There’s an old saying in business and life that goes: You never know when you might run into, or work with someone again. With that in mind, the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship brought back a special student-entrepreneur focused event for teams to build their network. We call it the Student Startups Showcase—a non-competitive gathering of early-stage ventures born at, or growing with help from, the University of Washington.
More than a dozen startup teams set up booths and interacted with fellow students, faculty, the public, and most importantly, each other. “I’ve done a lot of trade shows and this was a really good environment to see how people are pitching,” said Ryan Yousefian (Master of Science in Entrepreneurship ’21) of ApnoMed, which developed a device for sleep-related breathing disorders. “When you’re in a trade show, everybody is trying to sell and win and it’s stressful. Here it was calm and cool and a good arena for early-stage people. After all, I want everyone here to do just as well as me.”
“I had some really good conversations with students in other startups,” said Zoe Gregory (Electrical Engineering ’20) of AeroSpec, which created an innovative way to protect workers from harmful air conditions. “A couple of people came by the booth and asked about the research and getting involved and how we got our tech development done,” she said. AeroSpec was one of several teams in attendance that competed last year in Buerk Center competitions. The startup won the fourth place prize at the Dempsey Startup Competition and participated in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC). They were later accepted into the Jones + Foster Accelerator, where they are working on a series of milestones and receiving mentorship by established entrepreneurs and experts in the region.
Joining AeroSpec in the Accelerator—and at the Showcase—was universal eye-drop adapter startup Nanodropper (winner of the 2019 Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge grand prize), sustainable artisan candle startup Paca Y Paca (2019 EIC), online post-hospital care marketplace startup Novita (winner of the eBay Best Marketplace Idea prize at the 2019 Dempsey Startup), and mobile tasking platform startup Kadama (2019 Dempsey Startup).
“At the Dempsey Startup, we were talking to judges about our app, our experiences, our business model, stuff like that,” said Nour Ayad (Computer Science ’22). “But it was fun to talk to students here who didn’t just want to learn about Kadama, but about us and our experiences as entrepreneurs. A couple of students asked some really hard-hitting questions and they were freshmen!” Fellow Kadama teammate Marwan El-Rukby (Finance ’20) said the showcase also offered some validation for how far they have come. “I’m normally going out and asking for advice,” he said, “and this was the first time someone was coming in and asking me.”
Undergrad Pamela Kang (Engineering ’22) of Hava was happy to share the knowledge she’s gained from experiencing the competition process. Hava competed in both the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge (HIC) and the EIC last academic year with its coconut-shell solution to household air pollution. “We didn’t really stress the competitive nature of the HIC and EIC, because we met so many entrepreneurs and so many investors and they gave us great advice,” she said. “Even though they are called competitions, we didn’t feel intimidated or felt like they had a really competitive nature.”
The showcase also gave some of these early-stage startups a chance to show off serious progress. Aeronautics and Astronautics PhD student James Pena co-founded WM Launch Services, which is developing a new type of projectile that eliminates the pollution associated with space launches. The venture earned the Best Innovation/Technology prize at the 2019 Dempsey Startup and also participated in the EIC. “We like talking about what we make and it’s nice to be able to show people the iterative engineering process behind real hardware, especially in a space that’s not usually explored by small students,” he said. “It’s exciting for people to see that even startups can work on large hardware devices that launch stuff into space and it is really not out of the realm of what you can do as a student.”
In addition to the startups already mentioned, the showcase featured the early-stage venture ElsysLabs, an automotive safety and driving solution startup founded by Prasad Pillai (MS in Entrepreneurship ’20), Eventplore, an event platform tailored for students founded by Ade Adeyemo (MS in Entrepreneurship ’20), and GlimpseCam, a wearable camera system for live events founded by Dylan Rose (Engineering ’22)—who won an Amazon Catalyst grant in 2018 as a freshman.
Last, but not least, food and beverage focused startups were also at the showcase. Seattle Strong Coffee (J+F Accelerator ’18, BPC 2018) is a small-batch artisan cold brew coffee startup founded by recent Foster School of Business graduates. And Re:fresh Smoothies is an instant mix smoothie startup that uses “rescued ingredients,” started by Austin Hirsch (MS in Entrepreneurship ’20).