What’s the Cleantech forecast for 2014?

The Washington Clean Technology Alliance’s annual Crystal Ball Forecast breakfast is always an educational way to kick off a new year. Merrill Lunch Financial Advisor David Beck opened with predictions of a volatile bull market that may extend 10-15 years and three megatrends. The first would be in U.S. innovation leading to energy independence (yes, with fracking). Second will be great market shifts in terms of labor and capital flow with a big rotation from bonds to stocks and quantitative easing (which I had to look up).Expect a mild correction in the first half of 2014. The third trend will be geopolitical including an aging global population and the emergence of a larger global middle class that will want more meat (and everything else).  There likely will be 9.1 billion people on earth by 2050. Beck also mentioned impact investors, a group that didn’t exist 10 years ago, noting that more than half of investors under age 44 invest this way. (There was an interesting article last month on lessons impact investors can learn from microfinancing, if you’re interested.) He was bullish on 2014. 

Next up was Bank of America Merrill Lynch Analyst Krish Sankar focusing primarily on solar whose time, if I may paragraph enormously, is coming, particularly for rooftop solar. One of Sankar’s charts summed up the argument for solar: if you’re paying more than 15 cents per kilowatt hour, go solar. The low, low prices of natural gas will continue to challenge solar adoption, but Sankar believes that will only slow things down, not change the trajectory. I like that. He sees the U.S., Japan and China driving solar adoption, representing a move away from Europe which has led the charge up to this point.

The forecast continued with a panel talking about financing cleantech development here in Washington State starting with Richard Locke from the Wash. State Dept. of Commerce, Todd Myers from the Wash. Policy Center and Brad Boswell, a lobbyist with a keen view into what Olympia may really be capable of doing this year. Spoiler alert: the answer to the last question (for the impatient among us like me!) is very little of significance. The big focus here for me was Todd Myers who outlining the differences in favored climate policies between Democrats and Republicans in Olympia and then quipped “Politicians have a very limited view of the future” before outlining his arguments for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Myers’ blogged about Climate Policy in Washington Jan. 8th This is a push I’m happy to get behind aggressively. Snoqualmie Falls 011

Wrapping up the event, WCTA  CEO Tom Ranken mentioned Sunday’s 60 Minutes The Cleantech Crash segment. I hadn’t seen it, so I pulled it up online when I got back to the office. The piece I respected more, however, was written by Katie Fehrenbacher on Gigaom: What 60 Minutes got right and wrong in its story on the “cleantech crash.” 

What I do know is that the status quo isn’t an option. Unless your definition of relaxation is sitting in a beach chair on a hill watching the oceans rise and warm. So what’s the alternative? Every new industry ever created is littered with the bodies of dead companies and lost investments. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to vet the winners. I’m with Vinod Khosla whose quote ended the 60 Minutes segment:

In fact you need dreamers to stretch. I probably have failed more times in my life than almost anybody I know. But that’s because I’ve tried more things. And I’m not afraid to fail because the consequences of avoiding failure are doing nothing.

Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Environmental Innovation?

In preparation for our first Environmental Innovation Practicum class at the University of Washington tomorrow, I did a little unscientific polling among the regional cleantech community to ask about their environmental priorities, where they feel we most need environmental innovation and where they see the greatest entrepreneurial potential. I also asked for ideas they’d like to see student teams tackle as part of the class — or elsewhere. The results are fun. Of particular interest to me were the intersection of environmental priorities and entrepreneurial potential. In some areas, ranked priority and perceived opportunity line up nicely. In others, not so much.

EIP13Survey

I’ve got a terrific panel talking about this tomorrow afternoon. Meanwhile, I just wanted to share.

 

5 Tips for Any Business Pitch

There is some absolutely amazing cleantech innovation happening in the Pacific Northwest! I know because last Thursday, I was in Portland and then on Friday in Seattle helping the regional teams competing in the CleantechOpen improve their pitches. Some of the teams were innovating in areas I’ve come to expect from entrepreneurs in our region. Others took me completely by surprise. It was a delight to meet all of them.

I found myself giving many of the teams similar advice to strengthen their pitches, so I thought I’d share the same tips here:

Know your audience.  This is imperative. Find out who’ll be in the audience, what they’re likely to know about your subject and what matters to them.

Grab my attention immediately! You can do this with a bold description of what you’re doing or with a powerful outline of the customer’s pain. Don’t lose that opportunity to make your first impression count.

Convince me there’s a problem and it’s big enough to matter.  Only one team out of the 11 I saw had no need to strengthen their story here. In that case, the need is so glaring obvious it wasn’t worth wasting pitch time addressing. If there’s a problem but it’s not big, you’re talking about a lifestyle business, which is fine if that’s what you want. Otherwise, this is your chance to prove this work is important.

Convince me you have a viable, working solution. I want to understand exactly what you’ve built/are building, precisely how it addresses that market need you just uncovered in talking about the problem AND that you are the team to do this. Recognizing you have competitors and acknowledging their strengths is part of this argument as well.

Convince me you know who’ll pay for your solution. It’s absolutely fine to have a number of potential target customer segments you genuinely believe will want what you’re creating it. But show me which one has the greatest initial potential because they really want this and are willing to pay good money for it.

This also marked my first trip by train to Portland, a ride between two renovated historic train stations. I had to be a tourist and snap this picture of Seattle’s gloriously bright King St. Station. Fun. IMG_1784Thanks for saving these landmarks, Seattle and Portland!

High 5 Pie and Entrepreneurial Marketing Students

Summer School on the ClarityBlog: 8th Class

Capitol Hill’s High 5 Pie was only about 18 months old as a business when Founder Dani Cone agreed to be a marketing plan project company for my Entrepreneurial Marketing class at UW Spring quarter 2012.  To help future class teams, Dani, who also founded Seattle’s Fuel Coffee shops, generously visited with this past year’s classes to tell her story and share her experience as the entrepreneur for whom the student teams were developing plans. I recently stopped into High 5 Pie for a lovely rich mocha and an apple cutie pie (two personal weaknesses) and to get Dani’s retrospective views of her experience with the class project.

Q: Were you able to use any of the student teams’ ideas, Dani?

Dani: Yes! Several teams suggested specific additions to our signage and seating. And many offered ideas on our social media, particularly how we work with Yelp. We implemented quite a number of their ideas within six months of the project and even more before the busy holiday season.

Q: Which ideas did you implement?

Dani: (After interviewing and observing customers) several teams had suggested adding more small tables and chairs. The Eastern window along 12th Ave. is now lined with tables for 2 and they’re always the first seats taken. High5PieSeating

A number of the teams suggested more signage, especially visible from E. Madison St. Our twist on that was to paint window banners just above table height with messages like “coffee and pie” and “fresh baked goods.” We get a lot of customers commenting on those banners! IMG_1713

We’ve stepped up all our social media activities as the teams suggested and in particular changed how we respond on Yelp. Before working with the class, I’d only responded privately if someone posted a comment on Yelp. But after talking with the students, I started to also post a public response to everyone knew I was listening, not just the individual who’d posted a comment.

Q: What did you do when you received all those student plans?

Dani: I read them! All of them, all the way through. I ran the ideas past my managers at our weekly meeting and we discussed which ideas we felt we could use and when. There were other ideas, besides the ones we’ve already implemented, that we liked, but the timing wasn’t right. We still revisit them to talk about when we might use more of the teams’ ideas, particularly ideas that support building our wholesale business, which is a big opportunity for us. We’ve built that business solely on word of mouth, so we were very interested in the students’ ideas for actively marketing for that part of our business.

Q: What would you recommend to other companies who work with the student teams?

Dani: Be open to all ideas. It could be easy to hand the students your ideas hoping they’ll just flesh them out for you and give you something you could run with. And that’s OK, but don’t be attached to any outcome or try to steer them. Because they might give you great ideas you would never have thought of yourself.

Q: The big question always: would you do it again if you had it to do over?

Dani: I’d definitely do it again! It was very informative, refreshing, and helpful to hear about our current and potential marketing efforts from a completely different perspective. I wish I could have spent more time with the students. Working with them and having those small group discussions were great. I loved it.

Creative Research Techniques

Summer School on the ClarityBlog: 3rd Class

Today’s class deals with how to gather intelligence on competitors, the market and prospective customers when Harris Polls and Forrester Research are way beyond your research.

The most important lesson here, though, is that you can’t skip doing your homework. What you don’t know can hurt you.  In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore calls these “high-risk, low-data” decisions. His advice is this: “accept lack of data as a condition of the process. … understanding that informed intuition, rather than analytical reasoning, is the most trustworthy decision-making tool.”

Informed intuition, I reiterate, is the goal. So how do you get it?

Start with what you need to know. In The Marketing Playbook, Rich Tong and John Zagula of Ignition Partners, wrote that you needed to know the state of things in four categories, suggested where to look for each and what bets to make accordingly. What do you need to know the state of?

  • Your Industry – what are the economics and politics involved?
  • Your Customer – what and how do they buy? (I’d emphatically add: what do they want or need??)
  • Your Competition – how do they make money? (Again, I’d add: what are their strengths and weaknesses and how to they fill the customers’ wants or needs?)
  • Yourself! – this is the trickiest one! How do you operate?

Their figure 15-3, replicated at right, provides a summary.Slide1

I suggest three basic steps to gather your needed intelligence?

  1. Listen online. There is so much information sitting on the Internet if you know where to look.
  2. Accumulate reliable data. Primary research results that hold up to extrapolation are probably beyond your reach. That makes finding relevant, affordable third-party data that is all that more valuable.
  3. Talk to real customers. Because there’s nothing like unfiltered feedback, even if you can’t get that much of it.

Listen online.

Seriously, just start searching with key words you think your prospects might use to find solutions to whatever problem you’re solving. Google it. Bing it. Whatever, but seriously start there. It gives you a sense of what’s out there. You’ll find out which of your competitors rank highest for each term. You’ll find media and blog posts on the subject. You’ll uncover avenues for gathering more information than you’d have thought of on your own.

Then dig in to the tools. You can try free versions of a whole bunch of stuff. What’s better for a cash-strapped entrepreneur? Tools like Wordtracker helps you find top key words.

Now that you have those key words, try TwitterSearch and GoogleTrends to see what’s current.

Use the name of your top competitor and type this into your browser: link.www.(competitor’s name).com and you’ll be able to see how many other sites link to that website.

While you’re mining social media, you might like to sidetrack and read Dirk Singer’s 20 Free Tools To Evaluate Social Media post on his Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics blog. I just love that name.

Check blogs! You can look specifically for blogs on your major search engines and do pretty well. There are also blog-specific search engines like Technorati and IceRocket, which also lets you search Twitter and Facebook. Blog search not only helps you learn about customer concerns and competitors, it helps you discover the top bloggers in your space. You’re going to need that information later.

On that subject, I hope you’re capturing all the intel you’re gathering a you go, including the links to where you found it. You’re going to need all that. And you’re going to be so sad if you have go searching for it all over again later because you didn’t keep good records of where you got your data!

Accumulate reliable data.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project, one of seven projects from the Pew Research Center produces all kinds of free reports on how Americans use the Internet and technology. Last Tuesday’s report was on Americans’ reading habits over time. I choose not to look too close for fear I’d discover the college age group wasn’t reading.

Need demographic information? Try the U.S. Government! The Bureau of Labor Statistics has all kinds of data and tools about working folks. The Census Bureau, of course, gathers tons of data every 10 years. Type your zip code into the Community Fact Finder just for fun and see what you learn.

Having trouble navigating all that government data, friend Steve Clough recommends economy.com/freelunch to help sort it all out.  I could go on and on, but there are two other steps to talk about.

At this point I have to share a story from the 2009 book Rethinking Marketing by Schindehutte, Morris and Pitt. They feature a local car repair shop. The owner had done the homework to know radio advertising was going to be a good buy for them to attract more new customers. But where to advertise? The best prospects usually have a lot in common with existing customers. Where could they find them? Then the team had a brilliant idea: turn the radios on!

Cars came in to the shop at all times every day. The vast majority of us use our car radios and most program the buttons. The idea was elegantly simple:

The customer drops off the car. The car has to be parked out of the way by a staff member. Hand that guy or gal a form on a clipboard and a pen and get them to record these three things:

  1. The time
  2. The station playing
  3. The station programmed in to every button available

Then came the pivotal part. Put the radio back on the station where the customer left it!

That’s it. For the price of a few printed forms and clipboards, a tiny bit of training for all staff and a small investment of time, the shop knew exactly where and when to buy radio ads. Genius! Can you find a way to do something similar for your business?

Talk to real customers.

T.A. McCann tells a great story of how he built his Gist product, which he later sold to RIM, buying beers weekly for small groups who talked to him about the problem he was working to solve, how they’d use a tool like Gist and then – as it iterated on development – what they liked and didn’t like about what he’d designed so far. Gist combined all your contacts and all their content allowing a salesperson, for example, to very quickly get current on everything happening in a prospect’s or customer’s online world before picking up the phone or walking through their door. Slick! Buying a half dozen or so beers every week is pretty cheap market research. More important, it’s really direct research, allowing you to get unfiltered views darn near real time. Brilliant! (T.A. is a fascinating guy who blew my students away one quarter as the kickoff speaker. You can read how he took Gist from launch to acquisition in just two years in this 2011 Business Insider story.

Again pulling from Rethinking Marketing, we have Enterprise Rental Car who’s slogan is what, class? Yes! “We’ll pick you up.” All these drivers picking up all these customers and having to make small talk to avoid that uncomfortable silence in the car. So what did Enterprise do? Train their drivers to weave interview questions in to the conversation and gather intel from every.single.customer. Everywhere! Just think of all the valuable feedback and insights their crews hear every day. Can you do that?

Tong & Zagula recommend taking it S.O.P. (standard operating procedure, for the acronym adverse) to talk to small groups of customers and to use customer input to develop a theory around all you’re learning everywhere. They write about creating a conceptual model of your target customer, an “amalgam embodied in an imaginary person or character who represents your target customer’s characteristics and attitudes.” The rest of us call those characterizations. And I usually talk about those after break. Maybe next week when we talk about what to do with all this stuff you’ve learned.

Until then, class is dismissed.  Happy 4th!

Building a Brand New Brand?

Summer School on the ClarityBlog: 2nd Class (part 1)

Radical marketers, as defined by Hill and Rifkin in the book by that name, share 3 traits:

  1. They’re small. They have a strong, visceral tie with a specific target audience.
  2. They’re focused — on growth and expansion rather than profit-taking.
  3. They’re innovative because they’re forced to be! They have to make do with budgets far smaller than their competitors.

Sound familiar, entrepreneurs?

I have had my students read three chapters of Radical Marketing throughout the quarter for different lessons. It’s a great book. And Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams Boston Lager and now a bunch of other “craft” brews, is a great kick-off case study because it’s relatable despite the fact the startup was decades ago, it’s easy to see how Jim Koch would’ve used social media had it been invented when he created Boston Beer Co., the company was fantastically scrappy and innovative in its marketing and, hello, college students … talking about the business of beer. It never hurts to kick off a quarter with students thinking this’ll be fun before they find out it’s kinda hard, too.

Since I can’t assign you reading ever, let me highlight some of the key points of the story: Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 3.39.01 PM

Koch, a 6th generation brewer whose ancestors had been pushed out of the brewing business like pretty much all craft brewers by consolidation and the rise of three mega-competitors — Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller Brewing Co. —  had a great, high-paying job at Boston Consulting Group when he witnessed the emergence of a strong craft brew trend building on the West Coast, spurred in part by a 1982 law allowing the creation of “microbrews.” Koch, certainly a if not the pioneer of today’s craft brew industry, was a member of what would become his target market: he wanted a more flavorful and interesting beer than the big three were brewing. He wanted a craft brew.

Digging through the attic, he found a box containing generations of recipes. One his grandfather had brewed in the 1960s using special German hops caught his eye. He brewed batches in his kitchen, steaming the wallpaper off the walls in the process. He loved it. Samuel Adams Boston Lager was born.

It would be a long time before the Lean Startup Model would be born, but that’s essentially what Koch did. He filled a brief case with bottles of his brew and ice packs and headed for a neighborhood bar to chat up the manager and get him to taste the beer. He walked out with an order for 25 cases. What else can we learn from Koch?

  • He printed up mock labels and tested the names with anyone who’d listen. After more than 1,000 conversations, Samuel Adams Boston Lager was the clear winner.
  • He positioned Sam Adams straight at drinkers of imported brew. Obviously unhappy with domestic choices and already paying a premium to not drink “yellow beer,” as Hill & Rifkin call it, they were perfect targets for a blatantly U.S. brew with “deep, rich flavor.”
  • Following the advice of a top Boston publicist he hired for a tiny budget and a little slice of the company, Koch did his own press relations and became a media darling, catapulting Sam Adams into a brand star.
  • Six weeks after starting the company, he went to the first Great American Beer Festival in Denver and won the “people’s choice” award for “best beer.” Koch and his PR partner called every outlet in Boston from airport pay phones to spread the word. The award went on the labels, table tents, bar menu cards … you name it.
  • He rented space in existing breweries rather than building his own. Outsourcing brewing was heresy in craft brewing, but such smart capital management!

I could go on, but if I did why would you read the book? Maybe you’ll review Radical Marketing on Slideshare. Or at least get the History of Samuel Adams on the website. Besides, you know what? This might not be too much content for a single class, but it’s way too much for a blog post. Let’s break for today and do a special class session tomorrow to talk about how you can build a brand the way Jim Koch did.

What Makes Entrepreneurial Marketing Different?

Summer School on the Clarity Blog:  1st Class

Last week I committed to discussing entrepreneurial marketing as I’ve taught the undergraduate course at UW for a good number of years now as a way to share and pay my respects to a course I’m drastically overhauling for next year. Since I’ve been struggling to get back in the blogging saddle, I’ve terrified myself with this commitment. That’s pretty much the way I felt on my first day of school in Jan. ’07, too. So … School starts today!

“Doing” marketing for an entrepreneurship is definitely different than doing it for an established company. Why?

Resource constraints, certainly. Financial resources. Human resources. Time. They’re all in way too short of supply.

But there’s something else: high stakes.

Did Coca-Cola fold with New Coke? Of course not! But there’s rarely a restart button for a young company. Blow that first product or its launch and there may not be the resources to try again, not with this company and this set of investors (which may just be the founder) any way. I like to quote from The Marketing Playbook by Rich Tong and John Zagula who wrote:

The companies we worked with boasted fewer resources, had less-tested products than their rivals and often faced competitors much larger than themselves. Further, they were under the gun, knowing that one significant misstep and they could easily go under.

So as a marketer, how do you get around that?

The short answer is creativity. Not the creativity we think of with big ad campaigns we all see and that no entrepreneur can afford. No, the type of creativity that always finds another way. A cheaper way. A faster way.

That’s essentially what the entrepreneurial marketing class I teach at UW focuses on every quarter. We’re still using constructs such as the 4 Ps of Marketing and working through the Marketing Funnel, which helps draw prospective customers from awareness to familiarity, familiarity to consideration, consideration to intent, intent to conversion, and — recognizing the powerful role word-of-mouth has always played but plays even more significantly in our social networking era — conversion to loyalty and advocacy, which create an enormously influential tribe to help increase awareness. And so it goes. Blake Cahill, now with Royal Phillips but then with Banyan Branch, used this graphic in his slide deck when he came to talk to the class one quarter. MKTGFunnel

I can’t make a reading assignment for the first class, so I use it to set expectations. I set the stage, talk about the assignments, how the course is laid out. And then I turn the podium over to an entrepreneur to tell his or her story of creating and launching their company. So many fantastic entrepreneurs have given their time to come to UW and tell their stories to my class – T.A. McCann, Gist (then with R.I.M.); Dan Price, Gravity Payments; Sharelle Klaus, DRY Soda; Jane Park, Julip, Kushal Chakrabarti, Vittana … an amazing and by now pretty long list of smart, funny, gracious – and successful – entrepreneurs. You can look them up through the links. There’s nothing like a good war story to get the students’ attention.

This past quarter, Nick Huzar, CEO of OfferUp shared his tale and unintentionally queued up half of the course topics! I could’ve hugged him but we’d just met. Nick’s business started with a question: why can’t selling stuff be as easy as taking a picture? So he set out to build a site that did exactly that. Why did I want to hug him? A few of his points:

  1. “I did a ton of homework.” Have I mentioned that a significant part of this class involves team development of marketing plan papers for real local entrepreneurs? I find getting the students to dig enough to have a decent understanding of the target customer and competitive landscape to be challenging some times. Nick proved real entrepreneurs don’t skip this. Knew exactly what the customer experience would be on every alternative site and the physical alternatives as well. He rattled off statistics proving the need and potential for the business right and left.
  2. “I’m not the target market.” A lot of entrepreneurs develop businesses around problems they’ve faced themselves and so actually do represent the target market. But many don’t and those working in marketing for more mature companies almost never do. Beware the focus group of one, I warn students and occasionally myself. “I needed to stop developing for me, shut up and listen to the women who were my target market.”
  3. “Don’t try to please everybody right away. That never works.” You build something you think is amazing and you think everyone should want it, right? Wrong. “Facebook started for college students. Amazon started with books,” Nick said. “If you can build a beta product of interest to a small group, you can build from there.”
  4. Wear tee-shirts!” I wrote about Nick on April 4th, right after he visited the class.

That’s it for today. Next week we’ll discuss ways to do that research Nick was talking about. On Thursday, I’ll address a key challenge for new companies: how do you build a brand from scratch. We’ll also take a look at Boston Beer Company’s launch as discussed by Sam Hill and Glenn Rifkin in the book Radical Marketing. Why? Because it’s fun. And it’s good. See you then.

A Summer School Blog Series

I keep getting asked if I’m teaching summer school to which I emphatically answer, no! Summer in Seattle is glorious. I’m not spending it in Paccar or Dempsey Halls at UW despite how much I enjoy teaching there. Just look how pretty the Quad is in spring. UWQuadBut then I thought, hey! Why not do it virtually, so to speak, through my Clarity Blog? This idea appealed to me for two reasons.

First, I’m completely revamping the course for next school year and beyond. Some of the material we discuss in class is more than perennial; it’s evergreen. But that doesn’t mean the core lectures attached to it have to be. So I’ll write about them and then retire them for good.

Second, readers might have noticed that I all but abandoned my blog last year. The reason was my husband’s cancer diagnosis, which trumped all other things on the planet as a priority. He’s doing great and it’s time to get back in the writing saddle.  I am, however, finding it extraordinarily difficult to restart. But getting ready for classes is easy.

So I’m announcing a virtual Entrepreneurial Marketing summer school class on the Clarity Blog. “Classes” will take place every Tuesday and Thursday beginning June 25th and ending Aug. 22nd. I know it should be a video blog, but everyone who knows me also knows how I tend to run from video cameras. You’ll just have read the posts instead of watch them. Hope you’ll join me for class.

The Face of Environmental Innovation

Volha was practically shaking, she was so excited to tell me about the undergraduate Capstone project she and her fellow UW chemical engineers had taken to the final round of the Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) at Seattle Center yesterday. When her team, PolyDrop, won the $10,000 grand prize I could recognize her voice among the happy screams from the back of the room. PolyDropTeam

PolyDrop manufactures additives that makes regular coatings like paint conductive, opening up, as the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship described when announcing the winners, “a world of opportunity for carbon fiber composites in transportation industries.” A funny thing happens on the way to using light-weight carbon fiber materials for cars and plane to reduce fuel consumption and decrease carbon dioxide emissions: those carbon fiber composites accumulate a static charge that will interfere with a vehicle’s sensitive electronics. PolyDrop can fix that.

I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting any members of the PolyDrop team before the EIC, but I knew nearly half of the second place team from last Fall’s Environmental Innovation Practicum, which I teach at UW. That team, Pure Blue Technologies, is developing a safer, smaller, more cost-effective water disinfection technology for treating the average of seven barrels of water that comes from extracting one barrel of oil. Called “produced water,” it has to be disinfected to meet EPA regulations, even if it is just going to be disposed. In the U.S. alone, we’re talking about 353 billion gallons of highly contaminated produced water.

I stopped to congratulate another team from this year’s class, Upcycled, developer of a handy little bio-briquette maker initially targeting markets in India, and one from last year, EcoMembrane, developing a better technology EcoMembrane is developing a new technology for preventing scaling and fouling of desalination and wastewater treatment membranes using ultrasound. Founder Jaffer Alali told me getting Pacific Northwesterners to grasp the need for desalination is a bit trickier than it was in Jordan where he was a teaching assistant recently. Yet desalination is news here in the U.S. too. We talked about San Diego’s recent announcement for a big plant. I was so proud of him and his tenacity in continuing to develop his technology and gain industry support for that work. Both these teams won $2,500 Honorable Mention prizes along with Sunscroll from Western Washington for its solar-charged LED light and USB charging station. You can read more about all of the teams at UW’s Foster Unplugged Blog: $22,500 Awarded to Environmental/Cleantech Innovators. Seattle’s KING5 TV also covered the competition on its Evening Magazine program, which is wonderful!

As I made a last round before heading home, I talked with another student from this Fall’s Practicum, a brilliant electrical engineering student who has come so very far, far since Dec. in identifying a real potential market and articulating a viable value proposition for that sector. After working so hard and pitching his heart out all afternoon, he struggled to contain his disappointment to be walking away without a prize. I resisted the enormous temptation to give him a consoling hug. But the team intends to keep developing their technology and are entering the UW Business Plan Competition, one with an even bigger purse than the EIC offers.

These are the faces of environmental innovation in this region — young, passionate, committed and (most importantly in my mind) hopeful. They see possibilities for making a difference all around them. What’s so cool to me is being able to see so many possibilities in them. I can’t wait to see where they take it from here!

 

 

Wear T-Shirts

One in four Americans with a 2-car garage can’t park their car in that garage.

The average American has $7,000 worth of unused stuff in their homes.

Wow! Those are some of the numbers Nick Huzar, CEO and Founder of OfferUp, shared with my Entrepreneurial Marketing undergrads at the University of Washington TuesIMG_1648. They set the stage to explain the big problem OfferUp is set to solve: how to make selling all that stuff we have and don’t need or want as easy as taking a smartphone picture.

Every quarter, I ask an entrepreneur to come to the first day of class and tell their story. For me, the purpose is three-fold: 1) entrepreneurship majors get a great opportunity to hear from and question somebody doing exactly what they want to do; 2) marketing majors get their brains in the “few resources” space of entrepreneurs really fast; and 3) it makes good use of a class day for which the students have done no reading or preparation!

Nick was a fantastic first day speaker. He couldn’t have done a better job of setting up the course material if he’d been working from a script instead of just sharing what he wanted to share with the packed classroom. For instance, on selecting the target market and having a single focus early on:

“I’m not the target market. I needed to stop developing for me and just shut up and listen to moms.” Why moms? They buy and sell a lot of stuff. Kids grow fast. They’re the highest adopters of smartphones. They weren’t at all happy with available options. They love OfferUp. Nick said half of his downloads are organic. Word of mouth at its finest.

“Don’t try to please everyone right away. That never works.”

And then there were the references to guerrilla techniques, like t-shirts. Pointing to the shirt he was wearing, with OfferUp’s logo and tagline, Nick said: “I wear t-shirts to every networking event I attend. I have one that says ‘Developers wanted’ in three languages. It helped me find one of the guys who’s helping build the company. They cost like $25.” You can’t beat that for cost-effective marketing.

 

 
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