No competition. No problem. The first-ever Student Startup Showcase from the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship drew rave reviews from those in attendance. On the last day of the 2018 Techstars Seattle Startup Week, the event brought together University of Washington alumni, current students, and Seattle-area residents with sixteen student-created startups. Each new venture had a tradeshow style booth showcasing new technology, services, consumer products, and even samples of coffee, tea, and cookie dough.
“It was a good room to be in with so much innovation happening and this many bright minds focusing on what they are doing,” said Renee Owen, co-founder of rescue operation tech startup Vita Inclinata. “These are driven people, and this is a great community to be a part of.”
The last time many of the entrepreneurs in the room had seen each other was at a Buerk Center competition, or in a program like the Jones + Foster Accelerator. “Not being in that competitive mindset puts us more at ease and allows us to have more authentic relationships with our fellow entrepreneurs,” said Dave Bergart, co-founder of corporate development startup Culture Bites. “We share commonalities and understanding about the hurdles we’re all trying to jump through.”
“It’s a little surreal being here. I remember going through the stress of everything,” said Jonathan Augustus, co-founder of gaming apparel company SclObo. Augustus’ team received a $10,000 second place prize at the UW Business Plan Competition (BPC) in May. “Within the last couple months, we’ve got that feeling that entrepreneurship is really a brotherhood. We all know the struggle of where we came from.”
The event acted as a place for re-introduction as well. BPC grand prize winners A-Alpha Bio rebranded with new logos and a new website. MedsForAll found prior competition success as EpiForAll. Dirty chai tea maker Mikki Co. (Formerly NASTEA & Co.) and edible cookie dough creators Sugar+Spoon (formerly Dough Boys) also both recently changed their company names to be more unique to their markets. “We didn’t really know if people would know who we were coming back,” said Ivana Orlović, co-founder of Sugar+Spoon. “We realized Mikki were going through the same hardships as us changing our name. It’s really nice to share with other people what it’s like being an entrepreneur.”
The majority of the startups in attendance also featured current students or alumni of UW. “The University has pretty much given us everything we’ve received so far,” said Brian Whipler, co-founder of cold brew startup Seattle Strong Coffee. “If it wasn’t for the connections we’ve made here, I don’t think we’d be where we are right now.”
“My whole experience in the business school, with the Buerk Center, with Lavin (Entrepreneurship Program), always felt very collaborative,” said Joyce Tang, co-founder of handcrafted tea bath products startup Bathing Beauteas. “Events like this also puts the word out to other students and to the community.” Tang’s company was among those developed in entrepreneurship classes or at programs in the Foster School of Business.
Custom-made clothing company Samshek was grown by Abhishek Bajaj while he participated in the Lavin Entrepreneurship program. Same with Jonathan Sun and his analytics-based college matching startup Horizan. Childcare consumer lending platform BridgeCare Finance is in the current cohort of the Jones + Foster Accelerator. Lonely Produce got off the ground in the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program.
And the gaming controller accessories from Wickit Grip and the topic-based party game Just Four Kicks came out of the popular Creating a Company course. “You were with 30 people all trying to create a company, but the reality is this project has involved a lot of work by myself to figure out what to spend time on,” said Hadley Evarts, founder of Just Four Kicks. “Coming to an event like this is really motivating and a great chance to discuss with others what is working for them or not.”
“They are going through the same stuff we’re going through,” said Robert Masse, co-founder of battery data management software startup Astrolabe Analytics. “Trying to figure out your business model, how you are going to gain customers, and scale, and there’s a certain sense of comradery there.”
There was also a strong sense of giving back. In fact, a team who couldn’t make it at the last-minute, Nanodropper, will be returning to UW later in November. The team gained national attention for its eye dropper that provides efficient, accurate dosage. On Tuesday, November 13, the co-founders will lead a discussion at a Team Formation Night in hopes of encouraging other students to create startups as well. You can read more about that here.