Tag Archives: start-ups

Lessons for student entrepreneurs

Dan Price
Dan Price speaking at the Business Plan Competition Dinner and Awards Ceremony

As a student at Seattle Pacific University, Dan Price won second place in the 2007 UW Business Plan Competition for Gravity Payments. This year he was the keynote speaker at the UW Business Plan Competition Awards Dinner on May 22. Price shared his personal story and the lessons he learned while building Gravity Payments into one the fastest growing credit card processing companies. His advice for student entrepreneurs:

Dive in. One important lesson for all entrepreneurs is to learn how to dive in and get things done—even when you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Price shared what happened to him in 2008 when the financial collapse hit. First, 20% of his revenue evaporated overnight. Next, two of his major clients filed for bankruptcy leaving him with the prospect of losing $1.3 million, which would have left him with just $200K in the bank. But instead of panicking, he started learning everything he could about bankruptcy law and was appointed to the official committee for unsecured creditors for both bankruptcy cases. In the end, Gravity Payments didn’t lose the entire $1.3 million.

Make incremental progress. He also made the point that building a company is about making incremental progress each day. Instead of focusing on everything that needs to be done, do what you can see today.

Be open to change. You’re not going to follow your business plan exactly like you think you are. He said, “You’re going to shred it. You’re going to redo it.” It’s important to be flexible and open to change to meet demands. He said, “We’re doing things in our business I never imagined we would do.”

Support successful people traits. He concluded with a challenge to the audience. He showed an image depicting successful people versus unsuccessful people. Successful people share information, keep a journal, want others to be successful, while unsuccessful people fear change, secretly hope others fail and criticize others. Price challenged everyone to create a world where the successful people traits thrive.

He also shared his life philosophy that we should enjoy our time on earth as much as possible and be as happy as possible, and have that, not money, represent true happiness. You can also read GeekWire’s coverage of Price’s talk here.

Seattle meets Saudi

Lateefa Alwaalan

Lateefa Alwaalan wants to bring Arabic coffee to a global market

Coffee and start-ups might seem more Seattle than Saudi Arabia, but not to Lateefa Alwaalan (TMMBA 2011). Yatooq, the company founded by Alwaalan, makes it easier and faster to brew Arabic coffee, a blonde, spicy coffee central to all social gatherings in places such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Alwaalan came to Seattle to get her MBA after studying computer science, and working in IT and then banking in her home country of Saudi Arabia. While in the Technology Management MBA Program, she focused intently on gaining business and entrepreneurial skills. She competed in the Business Plan Competition with her idea for Yatooq. She also enrolled in the Entrepreneurship Certificate, offered by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at Foster. She says her experience at the Foster School, “transformed me. I use everything I learned—from change management to supply-chain management to marketing.”

Upon returning home after graduation, her father offered her a job in his pharmaceutical company. Her first job was entering invoices, but that didn’t last long. She quickly moved up the ranks and became the general manager in less than two years. During that time, Alwaalan was also busy launching Yatooq.

The coffee business

Yatooq started by selling ready-made blends of coffee, with good results. The company’s most successful product, however, has been the introduction of its coffee machine last year. When made traditionally, Arabic coffee takes 20-30 minutes to prepare and requires over ten steps. Yatooq’s machine dramatically reduces the time and effort required to make Arabic coffee, and it’s one of the first such machines to be sold in Saudi Arabia. Within two weeks of launching the coffee machine in grocery stores and online, it sold out.

Shortly after that initial success, Alwaalan was able to stop working at the pharmaceutical company and focus on growing her business full-time. She is relentlessly focused on improving the product. The coffee machine has gone through several iterations and improvements, and Alwaalan says, “I’m focusing on acquiring market share and building the brand.”

Recently, competitors have entered the coffee market in Saudi Arabia with machines similar to Yatooq’s, and Nestlé introduced its own version of ready-made blends of Arabic coffee. Alwaalan views this positively; it means the market is growing.

Networking advocate

Not only has Alwaalan managed a pharmaceutical company and launched a successful start-up, she also co-founded the organization CellA, which offers women the opportunity to regularly network with each other—a foreign concept for many women in Saudi Arabia. CellA also provides career management training and a mentorship program for women who are just starting their careers. In 2011, the group had 70 members. Today, membership has ballooned to almost 3,000, and the organization has provided training to 600 women. Alwaalan was nominated to be president of the organization earlier this year.

Onwards

The future looks bright for Alwaalan. Yatooq continues to expand. Last fall, the company started distributing its coffee and coffee machines in Kuwait and opened a store there. In December, she was chosen by Forbes Middle East as one of its “Leaders Inspiring a Kingdom in the Business World.”

Alwaalan said her greatest challenges now are scalability and shifting from a start-up to a more established company. Her goal for the future is to bring Yatooq’s coffee and coffee machines to the world, and her vision is for Arabic coffee to be the next Chai tea. Look for Yatooq in a store near you soon.

$120,000 awarded to student-led startups

JonesPresentation2014_ZGirls2
Z Girls co-presidents Libby Ludlow and Jilyne Higgins present their progress to a panel of judges

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones + Foster Accelerator is a TechStars-like program that helps student-led startups get off the ground.

This year, five teams completed the six-month accelerator program, identifying and meeting milestones with the guidance of top entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors from Seattle’s entrepreneurial community.  From July 2013 to February 2014 they worked to build their teams, develop their services or technologies, get their products to market, and raise early-stage funding.

On February 4, the five teams made final presentations to a panel of judges and were awarded up to $25,000 in follow-on funding to pursue their next set of milestones.

  • PolyDropPolyDrop manufactures additives that transform regular coatings (think paint) into conductive coatings that dissipate static electricity and prevent interference caused by electric current flow.  PolyDrop has been awarded a Commercialization Gap Fund grant of $50,000 and a National Science Foundation STTR grant of $225,000, providing the funds necessary for 2014 operations and develop a prototype proving the viability of their product.
  • PureBluePure Blue Technologies, a water treatment technology company that provides visible light photo disinfection and desalination technology, is currently finalizing a license with the UW Center for Commercialization. The company has negotiated lab space with Ondine biomedical and has a term sheet for up to $1.5 million in equity funding, which will give them 18 months of runway to cover additional research and development and get them to the pilot stage.
  • ZGirlsZ Girls educates female athletes ages 11-14 on the mental and emotional skills important in sports and life. The company has received a $100,000 convertible note, raised $50,000 to provide scholarships for girls who demonstrate need, and hired 27 program leaders (all college or pro-level female athletes). In the last six months 182 girls have gone through Z Girls’ Seattle-based programs. (Check out Z Girls’ promotional videos on their website!)
  • StudentRNDStudentRND runs programs aimed at educating students (middle-school through college) about programming and engineering.  The nonprofit has created an advisory board, raised over $135,000 in sponsorships, and put together an operations plan that includes hosting 20 Code Days in Spring 2014.
  • LuckyStepsLuckySteps, a wellness program for companies and their employees, has raised $30,000 in the past six months. The company is working with a UW Human Centered Design and Engineering group on a usability study and has run beta tests with four prospective clients in order to prove its business model and pricing structure. Lucky Steps plans to wow the judges in this year’s UW Business Plan Competition.

The who, what, why, and Howe of Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle
Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle makes a great first impression.  It has that industrial chic thing down to a T: exposed brick, grand staircase, rustic wooden beams. There are Herman Miller chairs and 24” monitors at every desk, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, hot showers for bike commuters, and blazing fast internet, of course.   But the HUB is more than just a pretty face. It’s a space where entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and innovative start-up companies work side by side with the shared goal of making the world a better place.

“That’s Mark,” says HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe, waving at a young man through the glass walls of a sleek conference room.  “He’s the CEO of Moving World. It’s a for-profit start-up that connects professionals with vacation volunteer projects that match their skill sets.”  He turns and gestures in the other direction. “Two offices down,” he continues, “is the Seattle Good Business Network. They promote the benefits of buying and thinking local.” The HUB is filled with start-ups and nonprofits like these – organizations committed to treating contribution to the common good with the same reverence as financial gain.

Howe’s fascination with entrepreneurship began in law school, when he and an MBA student were assigned to help entrepreneurs in underserved communities with their business plans and legal issues. “It turned out I enjoyed the business side more than the legal side,” says Howe. So after getting his law degree, he set out to build his entrepreneurial expertise and earn what he calls a “poor man’s MBA,” competing in the UW Business Plan Competition with Safety Innovation, a company that produced protective garments for hospitals.

Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe
Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe

As Howe became more confident of his start-up skills and his law firm found its niche serving impact entrepreneurs, he found himself spending more time helping clients with introductions to investors, writing business plans, and polishing pitch decks. He was passionate about the work, but it did not match the billable hour model of a law firm. Howe asked himself, “Is there a business model that allows me to do the work that I love doing?” His answer: Yes, start an incubator.

Howe went looking for inspiration and came across the global HUB network, an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs. Started in London in 2004, the HUB network had grown to about 40 outposts worldwide, and one had just opened in San Francisco. “I fell in love with the energy of the space,” says Howe, of his visit, “and thought, this is it. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I need to bring this to Seattle.”

Roughly a year later, HUB Seattle has 500 members who use the space to work on their start-ups, hold meetings and workshops, and share ideas with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. The HUB’s “everything under one roof” model means that members can help each other with just about every aspect of running a start-up, from accounting to web design. HUB Seattle has built partnerships with organizations like Social Venture Partners and Bainbridge Graduate Institute, aopens its space up for community events like Startup Weekend, film screenings, and Tech Meetups.

So what’s next for HUB Seattle? Howe is thinking globally. “The HUB is arguably the largest network of impact entrepreneurs in the world,” he says.  He plans to develop a globally dispersed consulting network made up of HUB members who can share their talents, collaborate on ideas, and help each other change the world.

$68,220 awarded to UW Business Plan Competition winners

PureBlue Grand Prize
Grand Prize winner Pure Blue Technologies with Michael Bauer, president of the Herbert B. Jones Foundation

May 23, 2013 – Seattle’s Bell Harbor buzzed with energy as a record $68,220 in seed funding was awarded to winners of the 2013 UW Business Plan Competition.

Over 250 Judges, coaches, and team members gathered at the 16th annual Business Plan Competition Awards Dinner. After a celebration of Artie and Sue Buerk’s $5.2 million naming gift for the Center, Kabir Shahani, CEO of Appature, gave a funny and heartfelt keynote speech, offering these words of wisdom: “Entrepreneurship is a platform for your life, and that platform lets you do anything you want to do. If you want to change the world, you can do it. The only question is ‘how many times over?’”

Shahani’s words were taken to heart, especially by the winning teams, who will be using their seed funding to move their business a few steps closer to reality.

The UW Business Plan Competition is produced by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business.

 Winners

$25,000 Grand Prize – Pure Blue Technologies (UW)
Fossil fuel production generates 882 billion gallons of contaminated “produced water” per year in the US alone. On average, for every barrel of oil extracted in the US, 8 barrels of contaminated water are extracted to the surface. Pure Blue Technologies has developed a contaminated water treatment system that uses visible light photo disinfection technology to produce disinfected water for beneficial reuse.
Pure Blue Technologies won second place at this year’s UW Environmental Innovation Challenge.

Team:Jaffer Alali, MS Environmental Engineering; Adam Greenberg, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship;  Michael Lee, MS Mechanical Engineering; Alan Luo, PhD Physics; Sep Makhous, PhD Electrical Engineering; Ryan Vogel, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship; Ian Tan, BA Finance; Nicholas Wang, BA Chemical Engineering

 

Z Girls Second Place
Z Girls

$13,220 Second Place Prize – Z Girls (UW)
Studies show that adolescent girls who participate in sports  are more self-confident, get better grades, are less likely to engage in at-risk behaviors, and are more likely to go to college. Unfortunately, by age 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Z Girls has developed a sports-based curriculum that gives girls ages 11-14 the opportunity to develop skills like goal-setting, positive self-image, and healthy nutrition habits through team programs and summer camps.

Final Round Judge Steve Singh, CEO of Concur, remarked, “Z Girls is an inspiring business lead by some amazing founders that could be doing anything in life. Incredible.”

 

Team:  Libby Ludlow, JD and Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate; Jacob Dudek; Jilyne Higgins

 

PolyDrop Finalist Prize
PolyDrop with Craig Sherman of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

$5,000 Finalist Prize – Poly Drop (UW)
Conductive coating is used to move electrostatic charge across a surface (like the surface of an aircraft), so that it does not accumulate and interfere with electronic equipment or cause sparks that can lead to fire. PolyDrop has created a conductive polymer additive for paints, primers and coatings that is lighter, more affordable, longer lasting, and has better adhesion than other products on the market.

Team: Michele Chaffee, MBA; Olga Hrechka, BS Chemical Engineering; Heather Milligan, BS Chemical Engineering

 

NIA Wheel Finalist Prize
NIA Wheel with Jesse Proudman, CEO of Blue Box

$5,000 Finalist Prize – NIA Wheel (SPU)
NIA Wheel found that 5,596,000 people in the US are paralyzed. 360,000 of those are quadriplegic – confined to a wheelchair with very limited control over their mobility. The NIA (Neurological Impulse Actuator) wheelchair is activated and controlled by the brain function of the user, eliminating the disconnect between mental capability and physical disability of quadriplegics and others who have lost mobility.

Team: Sergey Kisel, BS Electrical Engineering; Clarence Rieu, BS Electrical Engineering; Aryn Schatz, BA Business Administration; Jessica Way, BA Economics

 

Best Idea Prizes

$2,500 Best Technology Idea – 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. Team: Michele Chaffee, MBA; Olga Hrechka, BS Chemical Engineering; Heather Milligan, BS Chemical Engineering

$2,500 Best Service/Retail Idea – Z Girls (UW)
Z Girlsmeasurably 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. Team: Libby Ludlow, JD Law; Jacob Dudek; Jilyne Higgins

$2,500 Best Sustainable Advantage – Pure Blue Technologies (UW)
Pure Blue Technologiesis developing a novel industrial water treatment solution that’s more efficient at a lower cost. Team: Jaffer Alali, MS Environmental Engineering; Adam Greenberg, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship; Michael Lee, MS Mechanical Engineering; Alan Luo, PhD Physics; Sep Makhous, PhD Electrical Engineering; Ryan Vogel, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship; Ian Tan, BA Finance; Nicholas Wang, BA Chemical Engineering

$2,500 Best Innovation Idea – InsuLenz (UW)
InsuLenz is developing a “smart” polymer contact lens to provide a bio-responsive and needle-free insulin delivery platform for diabetics. Team: Nick Au, PhD Medicinal Chemistry; Karen Eaton, PhD Bioengineering; Caleb Gerig, MBA; Craig McNary, MBA; Mohammed Minhaj, MBA; Renuka Ramanathan, PhD Bioengineering

$2,500 Best Consumer Product Idea – iHome3D (UW)
iHome3Dis a mobile app that allows realtors to create a virtual tour and floor plan of a property, in minutes. Team: Nelson Haung, MBA; Aditya Sankar, PhD Computer Science/Engineering

$2,500 Best Cleantech Idea – Biomethane (BGI/WWU/UW)
Biomethanecreates greenhouse-gas-negative vehicle fuel from dairy waste. Team: Jessica Anundson, MBA; Branden Audet, MA Policy Studies; Kathlyn Kinney, MBA; Colby Ochsner, MBA

$5,000 AARP Prize for low-income senior service – NIA Wheel (SPU)
NIA Wheelproduces and sells a brain wave controlled power wheelchair.Team: Sergey Kisel, BS Electrical Engineering; Clarence Rieu, BS Electrical Engineering; Aryn Schatz, BA Business; Jessica Way, BA Economics

Disruption, power and weak ties: All in a Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipThe Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which took place on April 26, 2013, offered an impressive array of speakers. The all-day conference was led by Ken Denman, president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies. He also holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Michael G. Foster School of Business. Below are a few highlights of the knowledge shared throughout the day.

The new power: innovation and shared purpose
Nilofer Merchant, the noted innovation author, spoke about the future of social media or the “social era” as she coined it. As part of this discussion, she mentioned a shift in how we think about power. Power used to be related to how many people work for you or how much more knowledge you have than others. Now, power is your ability to get people to do amazing things. And to be powerful, you need to have a shared purpose that extends beyond yourself or your company.

She used REI as an example. Their shared purpose, the one they share with their employees, customers and the community, is getting people outdoors. “We used to think innovation is what we make,” Merchant said. “If you’re in the knowledge economy, who you are is what you make. And your ability to pull in people based on purpose is going to allow people to show up not just with the mind, but with the heart.”

She added that this makes them more committed to the cause and, therefore, willing to work tirelessly to ensure it succeeds. In turn, you’re able to engage a variety of people and have them create value, regardless of whether they work for you.

Weak ties can be strongest
Zaw Thet, co-founder and chairman of plyfe.me and HaulerDeals, was part of the Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse Teams panel. When discussing how to diversify your team, he referenced the paper, “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark S. Granovetter. As you hire employees, Thet said, you should look for people who can find diversity outside of their current network via a weak tie to another group. The motivation for this is to expand your network and therefore, diversify your staff.

Innovation versus disruption
During the discussion of the Next Big Themes, Ken Denman asked the panel to comment on the difference between innovation and disruption.

Seth Neiman of Crosspoint Venture Partners provided interesting insight on the difference between the two. He referred to innovation as “something that is of such significant value that people will change how they buy,” adding that people won’t change their behavior if there’s not an incentive. “Innovation turns into a business when the time pressure means the big company will get there too slowly, regardless of how intelligent they are,” he continued.

Disruption, according to Neiman, occurs when innovation is so powerful, it catches all the big companies off guard.

Tim Porter of Madrona Ventures made the point there are different kinds of disruption: a new technology or business model can disrupt an existing market or the creation of a whole new market can cause disruption. The latter type often provides the biggest opportunity, but is also the most difficult to anticipate. The most challenging aspect of disruption is time. Porter explained that when trying to time disruption, the biggest risk is that you’ll be too early, not too late.

Learn more about the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and watch videos from all the sessions.

Being contrarian and right

Guest post by Sean Murphy, Foster MBA 2014
He attended the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was organized by Ken Denman, Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School.

The Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship promised to be an engaging and informative event that I thought might be a good use of a Friday. What it turned out to be was most likely the best day of my MBA experience. Ken Denman brought in an incredible line-up that focused on topics ranging from funding to team creation to the next big themes in business. The day started with a heavy hitter and just kept getting better. Charles Songhurst, Microsoft’s General Manager of Corporate Strategy, spoke about adjacencies and outlined several observations that could be acted upon. There were some common points such as surrounding oneself with those more intelligent/hardworking/ethical than you and the Gladwellian 10k hour metric, but there were also some great insights new to me. One such point was that diplomacy is virtually unknown in the tech industry. Songhurst recommended that practicing empathy, predicting how others will act/react, and adapting to cultural norms of your target will put you at a significant advantage in the tech space. He also drew several observations about founder-led companies and professional management-led companies, arguing that self-cannibalization requires the confidence and vision of a founder. Songhurst spoke of comparing the earnings of founder-led and non-founder-led tech companies and claimed a 15% difference favoring the founders. He suggested a simple investment strategy would be going long on founders and shorting all others. Very interesting way to kick off the day.

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipA series of panels followed. We heard from Ghia Griarte (Saints Capital), Michelle Goldberg (Ignition Partners), and Andrew Tweed (Thomvest Ventures) about how their VCs assess potential opportunities. A common theme from the panel was the delineation of feature, product, and company and how the market appetite is shifting to smaller, simpler bites. On figuring out what a product or service is or offers, Goldberg said, “Don’t make me think.” Another point repeatedly addressed was the growing demand of the enterprise experience to mimic the consumer experience in UX and hardware. Tweed mentioned using consumer trends to predict what might be happening in the enterprise space soon and investing in back-end mechanics that would enable this shift.

We then switched gears to the non-profit world and heard from Kushal Chakrabarti, Doug Plank, and James Gutierrez about changing the non-profit landscape creating sustainable, long-term success. As expected, they were very passionate about their work and got me seriously considering a non-profit path.

Nilofer Merchant spoke next about the evolution of social media and the importance of co-creation in the future. She emphasized the framework of openness of ideas as one of the key drivers of growth, citing TEDx and Google’s Android as examples.

After a lunch break we returned to a panel of Marc Barros, Zaw Thet, and Donna Wells on assembling nimble and functionally diverse teams. They all emphasized the importance of your network and their reliance on them for the vetting of potential employees. Curiously, it was mentioned that no matter how many interviews you’ve done or people you’ve hired, it’s still difficult to weed out people that end up not meshing. The fit and attitude of hires was especially highlighted when working with a small team, as one bad apple can wreck the atmosphere pretty quickly.

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipKen Denman moderated the next panel which focused on the next big themes and featured Seth Neiman (Crosspoint Venture Partners), Tim Porter (Madrona Ventures), and Jason Stoffer (Maveron). They got pretty philosophical and were dropping gems left and right. They approached VCs as incubators to test strategic theories about the market. Getting the market direction is difficult enough, but timing was a big theme of this talk as well. The key to making money is being contrarian, and being right. The key to identifying these investments is in looking at adjacencies when the future isn’t immediately accessible. What must happen if the things that are in motion today were to take the next step? There are many supporting steps that must first happen, and these can be very lucrative investments. Neiman mentioned investing in supporting infrastructure during the internet ramp up in the last millennium and saw a $100M fund return $13B. Jaw-dropping, even by VC standards.

Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Start-Up of You, brought the day to a close with a riveting personal story and the idea of applying entrepreneurial business thinking to your life. Setting aside time to read and think, increasing your knowledge every day, earmarking funds for meeting with interesting people; these were all suggestions of how to approach your personal development as you would a business. He encouraged students to consider youth and the opinion of our cohort as our value-add in connecting with senior, experienced leaders. It was a great, inspirational capstone to the day.

The amount of knowledge that came out of this event was mind-blowing. I filled more pages in my notebook in eight hours than I do in an entire quarter of class. An amazing array of brilliant, successful, and humble people took the time to share their thoughts and experience with an eager audience and I couldn’t be more pleased to be in attendance. I don’t know how this could be topped next year, but I will certainly be there to find out. And you should too…

Watch videos of all the sessions.