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May 21, 2003

Budding biotechnology company takes UW business plan competition

Creators of a company that will broaden advances in genome science have won the $25,000 top prize at the University of Washington’s sixth annual business plan competition.

Team members and master’s of business administration candidates Amber Ratcliffe and Aaron Coe presented their award-winning plan to judges during the UW Business School’s Center for Technology Entrepreneurship (CTE) Business Plan Competition that concluded Tuesday.

The students will use the money to launch a company called NanoString that will help scientists more quickly and accurately identify and count the number of genes in a biological sample. Potential applications for NanoString’s technology might include virus testing, agricultural inspection, forensics, food and water safety and environmental monitoring.

“Right now scientists are using tools that only allow for an estimation of what is in their sample and the threshold of detection is below what is necessary to study very important biological relationships,” said Ratcliffe. “Our technology reduces the sophistication necessary to perform experiments, thus opening up the possibility for this type of research in many more labs and markets than where it is currently being done.”

Organizers say the competition is designed to promote student ideas and extend their entrepreneurial skills by providing a forum in which they can present their new business ideas to potential investors.

“The business plan competition is all about what types of ideas and opportunities one should pursue,” said Suresh Kotha, faculty director of CTE. “It’s also a way to showcase the UW and the quality of our students to Seattle’s growing entrepreneurial community.”

Teams representing multiple disciplines from area colleges presented business plans to a panel of judges Tuesday in the Husky Union Building auditorium on the UW campus.

NanoString, which edged out 29 other teams in the UW competition, also won third place and $20,000 last month in the Purdue University National Business Plan Competition. It won an additional $6,000 high-growth award at Tuesday night’s ceremony to bring its total winnings to more than $50,000.

The six-week UW Business School competition offers roughly $80,000 in prize money, making it one of the largest such competitions in the country.

Second, third, and fourth place awards of $15,000, $10,000 and $7,000 were distributed to a mix of companies representing the UW. MicroGREEN Polymers, also a finalist in last year’s competition and maker of environmentally friendly food packaging, took second prize. CyberSpeed Technologies, which has developed rear-vision safety devices for motorcycles, and BrassMEDIA Inc., which publishes a lifestyle and financial magazine for young adults, secured third and fourth place, respectively.

Prizes of $6,000 each were awarded in other categories. The UW’s International Healthcare Connections, which provides medical care in developing countries, won for best idea for an international business; Seattle University’s P. Munson & Co., which makes specialized bath and body care products, won best idea for a sustainable business; and CyberSpeed won best lifestyle idea.

Judges considered each of the four finalists’ plans in terms of the viability of the idea, the strength of the management team and the details of the business plan.

The competition included students from Gonzaga University, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University and the University of Washington.

The Herbert B. Jones Foundation provided the $25,000 grand prize. Other major sponsors included Ernst & Young, Boeing Ventures, AT&T Wireless and Starbucks Corp.
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For more information, contact Suresh Kotha, faculty director for academic programs, Center for Technology and Entrepreneurship, (206) 543-4466 or skotha@u.washington.edu. For more information about the UW Business School’s Center for Technology Entrepreneurship visit http://depts.washington.edu/cte/CTE_BPC_Overview_Short.shtml