The sights and sounds of the UW Business Plan Competition

JikoPower

JikoPower

The investment round of the annual UW Business Plan Competition is, as ever, a feast for the senses.

The HUB ballroom takes on the air of a carnival midway. Determined teams of student entrepreneurs work the hundreds of roving judges, their voices ascending in a muddled chorus of elevator pitches, tenacious cajolery and vivid descriptions of their inventions and innovations.

Fittraction

Fittraction

They are decked out in lab coats, branded chef toques, matching orange jerseys that might catch the eye of an orbiting satellite.

They display professional-grade logos, prototypes and digital renderings.

They exhibit all manner of arresting props. The brawny guys at FitTraction hold forth around a fully loaded bench press (and look like they know what to do with it). The team at Club Genie installs a putting green. Hitch’d shows a miniature wedding party complete with Champagne glasses and cupcake tower. SafeFlame’s curious 55-gallon drum fuels a simple cookstove with vegetable and human biomass. Joe Chocolate metes out a tasteful (and tasty) array of luxurious chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Joe Chocolate

Joe Chocolate

Perhaps the best interactive display belongs to CadaVR, a virtual reality learning tool for medical students. Who could pass up the chance to try their (digital) hand at a little open-heart surgery through the lens of an Oculus Rift?

CadaVR

CadaVR

Beyond the professional branding and eye-catching visuals, the room is stock full of fascinating business propositions.

It’s a dizzying diversity of innovative ideas, win or lose.

Aquapel offers a self-cleaning system for solar panels. Bellhapp‘s app automates aspects of the restaurant dining experience, while VESPAR automates the drive-through.

JikoPower (of the orange shirts) extracts thermoelectricity from cookstoves to charge digital devices and LEDs. Night Light is building a smart crosswalk to better illuminate pedestrians in the dark.

Ocumen has created a glaucoma sensor that can be inserted during cataract surgery. miPS Labs offers human cell preservation for future gene therapies. Z-ion+ Technologies has developed a coating for vascular medical devices that prevents blood clotting.

Emobie

Emobie

Safe-Fur is a self-charging GPS tracker that can be implanted on pets. Emobie Labs creates pets of a different kind: emotionally intelligent (not to mention super-cute and furry) robot companions.

Tack is a mobile platform that helps non-technical teams collaborate. Capture is shareconomy play for photography, finding the sweet spot between cell phone snapshots and professional portraiture.

The Decaf Style team is developing an inexpensive teabag-style sachet that can decaffeinate a standard cup of coffee without chemicals or affecting taste.

The company is represented today, among the teeming mass of judges, by a walking billboard, an oversized cup of decaf coffee with legs. “I have been chemically treated,” moans a cartoon word bubble above this sad cup of Joe. “Save me with Decaf Style.”

Decaf Style

Decaf Style

I finally catch up to the young man who has been tasked with spreading the message of Decaf Style around the Investment Round’s rows of investors and competitors. The man behind the billboard is Chun-Chai Kao, a chemical engineering student at the UW.

“You must have drawn the short straw to have to wear this all afternoon,” I say.

He smiles broadly to dispel my assumption.

“No, I wanted to!”

It’s just that kind of event.

The Investment Round of the 19th annual UW Business Plan Competition, presented by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business, took place April 27. Check out the companies that have advanced to the BPC Sweet Sixteen.