW alumni and have recently gotten more attention after being tweeted about by Jon Brockman.”

The adult onesie’s creation story: Earlier this year, a group of Foster students, led by Pennington, formed a company called SWAG (Sweet Washington Athletic Gear). They’re goal was to offer a different spin on sports fan apparel. According to the SWAG website: “After sitting in a locked room for a total of 13.5 hours we not only became good friends but we decided to produce jumpsuits… The sequence of events behind this decision is a little blurred but let’s just say things got weird and in the end here we are and here is our awesome product… The Original Swagga Suit!”

Will this bizarre unique fashion innovation sweep the world?

Seattle P-I has certainly noticed. So has Yahoo! Sports, NBC Sports, SB Nation, BuzzFeed and more other incredulous news outlets by the minute. (Doesn’t hurt that former UW basketball star Jon Brockman—now a Milwaukee Buck—was game enough to model the Swagga Suit in full flight).

Move over Snuggie. Huskies are bringing the Swagga!

Alumnus is Pirq-ing up the daily deals market

Maybe James Sun was never the hiring type.

More of a job creator, the 1999 BA graduate of the University of Washington Foster School of Business has been one busy entrepreneur since being the last contestant “fired” on national television by Donald Trump in the season six finale of “The Apprentice.”

Sun’s latest venture is Pirq, a clever twist on the buzzing “daily deal” industry that was pioneered by Groupon.

James Sun (Foster BA 1999) is a serial entrepreneurPirq’s innovation is a smart phone app that identifies instant deals offered by businesses—initially restaurants—near your location or destination. Simply activate the virtual coupon and redeem on the spot for up to 50% off the total bill. Instant gratification.

Sun says it’s a win-win. Customers pay no upfront charge, endure no waiting period, swallow no pre-purchased coupons that never get used. And businesses get the opportunity to offer more targeted deals and the flexibility to avoid being crushed by oversold daily deals.

“Pirq shifts the way we discover and get deals by letting our smart phones help us find instant, relevant savings wherever we are—in a way that benefits both consumers and businesses,” said Sun.

UW alumni exclusive deals

Pirq recently raised $2 million in venture capital funding and is expanding rapidly from its home market of Seattle. Sun, the company’s CEO, has been busy making exclusive partnerships with a variety of organizations. The newest is with the University of Washington Alumni Association, announced in May 2012.

UWAA members have only to enter their member number when downloading the free Pirq app to become eligible for exclusive offers unavailable to the general public. What’s more, Pirq will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from each member transaction to support the UWAA.

“Pirq is an innovative business founded by a UW alum, and it provides our members with relevant benefits they can access through their phones while generating support for the UWAA,” said UWAA executive director Paul Rucker, in an interview with GeekWire. “Members will absolutely enjoy saving money with Pirq and… we’re thrilled to be working with Pirq.”

Life after Trump

Given his adventures since “The Apprentice” wrapped, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Sun would have been better off as a foot soldier in Trump’s gold-plated, real-estate empire.

After his televised dismissal, Sun leveraged his new-found celebrity to launch and host his own international TV show. “Sun Tzu: War on Business,” a co-production of the BBC, MediaCorp and CCTV, was broadcast in 20 nations across Asia in 2009-10. In each episode, Sun counseled motivated-but-struggling entrepreneurs on lessons from “The Art of War,” the iconic writings of the ancient Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu.

Returning to business of his own making, Sun founded GeoPage, a location-based search company that helps people find restaurants, hotels and attractions in their vicinity. GeoPage built the platform upon which Pirq now operates.

Sun also is an active angel investor and strategic advisor to a number of start-ups. He serves on the board of United Way of King County and the King County Scoutreach Program, as well as Seeyourimpact.org, an organization that solicits micro-donations to support children in the developing world.

Columns magazine recently named Sun one of the UW’s “Wondrous 100 Alumni,” and he recently judged the Foster School Business Plan Competition.

Ben Huh: be weird, practice failure, thank the Internet

Guest post by Alex Diaz, vice president of UW American Marketing Association chapter

“The best things in life are non-linear.” So said, Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger Network, at a recent event organized by the University of Washington American Marketing Association in collaboration with the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Not surprisingly, his talk, “Making Failure Cheap: Managing Risk to Ensure Success,” was no ordinary bullet-point-filled PowerPoint. Instead, Huh was an amazing speaker who grabbed everyone’s attention by sharing his real-life stories—the kind of tales we (as students) hope we never have to face.  Together, we all learned how he overcame his challenges in the most unconventional of ways.

Ben Huh is a quirky, innovative, natural entrepreneur. He injects fun into everything he does, which helped make something as trivial as sharing cat pictures into an Internet sensation. The audience heard about his successes – like “LOLcats,” but also learned about how to create knowledge through failure and to learn from mistakes. Huh gave a call to action to “hack the system” and follow your vision.

Thinking beyond the great education we are getting here at the UW was another piece of Huh’s advice. While educational institutions do an amazing job teaching us how to strive for success and accomplishment, we can’t forget that a proper education is actually a balance of what we learn from the books and what we are courageous enough to experience in real life. Being courageous enough to consider our failures as good practice, is one example. Huh suggested we not fight failure, but take it in and redefine what motivates us.

Specifically with regard to using the Internet in future ventures, Huh reminded us that users drive it, and that the Internet IS culture. Each user is motivated innately and content is then created by the masses. This means that a different user mindset applies to different mediums. Know your audience.

The gist is this: There are two ways of looking at the future. The first is that you see the future as inevitable, whether good or bad, everything is already set in stone. The second way of looking at the future is to create it the way you want it. Hearing Huh speak helped the audience remember that we each have the ability to do exactly that. Nothing has been determined for us.

Huh’s presentation left us all with the following insights: Being weird doesn’t mean you are alone (thanks to the Internet).  Instead of following the money, be non-linear and follow your dreams. Know what motivates you and strive to make an impact. Take what you can from your dreams and make them as real as anything.

Top 5 tips for succeeding in a business plan competition

Guest post by Chris Rodde, CEO of SeniorHomes.com and 2012 UW Business Plan Competition judge

In April of 2012, I participated as a judge in the screening round for the University of Washington Business Plan Competition. I have never served as a judge before in this competition, nor do I have any personal start-up investing experience (as many judges do). However, as an experienced founder/CEO of a start-up, I have good experience to leverage as a judge. My start-up, SeniorHomes.com, is now in its fourth year. We’ve raised two rounds of financing from angels and institutional investors and now employ more than 25 people.  Based on my experience as a start-up founder and as a judge in this competition, I have a few tips for next year’s entrepreneurs.

My top 5 tips for entering a business plan competition:

    1. Don’t submit a plan until you have traction. My biggest surprise as a judge was the lack of traction demonstrated by many of the teams. Three of the six plans I judged didn’t even have a website. During the investment round of the UW competition, judges are asked to invest a hypothetical $1000. So the same mentality used by investors in the real world comes into play in the competition. Investors in the real world pick companies that have momentum and that demonstrate that they can execute. Execution is everything in a start-up and to stand out in a business plan competition, show more progress than your competitors. Simple things like having a website (even if it just says “coming soon”), a working prototype, a first pilot completed, or actual paying customers will go a long way to make you stand out. Customers using or paying for your product is particularly important as this will help eliminate unknowns and back up the assumptions in your business plan with real world data.
    2. Be complete. There are some critical things every business plan must cover. Make sure that you cover all of these things, even if briefly. There are tons of great sites out there with advice on what to include in a business plan so I won’t elaborate but only suggest that you find out who the current thought leaders are with regards to business plans and make sure you’ve covered everything. Two to three of the plans I read had critical elements missing.
    3. Write like a NY Times reporter. Write in clear, objective language and avoid unsupported claims. Investors pick teams in which they have developed trust. This trust begins with the words you put in your plan. Don’t sound like a playground braggart boasting about your future $1 billion business. Instead build your case piece by piece in an objective fashion using real data.  The key claims that you make in your plan should be well supported with evidence you’ve gathered through experimental learning or research.
    4. Market your team. Investors invest in people not plans. Several plans I read simply listed the names of the people involved, without any bio at all. This gave me no chance to get to know the team. Why should I invest in you? What makes you uniquely positioned for this opportunity? Showing personality is good.
    5. Find mentors to critique and edit your plan. There are two types of editors you should seek. First, and most importantly, find someone that has credibility in reviewing business plans and have them critique it for content and completeness. Find someone who won’t hold back on asking the hard questions. Judges will likely find these same weaknesses so knowing these in advance and doing something about them (even if you simply point the weakness out as a risk) will help inspire further trust that you have thought things fully through. Second, find someone who can help you with writing and tone (this being especially important for techie founders who may have floundered in English 101). A business plan is a marketing document for your business, so you need to ensure you are putting your best foot forward.

Good luck!

Former Schwab CMO and “mad woman” illuminates “talk to Chuck” case study in MBA advertising class

 
It’s Thursday afternoon, and in one of the University of Washington Foster School of Business classrooms, former Charles Schwab Chief Marketing Officer Becky Saeger was talking to MBA students about the experience of digging deep to revitalize a major brand. As the architect and marketing protagonist of the integrated “Talk to Chuck” campaign platform, Saeger had plenty to offer the students on this Harvard Schwab Case.
Former Schwab CMO Becky Saeger (middle) with Associate Dean Dan Turner and Senior Lecturer Elizabeth Stearns

She discussed the importance of the big picture marketing process. From there the focus was on the decision metrics, advertising strategy and execution, and ultimately how that contributed to Schwab’s overall brand objectives.

Saeger’s also great in her capacity as guest lecturer, which was her role in Marketing 540, taught by Elizabeth Stearns, senior lecturer. Saeger brings to life the lay of the land at Schwab. The year was 2004 and the CEO who hired her was replaced by Charles “Chuck” Schwab himself, reclaiming his role as CEO of the $4.2 billion company he founded in 1971. Saeger reinforced the problem as described in the Harvard case, on the potential for losses and eroding customer loyalty, as the company struggles to fulfill its promise to the individual investor.

Following Professor Stearns’ lead, Saeger asked as many questions as she answered. One interesting aspect of this class is that Stearns does not play the role of professor—but rather that of a marketing client. Students have formed teams acting as advertising agencies vying for Stearns’ business. There’s very little handholding – and that’s good, because as any marketing agency veteran will attest, clients expect initiative and brilliance. The students demonstrated considerable chutzpah—one memorable moment occurring when a student agency, Drapers’ Disciples, turned down Saeger’s request for an additional $50 million budget with their excellent ROI analysis.

In the end Saeger won out with exceptional rationale; moreover, she proved success.

This teaching model brings intense realism into the classroom, as do guests like Becky Saeger.  There was an exhilarating quality to the session, and an overwhelming sense that Foster MBAs are getting the best of rigor where it intersects relevance to their futures.

As a side note, there was some irony that the ‘agency’ challenging Saeger’s budget request was “Draper’s Disciples.” As it turns out, she began her career at Ogilvy & Mather in NY, where she made a name for herself with global brand campaigns for American Express, among other clients. A true Madison Avenue prodigy.

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