I’ve said it every May since 2007 – judging the Investment Round of the UW Business Plan Competition is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s exciting to absorb the energy and inspiration from all of these young entrepreneurs and idea generators. Sure, most of the 38 “companies” on display won’t ever go past this day, but everyone who takes part surely takes something they learned, something they discovered, or an idea they came up with into future companies.
Enough hyperbole – Let’s talk about what I saw.
Now, the problem for me every year is that there are always these awesome engineering and medical companies that I just don’t get. A UW med student will tell me something like, “When you combine this UW technology with this UW technology, you get a compound that completely eliminates both cancer and male pattern baldness, AND adds 4 inches to your vertical leap. We would just need 4 years and $50 million to make it work.” And since I don’t understand anything about biology, I would invest in them. Or, they’ll show me a prototype of a jet pack or invisibility cloak. The idea sounds cool and reasonable, and I say, “I want one of those.” Only later do I learn why the technology is impossible.
So this year – and I apologize to the science guys – but I really only visited the companies that I thought I would really understand well enough to ask hard questions of. And without commenting on who I through my investment “dollars” at, here are some of the ideas I liked and people I liked talking to.
1) Seattleite Magazine – I’ll mention them first, only because I met founder Jane Yuan a few months back and saw an early version of their business plan. There could be a market for this kind of online pub in Seattle. It’s a fun read, with lots of good pics of Seattle people and places.
2) Breadcrumb – The reverse of FourSquare, Breadcrumb notifies a person’s emergency contacts in the event that they DON’T check in when expected, dramatically improving search and rescue efforts for missing or injured people. Perfect for hikers, campers, mountain climbers, fisherman, etc… whose parents worry about them.
3) Online Pay Station – I really root for these guys. Think old school market meets unlimited product options. This is a company for African residents – enabling people without bank accounts or credit cards make online orders via companies like Amazon.com. They pay Online Pay Station (OPS) cash at an OPS Internet Cafe, OPS makes a bulk buy to save on shipping, receives the order, then warehouses the merchandise until the buyer picks it up.
4) PotaVida – Did you know that you can put dirty water in a plastic bottle, stick it in the sun, and then the sun will kill all the really nasty, dangerous organisms in the water in 6 hours or so? I didn’t. The problem is, you don’t *really* know when the water is clean. PotaVida makes a little LED based contraption that tells you when the water is safe. Go to a disaster relief location, put 100 bottles on a roof at once, but a PotaVida device on one of them, and suddenly you know when the water is safe to hand out.
5) Punchkeeper – Take all of the loyalty cards that you have to carry around, and put them in one app on your mobile phone. Snap a pic of a QR code to get credit. That simple.
6) Sky Fu – They call it “Self Defense for the Social Web.” I summarize it as Radian6 for small businesses who need to monitor Yelp, Trip Advisor and the like.
7) Pterofin – Designs and manufactures innovative wind energy devices for residential and commercial use. I don’t get why it works better than regular turbine, but they say it does, so why not beleive them.
8) TripBox – Makes travel planning easier. Cool demo. Hard to describe. Maybe Widget based travel planning.
9) Digital Menu – Almost makes too much sense to work. Rather than spending money printing out paper based menus every day, restaurants just go to this site, pick from the templates, update the menu, and Digital Menu turns it into a mobile or tablet based menu that can be shared online, across social channels, and that you can even view at the restaurant.
10) Soothie Suckers – Kids don’t want to take herbal medicine. So the solution – put it in a popsicle. That’s the theory here. For what it is worth, the popsicle tastes good.
There were a lot more great companies on display – 28 more in fact. But that would make the blog 100 pages long. Here’s the list of the companies that made the next round. But congrats to everyone who made it from the initial 100+ down to this final 38.