TMMBA Student Hannah Thornton on Co-chairing 2023 Dempsey Startup Competition

Each year, students from across the Foster School participate in the Dempsey Startup Competition (Dempsey Startup), one of four flagship entrepreneurship competitions organized by Foster’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. The Dempsey Startup is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. It provides students with real world entrepreneurship experience – from ideation to team building, from business plan creation to pitching investors.  

The UW Foster Technology Management MBA (TMMBA) Program not only has two teams competing in this year’s challenge, one of our students, Hannah Thornton (Class of 2023) is serving as a co-chair of the competition. We connected with Hannah about her experience at the helm of the Dempsey Startup and to get a sense of what this year’s competition has in store.

You’re a co-chair of the Dempsey Startup Challenge – tell us more about your role and what it has been like preparing. 

My co-chair, Mayte Manzo, and I are teamed up to help generate excitement and share information within our MBA programs. We’re also working closely with Dempsey Startup manager Yuko Oaku from the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship to gather an engaged and innovative group of competition judges. This means spreading the word in our networks and connecting with folks from diverse areas of the startup community. As we speak, Mayte and I are organizing spring office hours for teams to connect with industry experts. Last quarter, we helped support a Consumer Product Workshop series to give students a first-hand look at topics like sustainability, prototyping, and customer experience.   

During the winter, Mayte and I acted as Teaching Assistants in Christy Johnson’s Business Plan Practicum class to help stir up enthusiasm and demystify the competition process. We saw a ton of strong teams use that class to refine their ideas and I’m excited to watch them in action this spring!     

Mayte and I will also be actively supporting the competition as it takes place. You might see us coordinating with judges, MCing an event, or hosting office hours. Feel free to say hello along the way!  

What made you want to get involved?   

I wanted to further engage with the UW community, as well as the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. As someone who has worked in and around the startup world for some time, this competition intrigued me right away. I was also excited to meet other entrepreneurially-minded students and dive deeper into the thriving startup community here in the Pacific Northwest 

As a TMMBA student, a portion of the program is dedicated to entrepreneurship. Do you have any ideas you’re hoping to put to the test in the future?   

I do! I’m in the early stages of developing a startup idea that was inspired by my own wedding planning process. My classmates and professors have been very supportive along the way – offering feedback and making critical connections from their own networks. The UW community overall has been hugely impactful on my progress thus far as I gather my founding team. I’m happy to talk more about it one-on-one with anyone who is interested!    

What is the turnout expected to be this year, in terms of teams competing?

It’s looking great so far! We’ve had student interest from an array of UW programs and that’s really exciting. As a member of the Technology Management MBA program, I love to see representation from across Foster and beyond.  

Celebrating the 26th anniversary of the Dempsey Startup Challenge – this year they had a record-breaking turnout, with 117 teams competing in the initial Screening Round. The Top-37 teams and three alternates advanced to the Investment Round.  

Do you know anyone personally competing? Perhaps some of your classmates.  

Yes! A number of my TMMBA classmates are gearing up to compete (shoutout to Oryzi and PACT). Several students from the Business Plan Practicum class went on to participate in the Health and Environmental Innovation Challenges, including both winning groups – go team!

How many entrepreneurs and investors are expected to take part in the competition this year?   

We typically have about 450+ members of the broader community participating as judges across multiple rounds. This competition is truly a unique opportunity to get feedback from such an experienced and innovative group all in one place.   

What has been your biggest takeaway as the co-chair?   

Ideas can come from anywhere. My co-chair and I are consistently impressed by the range of industries and interests represented in the business plans. The impact these students are looking to make with their ideas is very real and incredibly inspiring.    

What do you think is the value for students in participating in the Dempsey Startup Competition?  

This competition allows for a genuine opportunity to walk-in-the-shoes of an entrepreneur. The exercise of developing, presenting, and defending your business idea is so much more than a classroom assignment, but a truly experiential learning opportunity. While not every team will go on to pursue their idea after graduation, everyone will walk away with a real-world understanding of how to build a business, as well as new, relevant connections within their local community.   

Visit the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s website to learn more about The Dempsey Startup Challenge.