Xinova has a long history of helping develop the next generation of innovators at the University of Washington. On May 24, Xinova will sponsor the “Best Idea for the Future” prize for the University of Washington UW’s business plan competition, the final of a string of business competitions promoting collaboration between the university’s science, engineering, and business departments.
While Xinova is always seeking new ways to partner with the University of Washington UW “because they have a lot of very smart people,” Xinova staff’s personal connections to the university motivate them to participate. The STS was started by past UW Science & Engineering Business Association (SEBA) president, and Xinova VP of Growth and Scale, Brad Roberts, PhD.
“SEBA is a really interesting student organization: it’s student founded and student run,” said VP of Innovation Group, Matt Ferguson, who obtained his PhD in Materials Science Engineering at UW and was a SEBA officer. “Their whole purpose is to recognize that students in academic engineering programs won’t always go on to be academics themselves. But their programs do very little to prepare them for a business-focused career. SEBA introduces engineering students to an entrepreneurial audience and helps them understand commercialization and fundamental things like learning the proper business vocabulary: how do you talk about science in the business sense? I learned I was interested in career opportunities beyond more traditional post-docs and gained skills and confidence to access them.”
Back on January 18, Dr. Ferguson and Shivani Ludwig, PhD visited their alma mater at the University of Washington to judge 1-minute innovation pitches and posters by students at the Science and Technology Showcase, presented by SEBA. They were psyched to share their expertise as judges. Not long ago they were on the other side of the judges’ table.
“The University of Washington UW helped me transition from the very academic and tech-focused classes and experiences of my program to something more appropriate for business,” said Invention Development Manager, Dr. Ludwig, who obtained her PhD in bioengineering and, like Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Roberts, completed the Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate at the Foster School of Business.
Even as an opening act to the Business Plan Competition, SEBA’s STS offers prizes of $100 – $1,000 and a valuable networking opportunity between science and business students, and Seattle business leaders in a trade show atmosphere. Winners of the 2018 STS Competition are listed here. The $1,000 grand prize was awarded to a cardiac arrest monitor measuring real time blood flow fluctuation. The $500 second place prize was awarded to a workplace hearing protection technology.
“The ideas in the pitches were really interesting,” said Dr. Ludwig. “They ranged from straightforward solutions for carpooling or maintaining rental homes, to highly technical and risky ideas in biotech. Most students were able to explain their idea or technology well, but were still learning how to market their idea, who their target audience would be, and how they would scale up or close out. That said, this event served as a great way for students to get feedback on their overall idea, and then learn what investors would look for, and what a business plan would require… It’s experiences like STS that really prepare students for real-world invention and entrepreneurship.”
Undergraduate and graduate students are judged at STS on their pitch. The underpinning technology is expected to be promising, but its application needn’t necessarily be proven.
“With only one minute for their pitch, the students conveyed their idea very well,” said Dr. Ludwig. “One of the more memorable pitches involved the student wearing his product on stage, a headband that also captured videos or photos. This was very early stage, and for many, it was their first time doing this kind of activity. So, it was especially remarkable to see so much enthusiasm in these pitches.”
The pitch’s commercial aspect receives the most scrutiny: Have they done their research? Do they know the market? Are they aware of competing technologies? Is their idea new and different; does it offer a competitive advantage? Sizing and scale are also important. Not every solution will fix the world; claiming as much invites skepticism.
Dr. Ferguson at Xinova, joked that he stifled the impulse to go full Shark Tank on the students.
“I don’t want people to cry: that’s usually when I lay off.” He continued:
“Actually, I naturally tend towards being too enthusiastic about each idea, but it is important the students hear constructive feedback along with encouragement. A good pitch is about telling the story of why the idea is innovative and why we should care, more than what it is, and details about how it works. It’s easy for VCs and investors, who see a million things, to lose track of the technical details. But they can remember the story.”
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