Undergrad learns from losing and winning a competition

Guest post by James Barger, UW engineering senior and UW Environmental Innovation Challenge co-chair, 2012, Grand Prize team member, UW Environmental Innovation Challenge 2011

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, France, 1910

Completing the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) is a big arena for many people that enter each year. But it is actually a milestone on the way to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

When I came to the UW EIC as a sophomore I had no training, no experience, and no clue how to build world-class technology; along with the other members of my team, I just had a lot of passion for changing the way the world uses energy. In the beginning we believed we would be able to do everything, but it turns out that only three months of passion and blind experimenting isn’t enough to compete with PhD and MBA students with years of time invested. At the competition our prototype leaked and we had to shut down the demo after we got one of the judges’ shoes wet. After the competition we disagreed on the future of the technology and went our separate ways.

The following year I had no intention of entering the UW EIC and focused on being involved with class research at the UW. However, I became involved with a project in the Mechanical Engineering Department to convert a Honda Accord to an electric vehicle at a low cost. I met incredible people who were just as passionate as I, and we worked hard as a team to create a technology business that could make an impact in people’s lives. The judges thought so too, and we won the Grand Prize. Though, what we gained from the competition went far beyond any prize money.

Each year I competed, I began to see the common threads that made teams stand out and be successful. The experience of going through the entire competition once taught me so well, that by the second year I understood how a successful business plan was put together and how much development a prototype would need before being ready. A great businessman once said to me, “You learn business by doing business, the classroom can only teach you so much.” As EIC advisor and chemical engineering professor, Daniel Schwartz mentioned when he spoke at this year’s Challenge, it is experiences like the EIC that add enormous value to a college education. The UW EIC has given me a solid foundation to build on, so that when I start my own company, I will have the confidence and experience to go forward daring greatly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>