Tag Archives: start-ups

Spiraling toward success

Adina Mangubat2Adina Mangubat (UW BS in psychology, 2009), CEO of Spiral Genetics, has “change the world” in her DNA, and the world is taking notice. In the past two years, Mangubat has been interviewed by news outlets like Xconomy and GeekWire, and featured on Forbes’ list of the top 30 under 30 in science and technology. Why all the attention? Spiral Genetics is using sophisticated algorithms, distributed computing, and a cloud-based framework to change the way DNA is analyzed.

In the most basic terms, there are two parts to processing DNA. First, DNA is extracted from blood or tissue and put into a sequencer that chops up and reads the DNA, resulting in millions of raw reads, “essentially text files of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts,” explains Mangubat. Next, these millions of text files are organized, analyzed, and compared to a normal DNA sequence to find unexpected variants. Researchers use these variants to identify gene mutations that are the cause of everything from color blindness to cancer.

Mangubat and her cofounders, CSO Becky Drees (UC Berkeley PhD in Molecular & Cellular Biology, 1995 and UW Certificate in Biotechnology Project Management, 2008) and CTO Jeremy Bruestle, have developed a platform that significantly speeds up the analysis process. Spiral Genetics can analyze in hours what has previously taken biologists days to complete using complicated open source software. “As far as I know,” Mangubat says, “we’re the fastest in the world. We can process raw reads down to a list of annotated DNA variants in three hours for a human genome.” This is especially significant as DNA sequencing gets faster and faster, and biologists are unable to keep up with the resulting mountains of analysis-ready data. Spiral Genetics is also highly accurate and scalable, able to detect genetic variations that most analyses might miss. “We’ve far ahead of the curve in our ability to handle datasets,” states Mangubat.

Another thing that sets Spiral Genetics apart is that its software is designed to analyze DNA for multiple species. As Xconomy recently pointed out, while similar companies are focused specifically on the human genome, SpiralGenetics also analyzes genomes for animals and plants, which could have implications in agricultural research and development.

Mangubat didn’t set out to become a leader in DNA analysis. Just four years ago, she was a senior who simply knew that she liked being an entrepreneur (she had been involved in two startups by that time), so she registered for Professor Alan Leong’s Technology Entrepreneurship class.  There she met Drees, who was interested in starting a genetic analysis company.

Drees and Mangubat joined forces and pitched Spiral Genetics as a consumer-genetics service in the 2009 Business Plan Competition, but soon realized they were late to that party and needed a new model. Mangubat took the pivot in stride. In a moment of inspiration, the team (including Bruestle) decided to bet on the fact that the research community would soon need software that could keep up with the increased speed of DNA sequencing, and Spiral Genetics was reborn.

Three years later, their bet is paying off. In early March, Spiral Genetics announced $3 million in financing from venture firm DFJ, have begun to scale significantly. “We’re in the process of essentially doubling the size of our team,” says Mangubat. The company currently has eight employees, but plans to double in size in the near future, adding more developers and a sales team, as demand increases. “The explosive growth of the market is driving our business,” she explains. “We’re about to get much bigger very quickly, which is exciting.”

As for changing the world, Mangubat is confident. “Long term,” she says, “my goal is to make the process of figuring out what raw sequence data means as easy and as fast as possible, and we are seriously getting there.” In the meantime, Spiral Genetics is already making its mark. “We’re working with groups that are doing pediatric cancer diagnosis – you can’t get much more meaningful than that.”

Enliken: putting an end to surreptitious data

Avniel Dravid2Have you noticed that since you clicked that YouTube link for Nora the Piano Cat, you’ve been seeing significantly more online ads for pet food? Or that after you googled “cheap airline tickets,” every site you’ve visited seems to be advertising them? Or that once you bought 50 Shades of Gray, Amazon started suggesting products like . . . well, you get the idea.

Every day, online advertisers target internet users with ads for specific products and interests based on information they glean from our search data—the websites we visit, the amount of time we spend on a specific page, the links we click on, the content of our inboxes.

For most of us, this “behavioral targeting” feels like an invasion of privacy. According to Avniel Dravid (UW MBA 2007), cofounder of Enliken, a Seattle- and New York-based start-up that aims to give consumers control of their internet search data, it’s also inaccurate. Dravid explains that when you visit a website, that company can take what you’re browsing and sell the information to a third party. “Advertisers then buy that information and use it to advertise to you,” he says. But these advertisers can’t measure the accuracy of the search data they purchase, which is why they think you’re in the market for a blender, when really you just wanted to watch a Blendtec puree that iPhone 4s. As Dravid puts it, “You may think I like Nike shoes, but really I like Reeboks. I’m just looking at Nike shoes. It’s not great data. It’s almost garbage in, garbage out data.”

Enliken addresses this problem by giving consumers a way to inform advertisers of their preferences. As the company’s website states: “We believe a small amount of information shared willingly is worth more than a mountain of data gathered surreptitiously.”

Enliken’s model is fairly straightforward. By installing a free plugin, users can view the search data being collected about them, deciding which data they want to share with advertisers and which they want to keep private. In exchange for sharing that information, consumers will collect reward points, which they can use to pay for digital content from online retailers or publishers.

Enliken is free for consumers. Revenue will come from advertisers. Dravid explains advertisers want their online advertising to be more relevant, and he believes that advertisers will pay to receive quality data about their customers, straight from the source.

In the meantime, Enliken has already released its first product, Enliken Discover, built by Dravid and cofounder Marc Guldimann during a summer spent traveling around Europe. It’s a teaser as to what the company will offer once they’ve built partnerships with consumers, online retailers, and publishers. The two cofounders have also secured $250,000 in angel investments and plan to raise another $250,000, all to keep you safe from advertisers who target you with ads for the latest BMW, just because you bought some turtle wax for your Tercel.

Zulily and Maveron: Building a successful company

Guest post by Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA 2014

Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily
Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily

Foster students were recently treated to a discussion of “What Makes a Successful Company” with Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily.com, and Dan Levitan, co-founder of venture capital firm Maveron. Maveron led the initial funding for Zulily, and this was a rare opportunity to see a founder and investor speak candidly about their partnership. Cavens and Levitan, along with moderator Emer Dooley of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship discussed start-ups, venture capital, and building high-performing teams.

The recent $1 billion valuation of Zulily prompted several questions about how a billion dollar company gets started. The answer, from both Cavens and Levitan, was hard work. Zulily was started by Cavens and former Blue Nile CEO Mark Vadon with little more than a spreadsheet and whiteboard. Although they didn’t have much of a business plan, Maveron believed in the team. The people, Levitan pointed out, are what a company is all about. With the Zulily team, Maveron saw leaders with the ability and vision to bring others along for the ride and a staunch dedication to constant improvement. Cavens and Levitan agreed that Zulily never thought of itself as a billion dollar company, but as a company focused on doing and growing. And fast.

By creating a culture with an “iterate and grow” mindset, they could run on Zulily Time: twice as fast as anyone would think is doable. To illustrate Zulily Time, Cavens told the story of getting the first fulfillment center up and running in 10 weeks—instead of the 7-12 months that was originally estimated. That lesson of maintaining focus and going after what everyone thinks is impossible certainly resonates with many students. And Levitan had more advice for those just starting out and lacking Cavens’ pedigree: be comfortable thinking on your feet, surround yourself with entrepreneurial people, and take time in school to figure out who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you excel at.

Dan Levitan
Dan Levitan, Co-founder of Maveron

Cavens emphasized that part of developing yourself is developing a team that compliments your skills. When he was building the initial Zulily team, he looked for people that would not only add value, but also take risks and thrive in ambiguous situations. Cavens advised taking time to find investors with whom you really click, because they are also part of the team. Funders can add networks and resources as well as validation of your idea. Because Maveron knew Cavens and his capabilities, they were even willing to let Zulily write their own term sheet tied to a specific set of milestones. And unlike many start-ups, Cavens knew that if this idea didn’t work out he wasn’t going to pivot, he would just give the investment back and go do something else.

Ultimately, Levitan noted, it’s great entrepreneurs and their teams that build an amazing company—not venture capital firms. But no one, Zulily in particular, can deny the importance of money and resources to get a company off the ground. Zulily is proof that incredible things can happen when driven founders and the right investors come together.

This event was organized by Foster’s Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club.

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.

The sweet sniff of success: Kyle Polanski finds great potential in dog treats

Kyle Polanski
Kyle Polanski and Havana

Kyle Polanski eats dog food. So do his employees. In fact, he says, “It’s rare that we have a staff meeting and don’t taste some of the product.”  A little strange, perhaps, but if you’re picturing them spooning up mouthfuls of that smelly canned stuff, you’ve got the wrong idea.

Polanski, MBA 2008, is the CEO of Blue Dog Bakery, a dog treat company headquartered in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood. The bakery produces all-natural dog snacks made with the same kinds of ingredients you might find in your favorite cookie (minus the sugar and salt), and sells to retailers across the country.

Blue Dog Bakery was started in 1998 by Margot Kenly, who directed her passion for healthy, natural foods toward making natural dog treats with pure ingredients like whole wheat flour, molasses, oats, and peanut butter. Initially sold at Costco, the treats were a hit, and the bakery soon began receiving calls from other retailers like QFC, asking when they could get Blue Dog Bakery products on their shelves.  By 2008 the company was distributing biscuits to Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Petsmart outlets throughout the Northwest and the Northeast.

At about this time, Polanski, an MBA student at the UW Foster School, established Halibut Flat Partners, a search fund backed by 12 investors who had agreed to finance his acquisition of a promising local company. His plan, once he found a company to purchase, was to use his business savvy to make it grow.

During his search, Polanski met Kenly, and spent several months doing a deep dive into Blue Dog Bakery. “There was clearly potential for expanding the company, evolving the brand, and scaling distribution to a national level,” he said. Polanski acquired Blue Dog Bakery in 2009 and the rush was on.

Since then, the bakery has grown its geographic and retail footprints (its products are now in 12,000 stores across the country) and increased sales (30% since the beginning of 2012 alone). The brand has become popular in stores like QFC and Safeway, and gained attention from the media, appearing in the Puget Sound Business Journal, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News & World Report. Blue Dog even won the 2010 Supermarket News Category Excellence award.

Polanski and his now 7 employees have expanded their product line to include items like Doggie Cremes and Bakery Bones, and redesigned their packaging. The company also started Pet Treat Pantry, a program that donates boxes of dog treats to animal shelters in five regions across the country.

As he looks ahead, Polanski is focused on competing in the national market, vying with billion-dollar brands for the attention of pet-owners and their pups. He believes Blue Dog’s all-natural products can go head-to-head with anything the competition throws their way. “People want healthy, natural, and affordable for their pets,” he said. “That’s Blue Dog.”

The network effect

Ben Anderson
Ben Andersen (TMMBA 2012) is CEO of PatientStream, a company offering cloud-based patient tracking for hospitals.

How a UW technology becomes a startup and its developer an entrepreneur, with a little help from a lot of friends around the Foster School and beyond

It began with a problem. A glaring inefficiency of the modern hospital that is as pervasive as it is puzzling.

In this age of digitized everything, the status of virtually every patient in virtually every medical department in America is manually tracked by erasable marker on an overcrowded white board.

Still.

Such a simple, central organizational hub works great as a framing device for the bustling casts of ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and other fictional hospital dramas. But in the real ward, it makes for a shockingly outdated nerve center—error prone, incomplete, and far too taxing of staff time better spent on patient care.

Ben Andersen (TMMBA 2012) understood this completely when he took up the challenge of modernizing the tracking system in the department of surgery at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. Before enrolling in the Technology Management MBA Program at the Foster School of Business, Andersen was a perceptive young IT guy working on the informatics team at Harborview, a branch of the UW Medicine Health System.

Fast forward a few years and his one-off solution has become a nascent company called PatientStream with broad ambitions in the $2.5 trillion health care industry.

Andersen’s jump from developer to entrepreneur is a study in technology commercialization at the University of Washington—of an innovator who is educated, mentored, focus-grouped, funded, challenged and championed by a fabric of experts and entrepreneurial organizations around and affiliated with the UW at large and the Foster School in particular. Complementary nodes in an ever-expanding network.

Creation
When Harborview opened a second surgery site four years ago, coordinating patients and medical staff on twin white boards proved unwieldy, to say the least.

The job of finding a solution fell to Andersen. He first sought an off-the-shelf fix, but found it didn’t exist. So he offered to custom-build a solution. And his entrepreneurial manager, Peter Ghavami, gave him the green light.

Andersen immersed himself in activity around the white boards. “I wanted to capture their language, every mark they made,” he says.

His solution was deceptively simple: an electronic patient tracking and operations management system that drew and displayed information from existing hospital systems on a flat-screen television (or any networked computer). A digital white board.

It was useful. More importantly, it was usable.

“Normally when we roll out a new system, there are groans and moans and no one wants to learn it,” Andersen says. “When we implemented the digital whiteboard, after about five minutes of training they said, ‘That’s it? I can do that.’ Support calls were almost non-existent.”

The Electronic Whiteboard (EWB), as Andersen named the digital display system, worked from the start. Easy to use. Effective. Efficient. Patient waits fell markedly. Accuracy increased. Medical staff no longer had to cruise the white board all day to track their schedule. And administrators could view instant metrics on operations and performance.

Word spread quickly. Other departments began clamoring for the EWB, first at Harborview, then the UW Medical Center. Today, over 50 departments throughout the UW Medicine system are running on the EWB.

“When I began getting request after request from other departments, I realized that this is a need that’s not being met,” Andersen says. “Maybe this deserved to be in other hospitals as well.”

Confidence
Andersen had founded a company before. It was the right-place-wrong-time story of a workflow management firm serving property management/landscaping companies—launched unsuccessfully at the start of a historic housing crash.

Delivering a kindred tech solution to the health care industry, he knew, would be exponentially harder.

But Andersen held a few advantages. He had an author’s knowledge of the software and a proven track record of implementations in real hospitals. And he was enrolled in the Foster School’s TMMBA Program where he added a full suite of management skills that would be essential for a software developer to make the jump to CEO.

Suresh Kotha’s technology entrepreneurship class, in particular, was pivotal to Andersen’s ambitions. The course helped discern whether the opportunity and technology were market-worthy, yielded a working business plan, and, most importantly, demystified the entrepreneurial process for Andersen, equipping him with the requisite confidence to start a business.

“I build my course around the premise that there is nothing special about entrepreneurs—they are not some superior beings,” says Kotha, the Foster School’s Olesen/Battelle Excellence Chair in Entrepreneurship. “They simply have the skill set and confidence to do it. And these can be developed.”

Andersen got one more essential from the TMMBA Program: a team. He assembled an entrepreneurial A-Team of classmates expert in each function that would be critical to developing the business: Marc Brown on sales and custom support, Jason Imani on marketing, Anoop Gupta on technology, and Glen Johnson on finance.

They called the venture Xylemed.

Connection
To test its market potential, Xylemed entered the annual UW Business Plan Competition, signature event of the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.

Andersen found the experience exhilarating from the opening investment round, a kind of entrepreneurial trade show where 36 start-up teams fast-pitch to more than 200 roving judges over four crazy hours. “The pitch we started with and the pitch we ended with were radically different,” Andersen says. “We learned to key in on the part of the story that made their eyes light up.”

In a word, traction. More than 50 installations across three medical centers, each one delivered on-demand. Andersen polished the narrative until it was irresistible. “Ben started with a very real problem, came up with an elegant and efficient solution, and demonstrated a tremendous capacity for making people understand what he was out to do,” says Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the Buerk Center. “He has a compelling story to tell.”

That story took Xylemed to the final four, where it won the $10,000 second prize. “The money was great,” Andersen says. “But much more valuable are the connections that we made.”

“That’s a wise assessment for an early entrepreneur to have,” says Aaron Coe (MBA 2003), one of those connections. “There’s great value in connecting with people who add knowledge, add perspective, and challenge assumptions.”

Coe, a Foster MBA grad who helped launch 2003 BPC champion Nanostring and had an even bigger success with a pharma company called Calistoga, coached Xylemed before the semifinal, then later secured them a spot at the Technology Alliance’s Innovation Showcase.

There were many others. The team’s semifinal judges included investor Greg Gottesman of Madrona Ventures and serial entrepreneur Terry Drayton of Rainier Software and HomeGrocer.com. Both opened their personal networks to Andersen. “I’ve been amazed at the caliber of people who approached me and offered their help,” he says.

It’s no surprise to Bourassa-Shaw. At the end of the day, the Buerk Center is in the connection business.

Commission
The UW Center for Commercialization (C4C) is in the licensing business. When Andersen’s digital white board first reached the inbox of Angela Loihl, associate director of technology licensing, she shopped it around to a variety of software and health care companies. It’s a common corporate strategy to cherry pick R&D out of university labs, and C4C has negotiated more than 100 licensing agreements of UW intellectual property since 2005.

Recently, Loihl says, an increasing number of faculty and staff are expressing interest in launching their own ventures around their innovations and discoveries. So the C4C has evolved into a hybrid transaction/partnership model—a kind of bus dev team for researchers and innovators.

After the digital white board found no initial takers, Andersen—by this time well into the TMMBA Program—began changing the conversation. What if he sold the software himself?

As he prepared for the Business Plan Competition, Loihl connected him with the C4C’s Entrepreneurs-In-Residence Program. He rehearsed his pitch in its New Ventures Facility. He sought advice from the Law School’s Entrepreneurial Law Clinic.

And while Loihl oversaw the negotiation to license Andersen’s software, she also served as advisor, advocate and fan. “It was obvious that Ben had been taught well at the Foster School,” she says. “He came to us prepared, asked the right questions, and knew exactly what he wanted to get out of every meeting—in the nicest possible way.”

The kind of entrepreneur you want to root for.

Catapult
Today, Andersen is a recent Foster grad, a former employee of Harborview, and a full-time entrepreneur. He has rechristened his company PatientStream, a name that sounds less like a pharmaceutical and more like a software company that tracks hospital cases. He’s incorporated the business, finalizing license negotiations, developing a mobile app, seeking investors, and closing in on several key hires.

Even on his own—his TMMBA colleagues have returned to their lives and livelihoods—Andersen is still breathing the rich air of the UW’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Success in the Business Plan Competition earned PatientStream a spot in the Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator, a resource that provides expert mentoring and advising, work space in the Buerk Center’s new Herbold Innovation Lab, and a chance to earn up to $25,000 in additional seed funding if Andersen can achieve several important milestones over the next few months.

He’s pitching for considerably more money from the newly instituted W Fund. The public-private partnership aims to invest nearly $20 million over the next four years in promising start-ups spinning out of the UW and other research institutions across the state.

For PatientStream, a business that needs to act fast and first, a small slice of that pie would be a veritable feast.

Time will tell whether his company’s promise is proven on the open market, in the notoriously difficult-to-crack health care industry. But Andersen has a viable technology, a running start, an ever-expanding network of powerful allies, and a robust entrepreneurial education, in and out of the classroom.

“Between the incredibly rare opportunity to develop a technology in a hospital IT department, the skills and confidence that the TMMBA Program gave me to start a company, and the networking that came out of the Business Plan Competition,” he says, “the past few years have been a perfect storm.”

Perhaps the most telling testament to Andersen’s growth was his preview presentation of PatientStream, by all reports outstanding, to the newly formed W Fund investment committee—an intimidating collection of the region’s premier entrepreneurs and investors.

“To go in front of these guys as a young IT guy and hold your own is pretty impressive,” says fund investor Dave Marver, the former CEO of Cardiac Science. “Ben wasn’t intimidated in the least.”

Building economic bridges in South Park

Since the South Park Bridge closed for renovation in 2010, Raymundo Olivas has felt shut off from the surrounding city, as if on an island. But he’s not on an island. Olivas does business in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, a sliver of commercial and residential land wedged between the Duwamish River, I-509 and a green bluff rising to Highland Park.

The South Park bridge provided the primary access to the neighborhood’s commercial district. Since its closure, businesses have suffered.

Something had to be done. Olivas, a member of the South Park Retail Merchants Association (SPRMA), decided that the association needed to do more outreach to community businesses and customers. He contacted the UW Business and Economic Development Center and requested a team of student consultants to come up with a plan to bring customers and businesses to South Park.

Student Consulting ProgramThe BEDC Student Consulting Program helps small businesses grow while providing hands on consulting experience to students. All under the guidance of expert advisors like Parker Montgomery, a 2005 graduate of the Foster School and current candidate in the UW Masters in Public Administration program. While an undergrad, Parker was a student consultant with BEDC. He has mentored student teams for the past four years.

“I’ve learned a ton from the program about small businesses in the community,” he says.

Beginning in January 2012, Parker offered this experience to the student consulting group tasked with reviving small businesses in South Park.

The students developed a neighborhood plan to attract new businesses to South Park. They identified the area’s needs, zoning issues, and market power to encourage potential business investors to consider it a viable location for their businesses.

Among the neighborhood’s unmet needs was for a grocery store. Through their research, the BEDC students met the founders of Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery, second-place winners at the 2011 UW Business Plan Competition, who were considering opening their first permanent location in South Park.

In August Stockbox opened its store in South Park. Business has been good and the community has appreciated having access to fresh, healthy food in their neighborhood.

While businesses and customers are starting to come to South Park, the neighborhood is looking forward to the bridge reopening in early 2014. Until then, Olivas and the Retail Merchants Association will continue to encourage economic development in South Park.

Parker says an ideal career for him, after finishing his MPA, would be working in economic development in the community. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Apricots, creativity and food trucks

Guest post by Sohroosh Hashemi, Foster BA 2011
He attended the panel discussion Food on Wheels – A Foodie Blogger Dishes with Food Truck Owners, which was part of Entrepreneur Week 2012. Panel moderator was Jennifer Lewis, blogger and author of Food on Wheels.

A local organic farmer’s fresh apricot harvest was inspiration for Molly Neitzel, founder of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. Neitzel placed a large order of apricots and began planning for the debut of her new roasted apricot ice cream.

Monte CristoThat was that start of the story, as Neitzel told the students and alumni in attendance at the Food on Wheels panel discussion. She went on to explain that her great idea—roasted apricot ice cream—was not what her customers wanted in October, when the new flavor would be on sale. Neitzel ended up with 100 pounds too many of apricots, which she turned into homemade jam. She used this experience to highlight a challenge she often faces, “a lot of times the creativity that we desire, or that you might desire as an entrepreneur, is the opposite of what your customer wants.” Neitzel’s apricot surplus also demonstrates the seasonality of her business. Molly Moon’s uses local ingredients, so any fruit or vegetable it sources is only seasonally available.

All of the other entrepreneurs on the panel—Josh Henderson of Skillet, Danielle Custer of Monte Cristo, and Marshall Jett of Veraci Pizza—also agreed that the seasons have a huge impact on their businesses. Both consumer preferences and the availability of local ingredients vary from season to season. Each of these entrepreneurs owns a company that relies either exclusively or in-part on food truck sales, and all of them find a large chunk of their revenues through catering seasonal events like weddings.

After the discussion, the audience question and answer session produced some takeaways. Danielle Custer, founder of the newly launched grilled cheese truck Monte Cristo, gave this advice: “Simplify. Specialize. Do that one thing very well.”

Entrepreneur Week is put on by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Watch highlights from the panel discussion.

Want to see more? Watch the full video.

Food on wheels: a foodie blogger dishes with food truck owners

Molly Moon Food TruckFood trucks are not a fad. There are over 80 operating in Seattle currently and the number continues to grow. If you want to know what it’s like to start and operate a food truck, this is your chance. SmallFoodBiz.com blogger and author of Food On Wheels, Jennifer Lewis, will lead a panel discussion with food truck entrepreneurs Molly Neitzel, Molly Moon’s; Josh Henderson, Skillet; and Marshall Jett, Veraci Pizza. Jennifer, along with the panel, will cover everything from permitting and budgeting to executing on your idea to becoming profitable.

The challenges of owning a food truck are real. Food truck restaurateurs have to worry about competition, not only from restaurants but also from other food trucks. There are also other considerations: cost, location, rules and regulations, and marketing a business that moves. We’ll also talk about the amazing food truck craze. The initial impression was that it’s low rent food, but it’s actually delicious, high quality cuisine sought by foodies all over the Northwest. Join us for this insightful panel discussion about the business of operating a food truck.

Food on Wheels Panel Discussion
Wednesday, October 17 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in Anthony’s Forum, 320 Business Hall

Food trucks will also be open for business! Molly Moon’s, Veraci Pizza, and Monte Cristo will be serving food from 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. on October 17 on the Business Hall Promenade.

EntreWeek: Film premiere celebrates China’s Jack Ma and Alibaba

Since Jack Ma first launched the business in his apartment in 1999, Alibaba has transformed into one of China’s largest internet companies and Ma has become known as China’s Steve Jobs. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is excited to be hosting the Seattle premiere of Crocodile in the Yangtze a film about his life and start-up adventures, as part of the annual UW EntreWeek. The film presents a strikingly candid portrait of Ma and his company, told from the point of view of Porter Erisman, an “American fly on a Chinese wall” who witnessed Alibaba’s successes and mistakes along the way. This insider story captures the emotional ups and downs of life in an online start-up, including Ma’s battle with eBay, when the Internet was bringing China face-to-face with the West.

Don’t miss this film, which recently sold out its San Francisco Premiere and was awarded “Best Documentary” by the United Film Festival jury. With Erisman in attendance as CIE’s special guest, this Seattle premiere will include a lively Q&A session, so attendees can learn even more about his eight fascinating years working with Ma.

Seattle Movie Premiere: Porter Erisman’s Crocodile in the Yangtze: The Story of a Westerner Inside China’s Alibaba.com
Monday, October 15
5:30-7:30 PM in Shansby Auditorium, Paccar Hall 192

Watch the movie trailer.

Learn more about all EntrepreneurWeek events.