Four student teams take their turns pitching to a panel of seven distinguished Seattle entrepreneurs and an audience of attentive guests. They come with ideas to change the world – bringing electricity to people in developing countries, sterilizing needles to prevent bloodborne diseases, naturally decaffeinating coffee, and shaking up the at-home physical rehabilitation industry.
A total of 93 teams applied to the UW Business Plan Competition (BPC), and 564 judges worked to narrow those applicants down to these top four teams. All four have already been through a screening round, the Investment Round – featuring the top 36 teams – and the Sweet Sixteen. So how will the Final Round judge panel choose which team takes home the grand prize of $25,000?
The Final Round judges included Steve Singh, CEO of Concur; Liz Pearce, CEO of LiquidPlanner; Dave Roberts, former CEO of PopCap Games; Chuck Barbo, CEO of Catalyst Storage; Andy Kleitsch, co-founder of CoinFlip Solutions; Amber Ratcliffe, president of The Decipher Group; and Aaron Feaver, CTO of EnerG2.
After each 15-minute pitch, the judges grill the teams with questions ranging from the likelihood of FDA approval to projections of manufacturing costs and the possibility for clinical testing. Teams were evaluated not simply on the viability of their product or idea, but on their plans for execution.
The BPC isn’t just about giving students—from undergraduates to PhD candidates—the opportunity to test the waters of creating a business, it’s giving them an incredible platform of support for launching the company. In the 19 years since the BPC began, 1,371 business plans have been submitted to the competition. More than 4,400 students have participated and $1.3 million has been awarded.
All Final Four teams are committed to making their companies a reality, which only makes the judge panel’s decision more difficult. Michael Jooste, CEO of JikoPower, used his pitch to focus on the way the lives of people in developing countries will change with access to JikoPower’s technology.
“I want to leave you all now with a question. And that question is: what does an electrified world look like? How many Mozarts and Einsteins and Michaelangelos are living right now in Africa and Latin America and southeast Asia and they just can’t share their talent because they lack access to electricity to communicate?”
JikoPower’s insight helped the team, which focuses on providing people with a device to convert cookstove-generated power into electricity, walk away with the $25,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation grand prize. In 2016, $85,000 in seed funding and several new prizes – totaling 15 – were awarded during the annual BPC Awards Dinner on the Seattle waterfront.
The $10,000 WRF Capital second place prize went to Decaf Style, developers of a new, natural way to instantly decaffeinate beverages in individual cups or pitchers. The $7,520.16 Friends of the BPC third place prize went to MultiModal Health, which provides an engaging software program to encourage and measure physical rehabilitation progress. The $5,000 Fenwick & West fourth place prize went to Engage (the grand prize winners of the 2016 Health Innovation Challenge on March 3), which has developed a new method for needle sterilization to prevent the spread of bloodborne diseases during immunizations.
At the dinner, keynote speaker John Gabbert, CEO of PitchBook, described his entrepreneurial journey and told the audience to be passionate.
“Focus on your passion. As an entrepreneur, you have to be passionate about your startup to get over that initial hump. But your passion has to be there for the longer term. If you’re fortunate and you’re successful, it will be because your passion hasn’t waned.”