Tag Archives: business plan competition

Global change marketplace: how the GSEC Trade Show brings the world to UW

trade showOver its nine year history, the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business has brought awareness of pressing global issues to thousands of people – student competitors; competition mentors, judges and coaches; university partners; student volunteers; friends, family and supporters. So far, the competition has engaged over 2000 students of diverse educational disciplines and levels from around the world in tackling complex global social problems with entrepreneurial spirit and innovative market-based solutions.

At the competition’s culmination, semi-finalist university student teams (30-60 students per year) from around the world travel to Seattle for a week to learn about social enterprise, receive professional guidance and connections, network with each other and compete for prizes.

GSEC’s cross-cultural exchange is highlighted at the Trade Show, where semi-finalist teams each give their “pitch” to sell their business ideas to Trade Show judges, who act as mock investors, as well as students and community members. They often have prototypes, photos, videos and stories to illustrate the challenges they are facing and the inspirational impacts of their solutions. As a result, these issues become real, even for those who have never experienced them firsthand. Judge Loretta Little explains: “I have always felt and try to teach my kids that we’re citizens of the world. You need to put yourself in other people’s shoes. What better way than to meet people from around the world who are willing to come forward and share problems with you and what they think might be solutions to those problems.”

Teams often use prize money and connections made during GSEC to help launch their business, which can create employment and have other positive social impacts back home. Archived and streaming video of competition events, media coverage locally and in the student competitors’ universities and communities, and even the competitors own blogs and social media extends the education still further – allowing even those who cannot take part in the competition to feel inspired by the innovations being proposed to some of the world’s most pressing problems. Trade Show judge David Parker summed up why he volunteers each year: “The new ideas that are emerging every year from young people – it’s just astounding – they’re already creating patents, engaging with partners for manufacturing new devices, they’ve been able to engage with experts in the geographies of high need that they hope to get their solutions to – I just love seeing that passion, energy and creativity and innovation emerge and I continue to be impressed year after year with the applicants, the competitors and their ideas.”

GSEC is open to currently enrolled degree-seeking students in any discipline, at any level of study, and at any higher education institution worldwide who submits a plan that uses business principles to create a sustainable solution to poverty, health and economic growth in the developing world. Applications for the 10th annual competition are due November 12, 2014. Learn more at http://www.foster.washington.edu/gsec/

The “Sweet 16″ compete for a sweet $25,000

ZGirls_for_blog
Z Girls

Of the 91 student-led teams that submitted business plans to the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship‘s 2013  Business Plan Competition (BPC), only 16 remain.

After an initial screening round, 36 teams were chosen to pitch their start-up ideas to over 230 judges (entrepreneurs, investors, alumni and community supporters) at the BPC Investment Round. The teams that received the highest investments of “Buerk Center Dollars” earned a spot in the Sweet 16.

These 16 teams have spent the last few weeks editing their business plans, honing their pitches, and learning from some of Seattle’s top lawyers, investors, and entrepreneurs.

On May 23, each team will make a 15-minute investor pitch to a panel of 7 judges. The 4 teams with the best investor pitches will be selected to advance to the Final Round, where they will compete to win a grand prize of $25,000.

Good luck to the Sweet 16, and stay tuned for the results!

Biomethane (BGI)
Biomethane creates greenhouse-gas-negative vehicle fuel from dairy waste.

Cell Focus (UW)
Cell Focus will produce a revolutionary device that turns a cell phone camera into a microscope.

Elemental Hotels (UW)
Welcome to the next generation of Hotels, Elemental Hotels: Minimalistic micro hotel rooms with smart technology and superior design, at $65/Night.

iHome3D (UW)
iHome3D is a mobile app that allows realtors to create a virtual tour and floor plan of a property, in minutes.

InsuLenz (UW)
InsuLenz is developing a “smart” polymer contact lens to provide a bio-responsive and needle-free insulin delivery platform for diabetics.

MakeSpace (UW)
MakeSpace is the Kinkos of 3D printing.  The company is opening its pilot location in Seattle delivering rapid prototyping and services to architectures and industrial designers.

NIA Wheel (SPU)
NIA Wheel produces and sells a brain wave controlled power wheelchair.

nomON (UW)
nomON is a random delivery meal ordering app, like shuffle for dinner.

PolyDrop (UW)
PolyDrop offers conductive polymer additives for paints, primers and coatings with a significantly lower level of particle loading. Integration of PolyDrop into current production lines of existing formulations is simple and dramatically improves usage lifetime, adhesion and mechanical properties of your product.

Pure Blue Technologies (UW)
Pure Blue Technologies is developing a novel industrial water treatment solution that’s more efficient at a lower cost.

ShunTek (UW, Johns Hopkins University)
ShunTek has produced a medical device, ShunTube, that provides a minimally invasive and cost-effective way to minimize blood loss in inferior vena cava trauma by stanching blood flow and simultaneously maintaining venous return; ShunTube also has applications in treating IVC tumors and Liver Cancer.

Sound THC (Seattle U)
Sound THC will produce cannabis candies in the newly legal recreational marijuana market.

Torch Illumination Co. (UW)
Torch Illumination is a candle company with a mission: for every two candles sold, a solar light will be delivered to an individual living without electricity.

TriboTEX (WSU)
TriboTEX is commercializing PhD research to repair industrial machinery during normal operation using nanotechnology.

Vetna (UW)
Vetna brings portable and automated DNA-based diagnostic capabilities to veterinary clinics which could not previously afford the space, capital and training investments.

Z Girls (UW)
Z Girls measurably improves girls’ participation rates in sports by teaching young female athletes skills like positive self-talk, goal-setting, and body image through coaching and camps.

Follow the UW  Business Plan Competition on Twitter: #UWBPC2013

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship awards $170,000 to eight student-led start-ups

Haiti Babi Blanket
Haiti Babi

When Katlin Jackson returned from her second trip to Haiti in January 2012, she was a woman on a mission. After spending time in a Haitian orphanage, she’d discovered that a good number of the children there weren’t orphans at all. Their parents were simply too poor to care for them. Within months, Katlin, along with UW junior Kari Davidson, cofounded Haiti Babi and entered the 2012 Business Plan Competition.

Haiti Babi now employs four Haitian mothers to knit and crochet high-quality, incredibly soft baby blankets and accessories that are sold to moms in the United States. In 12 months, Katlin and Kari have taken an idea, defined a mission (Moms helping Moms), and created a start-up company that is making real headway. They have a well-thought-out brand, fashionable products, and a detailed operations plan. Their Indiegogo campaign brought in double their fund-raising goal, pre-orders for their first blankets surpassed all expectations, and Haiti Babi has been featured in Seattle Magazine, Social Good Moms, and Disney Baby.

Much of Haiti Babi’s success can be attributed to the intelligence, drive, and dedication of its founders, but they’ve also had great help along the way. They were admitted into the Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator in July 2012.

The JM/FA at the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship is a TechStars-like program that provides a milestones-based framework, monthly coaching from Seattle entrepreneurs and investors, and connections that help student teams make the transition to start-up companies.  From July 2012 to February 2013, 10 teams worked to recreate their teams, develop their technologies or get product to market, and raise early-stage funding. On February 13, eight teams were awarded between $10,000 and $25,000 for their efforts.

  • PatientStream, a cloud-based electronic patient-tracking system for hospitals, licensed its technology from the University of Washington and secured a $500,000 investment from the W Fund.  Ben Anderson (TMMBA 2012) is the founder, and brought in Keith Streckenbach as COO and co-founder to drive sales. Anderson quit his day job at UW Medicine/Harborview in October.
  • Haiti Babi provides mothers in Haiti with employment to keep their children out of orphanages. As part of their “Moms helping Moms” mission, Haiti Babi’s mothers knit and crochet high-quality, incredibly soft baby blankets that are sold in the United States. Co-founders Katlin Jackson and Kari Davidson (BFA 2014) raised funding through an Indiegogo campaign, pre-orders for blankets surpassed all expectations, and Haiti Babi has been featured in Seattle Magazine and Disney Baby.
  • LumiSands was awarded a $150,000 National Science Foundation SBIR Phase-I Grant and a $50,000 gift from the Washington Research Foundation for the development and manufacture of its silicon-based alternative to rare-earth phosphors used in LED lighting. Co-founders Ji-Hao Hoo (PhD 2013) and Chang-Ching Tu have negotiated an agreement with the University of Washington, and are still in the technology development phase.
  • JoeyBra, “the first sexy and comfortable fashion bra with a pocket,” closed a successful angel investment round, produced a new, quality sports bra with a waterproof pocket in a full range of sizes, and has been featured by Forbes, MSNBC, and CNN.  Mariah Gentry (BA 2013) and Kyle Bartlow (BA 2013), the co-founders, have contracted with a former Miss America as a spokesmodel and will launch their product nationwide in April 2013.
  • Microryza, a KickStarter-type site for smaller science and research projects,was admitted into Y-Combinator in October and moved to the Bay Area. Cindy Wu (BS 2011) and Denny Luan (BS 2011) have raised more than $170,000 and their site has funded projects from tracking Magellanic penguins to sustaining native bees and student-designed electric racecars.
    Update: March 28, 2013 – Microryza was named one of the top 5 Y-Combinator start-ups to watch by Inc. Magazine.
  • Strideline sold more than 60,000 pairs of their signature city skyline crew socks in 2012. Co- founders Jake Director (BA 2013) and Riley Goodman (BA 2013) have organized a national sales team, are now selling in Nordstrom and Zumiez, and were the subject of a UW TV short feature
  • SuperCritical Technologies has designed and will build compact modular power plants that provide up to 5MW of clean, reliable electricity for heating and/or cooling. Chal Davidson (MBA 2012) is the CEO, with Max Effgen (MBA 2012) as a co-founder. The company raised $200,000 in angel funding to complete the conceptual design and establish supplier relationships, and is currently fundraising to build the prototype.
  • UrbanHarvest is an urban farming company that grows high-value hydroponic lettuces and herbs within feet of where they’ll be consumed. The brainchild of Chris Bajuk (MBA 2011) and Chris Sheppard (MBA/JD 2012), UrbanHarvest is currently negotiating with a large SoDo corporation to build a rooftop greenhouse.

So what’s next? The work certainly doesn’t stop here. As any entrepreneur knows, it takes more than six months to grow a thriving business. And that’s what the JM/FA ultimately provides at the end:  additional runway.  This follow-on funding is a testament to the companies’ hard work so far, and an investment in what we know they can become.

The Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator is funded by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation and additional private donors who, like us, believe in the ability of student entrepreneurs.

Making shabu “chic”

Kien Ha describes himself as a risk-averse entrepreneur. And given that restaurants are notoriously risky start-ups, Ha went with a concept he knows well – shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu, or Japanese hot pot dining, is a trendsetting phenomenon that has long driven technology transplants  from California to expect its healthy, simple, and affordable food on almost every street corner. Ha’s discovery that Washington is the fourth fastest growing state for Japanese-style restaurants convinced him to launch Shabu Chic at the UW’s 2008 Business Plan Competition.

Open Friday through Sunday in Seattle’s International District, Shabu Chic boasts fans who are true devotees talking and sharing photos of the restaurant and the unique food presentation. Yelp gives Shabu Chic a 4.5, and the restaurant got 200+ Facebook “likes” when it posted the possibility of adding a Kimchi sauce in the fall. “Word of mouth has been great,” Ha says. But once a customer is in the door, he relies on wait staff training and social media to share little morsels of Japanese food history along the way.

Still working part-time as an advisory manager for a Seattle accounting firm, Ha is content taking things a bit more slowly than his tech entrepreneur peers. “Most restaurants fail in the first year because they’re under-capitalized. Having no outside funding from the outset has kept us on task and deliberate in all that we do,” he said. His hope is to break even in year two, make a profit in year three, and go full-time with a second location.

Ha sees tech start-ups and restaurant start-ups in the same light. “Whether it’s a tech or food,” he says, “you have to own everything from end to end.”  By serving Seattle’s unmet shabu-shabu need, Ha is developing a market for something people in Seattle never knew they’d love. An entrepreneur’s dream.

Challenges drive environmental innovation

Why are “challenges” so crucial in driving innovation?  We asked Connie Bourassa-Shaw, the director of UW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship about this, specifically in relation to the Center’s annual Environmental Innovation Challenge.  Here’s what she had to say:

We launched the Environmental Innovation Challenge in 2009 because we believe that “challenges” drive innovation, and we were looking to engage smart, passionate students in the quest to produce real, market-conscious solutions to environmental problems.  My story at the time was the Solar Car Challenge, which has been going on for the last decade or so. Most people know it. But the point is that we’re still not driving solar cars. That’s what I didn’t want to see. I wanted to see market results with the EIC.

So we narrowed it down to this: Tell me what the environmental problem is, tell me about your solution, show me that it works, tell me about the market opportunity, and demonstrate the potential for impact. Now, what we’re asking students to do is hard. Designing and building a prototype is hard. Getting it to work is even harder.  And we’re not interested in the $5,000 solution to the $500 problem. It’s got to be appropriate technology, especially when you’re looking at technologies targeted for third-world countries.

The Challenge is run by CIE (which is in the Foster School of Business), in partnership with the College of Engineering and the College of the Environment. We want cross-disciplinary teams–from undergrads to PhD students. We start the process with a fall quarter class–the Environmental Innovation Practicum. Those students walk through the process of thinking about and planning for the Challenge, which happens late March or early April. We get $25,000 from the College of Engineering to provide small grants ($500 to $5,000, but generally under $2,000) to teams that need prototype funding. We give all the money away.

This year (2012) GIST won the $10,000 grand prize. Barrels of Hope and Urban Harvest won prizes as well–and both went on to our annual Business Plan Competition, which follows the Challenge. In fact, about half of the EIC teams go on to do the BPC.

What happens is really interesting–students get caught up in the excitement of thinking about making this a real company. Many are very serious.

The EIC is full of great stories, and the “challenge” process itself is the key.

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.

For loyalty’s sake: follow the smartphone

How do you convince coffee shop and pizza parlor owners that it’s time to ditch the paper punch card and move to a digital customer loyalty app? Educate them in the ways of today’s savvy smartphone users.

Punchkeeper, an app developed by Seattle University MBA Val Trask and her friends, programmer Jon Ohrt and developer Matty Mitchell, does just that. By providing a simple alternative to the old-fashioned paper punch card for businesses like cafes and salons, Punchkeeper ups customer loyalty and downplays wallet space. But wait, there’s more. In the course of any transaction, the app is also collecting valuable market data, performing target marketing through phone notifications, and using geo-locational technology to create social media buzz. What’s not to like?

It is no surprise that early-adopting university students in urban locations are exactly the customers to convince small businesses of Punchkeeper’s benefits.  Once store owners learn how simple it is for a smartphone owner to scan a QR code and transmit their data, Punchkeeper becomes an obvious solution. Josh Losinger, the owner of Seattle’s Lunchbox Laboratory, only had to observe his lunch-time customers. “We figured that since most people these days are glued to their phones even while chomping down on our crazy burgers, they may as well get value out of it,” he said. “Punchkeeper is the future of loyalty recognition.”

Since participating in the 2011 UW Business Plan Competition, the Punchkeeper team is now seeking Series A funding to scale and add features. The company currently serves merchants in Washington, Texas and Colorado, and is starting to work with retailers in Oregon and on the East Coast. Punchkeeper has 3,000 users. The team expects that number to grow rapidly with the launch of the University of Washington Housing and Food Services program later this spring.

The biggest lesson Trask and her team have learned? Be scrappy. “At the Business Plan Competition we were the team with the homemade sign, the logo-shaped cookies, the cool borrowed props and the donated giveaways,” explains Trask. “It started us on a path of scrappiness and creativity that translated into successful bootstrapping in the real world.”

Learn more about the world of start-ups via the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Meet your new apartment: you’ll love her

Every entrepreneur learns that the company you envision at the outset almost certainly won’t be the same company you own a year or two later. Take Phillip Lee and Spottage, for example. With the help of the high-profile TechStars and greater industry exposure, Lee and his co-founder, Bryan Leptich, have turned their 2007 Business Plan Competition entry, Spottage, into Rentmatch.com, a rental housing “date match” business that is now the largest listing site.

For Lee, the stops, starts and re-grouping came with the economic downturn, which hit just as Spottage found its stride in 2008. Lee discovered that he was actually serving a lessor’s market rather than the previously hot renter’s market. That shift drove a new emphasis on providing real value and more refined search results for users – something akin to the algorithms behind Netflix’s “suggestions.”

This was also when Lee started to see Spottage in a new light. “Instead of just building another listing site, why don’t we become the intelligent layer that sorts through all those listings and efficiently matches them with renters?” he said. “The problem isn’t lack of inventory. The problem is how to quickly and efficiently match vacant units with renters.”

By working with rather than against the likes of Rent.com, Mynewplace.com and Apartments.com, Lee’s company, now using the more descriptive name of Rentmatch.com, has collected the largest number of listings (roughly 1.5 million) of any comparable site. With that expanded listings pool, the dating began. Rentmatch.com now offers greater levels of customization to match housing seekers with exactly the features they want. Furthermore, their cross-competitive partnerships allowed them to expand beyond university campuses into other urban geographic areas.

“What was surprisingly hard to get used to was the reality that, for a start-up, it’s a race to fail quickly, learn quickly and ‘do more faster,’” he explained. “If you’re too afraid of failure, you don’t take those big risks that can turn into big successes.” Lee’s experience in the TechStars process ingrained this “fail faster” theory in his thinking. With a broader perspective and expanded connections, Rentmatch’s start-up journey has helped set up even more successful “dates” between apartment seekers and lessors.

After saying no to an early buyout “marriage” offer at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City in early 2012, Lee and Leptich have continued to grow Rentmatch.com. Without marketing or press, site visits went from 1,000 to 25,000 from December 2011 through March 20, 2012. And though the company has always had revenue, Lee notes, “most angel investors have told us to not worry about revenue at the seed stage and instead focus on product market fit and building traction.”

The lean, two-man team plans to add five developers and a sales/business development manager by the end of the year. Like dating, the energy they have put into failing has been worth it, now that they have found the perfect entrepreneurial fit.

Learn more about the world of start-ups via the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.