Tag Archives: social entrepreneurship

UW environmental innovation wows judges

Judges were supposed to walk into the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on March 29, pick up their folders and grab a seat. But the 23 prototypes were simply irresistible.

They caught your eye the minute you walked into the room for the 2012 University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge. A bicycle with the electric assist that could transport up to 200 pounds of cargo. Solar windows that would continue to operate even if cracked or broken. The new cooking surface that was nonstick and nontoxic with no coating at all. A tiny helicopter drone that could be used to inspect remote wind turbines. The highway jersey barrier made of recycled tires that were not only cheaper to produce but could also lessen the impact of a direct automotive hit. The earth-bag house that can be built quickly and safely after a natural disaster—and still withstand a category 4 hurricane.

The Environmental Innovation Challenge, managed by the Foster School Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (in partnership with the UW colleges of engineering and environment), is focused on student-led solutions to environmental problems. More than 120 judges from Seattle’s environmental and entrepreneurial communities evaluated student teams from colleges and universities across Washington on three criteria:

  • a working prototype, designed and built by the team
  • an investor pitch, paired with a solid understanding of the  market opportunity
  • the solution’s potential for impact

Judge Kelly Ogilvie, former president and CEO of Blue Marble Energy, was impressed by the creativity. “People are worried about the economy, but look around. This is cool stuff, and a lot of these concepts have legs.” David Allen, executive VP of McKinstry, agreed. “Every one of these ideas is pushing the green innovation needle forward,” he said. Seattle entrepreneur and Concur CEO Steve Singh was more impressed by how robust the prototypes were. “This is amazing,” he said. “Not one of these teams spent more than $3,000.”

The $10,000 grand-prize-winning team was Green Innovation Safety Technologies (GIST), which has one goal in mind: to eliminate the vast number of auto and truck tires plugging up US landfills. GIST’s jersey barriers use the equivalent of 240 tires (5,000 pounds of rubber mulch) each and have the added benefit, in comparison with concrete barriers, of increasing safety, reducing noise and enhancing water run-off. The team is composed of UW business and engineering undergraduate and PhD students.

See full list of all 5 winning teams and videos.

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

Kids with hats are on track

Krochet KidsKohl Crecelius is a young man of many hats: a social entrepreneur, a dedicated practitioner of crocheting and CEO and co-founder of Krochet Kids, a company that sells “headwear.” He’s even somewhat of a media celebrity, appearing on a national TV ad for Bing that ran during the fall kick-off week on major networks.The concept for the company was an unlikely combination of activities. Kohl and his surfer, high school friends loved to crochet and enjoyed summers volunteering in developing countries. How to combine the two?

With a mission and the passion to empower people to rise above poverty and “stand on their own two feet,” Krochet Kids was born in 2007. The plan was to teach women to crochet hats and pay them a living wage for their work. While students at the University of Washington and Whitworth College, the three friends formed a non-profit organization and targeted a chronically poor, war-torn province in Northern Uganda. From a small group of workers they taught to crochet in 2008, the work force has expanded to 122 women today. Earning a sustainable wage means that these women can provide food, water, clothes and education for up to six dependents. Customer appeal is clear: “buy a hat, save a life.” Each hat comes with the personal story of the woman who crocheted it.

Since winning the “Best Social Idea” at the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition in 2008, the company has been growing to the healthy tune of about 250% a year. “The BPC instilled confidence in our model,” says Crecelius. “We had judges buying our hats during the event, and winning the competition gave us the validation and encouragement we needed.”

Since the competition, Krochet Kids has attracted the attention of Nordstrom which now carries their hats; partnered with Seattle’s One Day’s Wages, a group dedicated to alleviating extreme world-wide poverty; and won $2,000 in the Chase Community Giving Competition, a program where fans on Facebook vote for their favorite charities.

Company founders believe the model used in Uganda can be applied anywhere. Recently, they expanded to Lima, Peru, employing 10 women working with some “amazing yarns.” Introduced in mid-September, the Kids’ fall line of hats and the shirts they recently added sold out within a week.

One of Krochet Kids’ advisors, P. Scott Cummins, a Seattle-based social venture expert, recently made a bold prediction: “Kohl Crecelius is among the 100 most important graduates of UW Business School. But mark my words, even five years from now, that will be considered an understatement.”