UW Today

This is an archived article.

April 30, 1999

Student entrepreneurs woo investors in UW business plan competition

Hoping to add their names to Seattle’s growing ranks of successful entrepreneurs, contestants in the University of Washington Business School‘s student business plan competition will vie for $25,000 in seed capital to launch companies that may become the next REI, Visio or Wizards of the Coast.

Following in the footsteps of the UW students-turned-CEOs behind those successful local companies, last year’s winners used the prize money to expand their computer summer camp business and earned $1 million in their first year. Competing for the 1999 prize are 35 teams from four local universities promoting, among other things, a purchasing cooperative for independent funeral homes, online sales of university exams, an afrocentric clothing line and gift packs of coffee from Seattle micro-roasters.

“A lot of the companies end in ‘.com,’ but they’re not necessarily high-tech businesses. In many cases, they’re just using the web as a new avenue for delivering services,” explains professor Gary S. Hansen, director of the UW Business School’s Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (PEI), which sponsors the business plan competition. “What we try to teach in our program, and what the competition recognizes, is the ability to identify and seize good opportunities.”

To win, the budding business barons will have to impress some of Seattle’s leading entrepreneurs, investment bankers and venture capitalists. In the investment round of the competition, 50 local business leaders will be given $1,000 “PEI” dollars to invest in the student businesses that most impress them. From display booths around the room, the student competitors will do their best imitations of carnival hawkers and trade-show vendors to attract investors’ attention and money.

The 16 teams that raise the most capital advance to the next round of competition on May 10. Here they present detailed business plans to a panel of judges who will select four teams to compete in the final round. The judges in that round will pick the winners of the $25,000 grand prize and several $5,000 prizes for top contestants in specific business sectors. The list of judges, which reads like a who’s who of successful Seattle entrepreneurs, includes Jeremy Jaech of Visio, David Giuliani of Optiva, Matt Williams of LiveBid.com and Peter Adkison of Wizards of the Coast.

“What sets our competition apart is that our judges are all successful entrepreneurs,” says Connie Bourassa-Shaw, managing director of the Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “The students have to make a business case, not an academic case, because the judges know first hand what it takes to build successful companies.”

If last year’s inaugural competition is any indication, the judges can indeed pick a winner. They awarded the grand prize to Peter Findlay and Alexa Ingram-Cauchi, both UW seniors at the time, who had just launched Computer Adventures. The company, which provides summertime computer classes for children age 8 to 13, earned $1 million its first year and is expected to triple revenues this year as it expands throughout the west.

The goal of the UW’s Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation is to help launch many more local firms like Computer Adventures. The program links the UW with business leaders in the community to provide undergraduate and graduate training in the basics of entrepreneurship – management, marketing, finance, sales and other skills essential to creating and growing successful new ventures.

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For information, contact Bourassa-Shaw at (206) 685-9868 or cbshaw@u.washington.edu.