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.

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