Impel NeuroPharma, a drug-delivery technology developed at the University of Washington, has won the $25,000 RealNetworks Grand Prize at the 2008 UW Business Plan Competition.
Impel is a collaboration between John Hoekman, a PhD student in pharmaceutics at the UW, and Michael Hite and Peter Olagunju, evening MBA students at the UW’s Foster School of Business. Hoekman developed a new way to deliver pharmaceutical drugs directly to the brain, resulting in a more effective and efficient means of treating chronic pain, Alzheimer’s and brain cancer. Wishing to commercialize his invention, he approached UW TechTransfer, and was introduced to Hite and Olagunju, who happened to work by day for Seattle biosciences companies and were looking to start something of their own. The resulting founding team earned much more than prize money at the competition.
“We were waiting to see what kind of traction we got,” said Hite. “Winning the competition is a major vote of confidence toward our viability, and we also spoke to several angel investors during this competition who invited us to present to them. It’s just been amazing.”
Its UW Business Plan Competition win earned Impel an invitation to compete in the prestigious DFJ Venture Challenge, May 28 in Silicon Valley. At stake is a $250,000 investment by the hosting venture capital firm of Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
Winner of the UW competition’s $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Second Place Prize was Athleon, a web-based team sports management tool that helps coaches communicate with and prepare their athletes off the field. Athleon was conceived in the Foster School’s Creating a Company course by Brent Lamphier, former captain of the UW’s rugby club and recent business graduate. Foster MBA Dan Rubinsky and Ryan Kosai, a recent grad in electrical engineering, round out the team. Athleon is also competing in the DFJ Venture Challenge.
The Herbert B. Jones Foundation provided additional $5,000 Finalist Prizes to Hybiscus Technologies and Wugaboo Entertainment. Hybiscus (Sam Kim, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering, Lucia Crump Kim, and Edward Stroman) has developed a fundamentally new semiconductor manufacturing process that enables the integration of thousands of micron-scale optical and electronic components onto inexpensive substrates, promising vastly faster connection between computer chips. Wugaboo (Foster MBA students Ryan Bergsman, Daniel Rossi and Katheryn Leonard, UW law student David Ray, education doctoral student Kristen Bergsman and Link Dyrdahl) is a new menagerie of educational toys and books featuring a colourful cast of critters named Jasper, Ruby and Squidget.
The Business Plan Competition also awarded $5,000 each to the purveyors of Best Ideas in several categories: The OVP Venture Partners Best Technology Idea went to Hybiscus Technologies. The Keiretsu Forum Best Consumer Product Idea went to Athleon. The Summit Law Group Best Innovation Idea went to Impel NeuroPharma. The DLA Piper Best Service/Retail Idea went to Energizing Solutions. The Herbert B. Jones Foundation Best Nonprofit/Socially Responsible Idea went to Krochet Kids, a retailer of crocheted hats produced by Ugandan women. And the Heller Ehrman Best Clean Tech Idea went to Voltan Biofuel, a producer of algae-based biodiesel.
The 2008 Business Plan Competition, organized by the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, inspired the submission of 89 student business plans and brought in more than 300 judges from the entrepreneurial community for various rounds of the event.
Since the competition began in 1998, 574 teams have entered, comprised of more than 2,000 student entrepreneurs from more than a dozen universities and colleges around Washington state. A total of $757,000 in “seed funding” has been awarded, helping launch the careers of hundreds of successful entrepreneurs.
At the celebration of this year’s crop of student entrepreneurs, the keynote speech was delivered by Mark Vadon, founder and executive chairman of Blue Nile, the largest online retailer of diamonds and fine jewelry. Vadon recounted how he capitalized on the epiphany that when it comes to buying jewelry, “men are clueless.” He also shared a few hard-earned lessons:
- View your business plan as a playbook, not a sales tool.
- Focus on unmet needs.
- Practice intellectual honesty and rigor.
- Have realistic goals.
- Surround yourself with great people.
“The biggest lesson of all is: don’t fear failure,” Vadon said. “I think everyone here has great ideas. But the fact is that most of you are going to fail. And most of you are going to fail to even raise money. But even if your business fails, you will be successful in terms of pursuing your dreams and learning lessons that no other job can give you.
“What I’m here to tell you tonight is that it’s possible,” he added. “You can take that plan and make it a reality. If you are passionate enough about it, and work hard enough.”
The Business Plan Competition was supported by numerous companies and organizations, most significantly RealNetworks, the Herbert B. Jones Foundation and event partner Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
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At the 2008 UW Business Plan Competition awards banquet, Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, announced the launch of the Environmental Innovation Challenge – a new competition beginning in fall 2008. Teams of UW students will compete for a grand prize of $10,000 with business plans aimed at reducing environmental impacts and improving ecological sustainability. The theme for 2008-09 will be water, and the challenge will take place next March. The Environmental Innovation Challenge will be organized by CIE and the Applied Physics Laboratory, with support from the UW Colleges of Engineering, Arts and Sciences, Architecture and Urban Planning, the School of Law and the Program on the Environment.
“I love the idea of a challenge,” said Bourassa-Shaw. “At the UW, there are 75 different programs or centers that focus on the environment. This new challenge will be a way to harness some of that creativity and see if we can move the bar forward by creating companies that provide solutions people want to buy.”