UW News

May 18, 2004

Water-chemistry monitoring company wins business plan competition

You could say that good chemistry played a crucial role in determining this year’s winner of the UW Business School’s Center for Technology Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition. 

That’s because AquaStasis, the winning team comprised of two UW graduate students in chemistry and two UW master’s of business administration students, created a product that monitors water chemistry in aquariums, pools, hot-tubs and spas.

AquaStasis defeated 31 other teams and won the $25,000 grand prize and a $5,000 prize for best technology company.

Gautham Ravi and Stuart Jamieson, 2004 MBA candidates, and Brian Smart and Roni Kopelman, Ph.D. candidates in chemistry, laid out their award-winning plan to judges during the seventh annual Business Plan Competition, which wrapped up May 17.

If successfully taken to market, AquaStasis would develop and market products capable of providing accurate, immediate and economical water chemistry monitoring services for what they say is a market of more than 25.7 million consumers frustrated by the time-intensive and expensive methods currently used. Kopelman, chief technology officer, says AquaStasis will use their winnings for additional product research and development. He also says that the exposure during the competition to Seattle’s investment community has resulted in significant interest from local consultants, venture capitalists and law firms.

“The business plan competition has been the single most educational experience I have ever had and has changed the course of my career,” said Kopelman. “Just 18 months ago I had never taken any business classes in my life. Now, I have offers for free advice on starting a company from leading venture capitalists, attorneys, local businessmen and consultants. The competition is literally a roller coaster of emotions, as one week brings confidence, only to be followed by self-doubt. Assembling a team that brings complementary skills to the table was essential to success in the competition. The hardest part was staying the course through the long process.”

Organizers say the event is an excellent way for students to practice being entrepreneurs.

“The thrill and excitement of conceiving a venture and defending it in front a professional group of judges is truly a transformational experience,” said Suresh Kotha, faculty director of CTE. “This competition highlights what happens when classroom learning and practice are bridged thoughtfully.”

Judges like John Fluke, chairman of Fluke Ventures, a Bellevue-based venture capital firm, considered each of the business plans in terms of the viability of the idea, the strength of the management team and the details of the plan.

“While the mechanical elements of the business plan are important, the real challenge is to determine if the business plan is created by the management team merely to talk prospective investors into putting their capital into the company or the business plan is really the management team’s description of what they are actually going to do,” said Fluke. “In the final analysis, every company exists for only one reason: to serve its customers.”

He added that while it’s impossible to predict the future success of a company, a startup that can anticipate and respond to change is especially attractive to investors.

The complete list of 2004 UW Business Plan Competition winners is as follows:

  • Grand Prize: $25,000 to AquaStasis (creators of water chemistry monitoring devices for aquariums, pools, hot-tubs and spas)
  • Second Prize: $15,000 to TeachTown (providers of educational software for autistic children)
  • Third Prize: $10,000 to CellVitro (accelerating drug discoveries)
  • Fourth Prize: $7,0000 to MyStyle (designers of custom-made apparel for uniquely shaped women)

Additional prizes of $5,000 each were awarded in other categories. TeachTown, which provides educational software for autistic children, won for best business with positive social impact; SeaTrails, publishers of comprehensive maps for outdoor adventurers won for best retail idea; and OGear, makers of illuminated gear for bicyclists and road construction crews, won the most innovative idea award.

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

Sponsors included Ernst and Young, Herbert B. Jones Foundation, Northwest Entrepreneur Network and Voyager Capital.


For more information, contact Fluke at 425-453-4590 or jfluke@flukeventures.com;

Kopelman at 206-595-7584 or rak1@u.washington.edu; Kotha at 206-543-4466 or skotha@u.washington.edu