The University of Washington’s Business Plan Competition (BPC), a yearly competition highlighting the creative ambitions and problem-solving solutions designed by students from across Washington State concluded a few weeks ago in Seattle. Matt Johnson, Evening MBA 2019, sat down with us to discuss his recent experience as part of the competition, hosted by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.
The aim of the competition is to provide real-world experience to student entrepreneurs, encourage venture creation and new ideas, and to expose students to the entrepreneurial community here in Seattle and beyond.
The Business Plan Competition gives students an opportunity to practice and participate in the dynamic journey that is starting a business based on a new technology or idea, which includes the entire process from ideation and founding a team, to writing a business plan, all the way to pitching that idea to investors. Many ideas that start as a seed in the Business Plan Competition continue on into full-fledged startups and act as launch pads for future careers.
Johnson joined the team, A-Alpha Bio, comprised of students from the UW Bioengineering department, prior to the competition—- bringing additional business expertise to the startup which seeks growth outside of the laboratory and the University environment.
A-Alpha Bio aims to improve clinical trial success rates by helping pharmaceutical companies fully characterize their drug candidates in the pre-clinical stage. They were the winners of the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge earlier in the year and have participated in the Jones + Foster Accelerator Program.
This was Johnson’s first foray in a startup competition as robust and comprehensive as the BPC. He was delighted to share with us his experience:
What was one thing that surprised you about the competition?
Matt: There were lots of surprises, like how much prep and practice we’d have to do to ensure the things we couldn’t plan for, we’d be fully prepared for. I think also the level of competition that the other teams brought to the field. Also, the support that all the teams have for each other! It was really refreshing.
What was a most challenging aspect of the competition?
Matt: Prepping for the Q&A and finalizing the plan. We really changed our pitch from previous years and even the Hollman Health Innovation Challenge, to ensure that we were delivering the right level of detail for the audience.
What was your favorite part of the competition?
Matt: Getting to work on an idea that we really believe has the chance to change the world. Dialing in on how to execute the plan that will actually lead to a viable business model is super exciting. Also, it was fun because we all took it very seriously and to watch everyone hone in on the right messaging was like seeing a team come together as one, which is really exciting.
Why did you decide to participate in the Business Plan Competition?
Matt: I did it to gain experience with a startup, learn how to revise messaging and refine a pitch, learn the kinds of questions judges ask, and ultimately be prepared to go through this with my own company someday! I want to take an idea that can change the world and execute it. This brings me one step closer.
A-Alpha Bio was proud to take home the BPC 2018 Herbert B. Jones Foundation Grand Prize, and a $25,000 check. Previous winners of the BPC include: Membrion (2017 winner) for their plan to disrupt the alternative energy market with a low cost, high efficiency membrane relating to battery technology, and JikoPower (2016 winner) with their thermoelectric generators harnessing wasted energy, converting it into electricity to charge cell phones, LED lights, and other small devices.
The BPC featured other fellow MBAs on prize-winning teams and crossed industry barriers. The competition wasn’t limited to biomedical, technology, or energy startups, but included food industry startups such as Lonely Produce which finds a home for surplus produce from local farmers, Vicinity (a kind of AirBNB for rental of public spaces), Coinglomerate Mining (cryptocurrency research and development), BioPots (biodegradable planter pots using biomass waste), and Seattle Strong Coffee (highly caffeinated craft cold brew coffee).
Since 1998 the Buerk Center has awarded more than $3.1 million dollars to students in prizes and through the Jones + Foster Accelerator program, which many successful BPC teams enter following the competition. Over the years, through the competition alone, more than $1.3 million dollars in prize money has been awarded.
You can read more about A-Alpha Bio in the news, and follow along on their website. They were recently written up in Geekwire for their win at the BPC. For more information about the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and the Jones + Foster Accelerator and other Buerk Center Programs, please visit the links provided.