UW News

May 18, 2001

New concept in supercomputing wins top prize at business plan competition

Creators of a company that will link computer networks to solve complex problems took the $35,000 top prize at the University of Washington’s fourth annual business plan competition.

The team of three UW students and one alumnus was awarded the money to help launch a high performance computer company, Ensemble Networks, which will offer customers the ability to create a virtual supercomputer by linking the computational power of existing computers into a coordinated network. These “computational grids” have the promise of solving complex problems without the higher cost associated with using supercomputers.

Ensemble Networks, which beat 41 other teams, amassed a total of $40,000 after winning an additional $5,000 award for the competition’s best global marketing idea. The three-week UW Business School competition offers nearly $96,000 in prize money, making it one of the largest such competitions in the country. The competition’s final round was held Monday, May 14.

Team member Chris Thompson, a UW computer science doctoral candidate, said the technology created by Ensemble Networks will aid research in many areas of science and technology including applications such as mapping human proteins — considered to be the next logical step in genetic research following the mapping of the human genome.

Pinpointing proteins could lead, for example, to future cures for diseases; the team’s product would eliminate the need for a company doing such research to purchase a supercomputer.

“A significant amount of computing effort was spent mapping the human genome,” Thompson said. “But significantly more will be needed to study the proteins that make up the body. And technology such as ours will be essential in providing the power to map the proteins.”

In addition to Thompson, a University District resident, the Ensemble Networks team consists of UW MBA students Jason Demeny of Wedgewood and Larry Walters of Ballard; and UW economics alumnus Josh Hutto of Bellevue. The team plans to approach other potential investors to secure the funds necessary to launch their company.
Students from UW, UW Bothell, Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University competed for the best business plan in the event, which is open to students from universities statewide and is hosted by the UW Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (PEI).

The competition’s three finalists were The Glass Foundry at Sand Point, a non-profit glass-casting studio for artists; Sawdust, providers of woodworking shop time, classes and on-site direction; and emdia, creators of an ergonomically correct gynecological exam table. Each team won $10,000.

Teams were judged on experience, market opportunity, team presentation and financial viability by entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, venture capitalists, angel investors and other business professionals.
Competition judge Wayne Perry, of Oregon-based Edge Wireless, said choosing between the final four teams was a “hard decision.” But, he said, Ensemble Networks has an opportunity to launch “a really unique product that would be hard to emulate.”

The $35,000 grand prize was donated by WRF Capital. Other major sponsors included Gray Cary, the Herbert Jones Foundation, and Wells Fargo Bank.


For more information contact Michael Song, Director of the Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, at (206) 543-4587 or song@u.washington.edu; student co-chair Andrea Johnson at (206) 525-6190 or andreaj@u.washington.edu; Thompson at (206) 547-9964, or cthomp@christhompson.org; Demeny at (206) 517-5327 or jdemeny@yahoo.com; Hutto at (206) 399-7804 or josh_hutto@hotmail.com; Walters at (206) 781-9377 or lwalters@u.washington.edu.