Tag Archives: milestones awards

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.

Reaching the milestones of start-up success

When it comes to student start-ups, more seed capital is better than less, motivation is an imperative, but a team of trusted and experienced advisors might be the greatest asset of all. So in an effort to provide more attention and resources for the most promising start-up teams after the UW Business Plan Competition, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship worked with the Herbert B. Jones Foundation to launch the Milestone Achievement Awards.  “We wanted to accelerate some of these start-ups,” says Michael Bauer, president of the Jones Foundation, a long-time supporter of the competition. “So we came up with this idea of a real financial incentive for the teams to set and reach key developmental milestones.”

Serious about starting their companies, five of the winning teams from the 2010 competition have spent the last six months participating in the Jones program. The start-ups worked 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 could reach within that timeframe.  “We’re proud to say four of the five start-ups reached their milestones and will receive awards,” said Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of CIE. “But what’s really stunning about each of these teams is that they all raised angel or grant funding and have made great progress on their prototypes or pilot projects.”

Led by CEO Brian Glaister, EETech is developing a medical device that enables people in wheelchairs to walk again and received a $25,000 award. Another $25,000 went to YongoPal, a service created by Darien Brown, for South Korean university students who want to hone their conversational English with American peers at top US universities. WISErg, with team members Brandon Baker and Jaimee Jewell, developed a solution that uses compostable organic waste to create natural fertilizers and biogas, and received $15,000. Emergent Detection, led by Eric Fogel and Keegan Hall, also received $10,000 in additional seed funding for their handheld device that measures and records fat loss.

“The committee helped us identify what the most important milestones would be for our first six months, in order of priority and contingency,” said WISErg’s Jaimee Jewell. “That helped us keep each of our revenue streams fresh in our minds, but also prioritize what needed to happen to bring them all together.”

“For me, the mentorship was the best part of the program,” said Brian Glaister of EETech. “As a first-time entrepreneur and a first-time CEO, it was really helpful to have an outside view of the company, particularly to put the advice of our internal team and directors into the proper perspective. Even though the program is finished, I expect the relationships with our mentors will continue, which I’m very happy about.”

Members of the Jones committee included Marc Barros of Contour, Bill Bromfield of Fenwick & West, Alan Dishlip of Billing Revolution, Geoff Entress of Voyager Capital, Alan Portugal of Ivus Energy Innovations, Adrian Smith of Ignition, and Michael Bauer, of the Jones Foundation. And the committee had their share of accolades for the teams, noting that it was gratifying to help fellow entrepreneurs start off on the right foot and avoid some of the common pitfalls and “newbie” mistakes. “I got a real kick out of seeing the teams make progress on their first set of milestones,” said Geoff Entress. “I’m already looking forward to next year.”

Photo left to right: Brandon Baker and Jaimee Jewell of WISErg.