The New American City

by Alyssa Patrick13. June 2014 10:55

WSU's Office of Commercialization was featured in the CityAge research room. 

Washington State University joined over 150 elected, business, civic, and university leaders from around the country at “The New American City” – an event hosted by CityAge on June 10-11 in Seattle.

CityAge is an international media and conference company that looks at the business of city building in the so-called  “urban century.” Founded by Marc Andrew and Miro Cernetig of Canada, the company is encouraging major North American cities to collaborate in building “our 21st-Century’s urban future.” CityAge is a forum that encourages dialogue and information sharing by bringing together thought leaders who can learn from each other about best practices and new ways to develop and improve cities and the quality of life for inhabitants and visitors.

“The New American City” event particularly focuses how to best develop American cities, which are now home to 80% of the U.S. population.

Managing growing populations and strained resources requires expertise beyond city planning. Seattle’s event included government officials from King County, Tacoma, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Canada, associations from the state’s core economic areas, and professionals in design, construction, investment, technology and data. Even if you were not in the room listening to a panel on future-proofing cities or the built environment of 2050, there was a constant buzz during the event as thought leaders connected, swapped ideas and made plans for partnerships and collaboration.

The one and a half day event included presentations and panels on eight major areas of future city development. More than half of those panels featured a representative from another big influencer: universities.

The very first panel discussion about cities needing to stay on the cutting edge prominently featured the importance of partnerships between universities and companies to keep advancing technologies and encouraging entrepreneurship. WSU President Elson S. Floyd was the keynote luncheon speaker whom eloquently shared WSU’s community-first approach to academics and research, inter-university collaboration and the role of universities in drawing talent and companies to cities.

WSU also featured a research room with posters and interactive presentations about the new technology already in the works for the future of American cities.

"There is no more essential ingredient to the health and vitality of The New American City than a great university," Marc Andrew said. "They are the essential source of creativity, talent and ideas that will fuel our 21st Century economy. WSU provided ample proof of this fact throughout the Seattle event."

Below are a few highlights from the WSU academic and research programs that actively engaged with attendees at CityAge, and how the programs link to the big concepts discussed at the main event.

The R&D City What are the models and partnerships that leverage both university and the private sectors’ investments in R&D to drive entrepreneurship and attract the essential human & financial capital to build business?

WSU’s Office of Commercializationhad several examples of these kinds of critical partnerships between academic research and business opportunities on display in the research room. The office has helped launch businesses and license technologies that are revolutionizing food safety and preservation, nutrition, agriculture, animal health, and lithium battery safety. Newly formed, the WSU Office of Commercialization helps develop partnerships between researchers, investors, and companies that can use their technologies to better our future.


Re-inventing cities and staying on the cutting edge 

Hydrogen fueling stations
Several panels during the day brought up transportation of the future – what will it look like? How can we make it more environmentally and cost friendly as cities become more congested?

Graduate students Ian Richardson and Jake Fisher answered that question with their team’s international award-winning hydrogen fueling station design.

While some people do own hydrogen-powered cars currently, the lack of fueling stations and cost of installing fueling stations pose a burden to their wide-spread adoption. Given that water is the only waste product of hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars, getting more of them on the road could help reduce carbon emissions. How do we bridge the gap between economics and environmental protection? 

The WSU student’s design lowered building costs by 75% (from about $2M to $500,000) and determined that the price of filling a hydrogen fuel tank is comparable to a gasoline tank.  The design won first place at an international hydrogen competition in May.This could be a gateway to direct foreign investment to our state and cities as several oversees auto manufacturers are well underway producing and distributing these alternative vehicles.

Data in the 21st Century

Session 6 of the CityAge event discussed how “Cloud Cities” will “use new platforms and technologies to improve policing, transportation, citizen-centered government and services.”  

WSU researchers are finding ways to develop many of those technologies, including one that just so happens to focus on policing.

The technology of sleep - Helping police monitor their alertness

Studies show that humans are not great at knowing just how tired they are. This is true for someone who works 9-5, but imagine the impact that has on a police officer who may work 16 hour shifts at a time. Police officers'  jobs depend on driving and being able to operate in high stress, high emotion situations that can be negatively affected by lack of sleep.

Working with colleagues from industry, Bryan Vila has developed a new smartphone app called BeSharp that monitors an officer’s level of fatigue and provides warnings as he or she gets closer to critical levels of fatigue. The technology measures data from a wristwatch-size device that the officers wear. Vila is working on commercializing this invention that will improve police safety, health and performance.

Lois James of WSU-Spokane also showcased her high-fidelity, multiple-branching video scenarios designed for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training and evaluation geared toward enhancing police safety in crisis situations.

Augmented reality – an interactive future
On the second day of CityAge, WSU Vancouver students and faculty demonstrated just how interactive our future will be. One of the projects on display involved augmented reality, state-of-the art technology that essentially makes physical objects and text clickable. One student engaged CityAge attendees by moving his iPad in front of a poster that triggered 3-D digital robots.

This kind of technology has countless applications, from changing how students learn in the classroom to enabling a car to tell you about its safety ratings and engine performance. 

Learn more about WSU Vancouver’s Creative Median & Digital Culture program here.


The WSU Research Room also included great work from WSU Puyallup about water management and solutions, the Institute for Sustainable Design about Imagine Tomorrow and energy literacy, and the Energy Systems Innovation Center about providing clean, reliable energy. 


Business Development | Entrepreneurship | Innovation | Partnerships | Washington State

WSUi3 Through the Eyes of an Observer

by Kelsey Knutson10. October 2013 13:57

It’s the evening of September 26th, 2013.  I open the door to the Grand Hyatt in Downtown Seattle, ride up the escalator, walk around the corner, and find a table filled with name tags. 

My destination? WSUi3, a research expo showing and telling of WSU’s innovations.  There is no music, but rather the soft hum of conversation filling the room just beyond the check in table.  Clipping my nametag to my shirt, I enter the grand room to the right of the booth. 

Scanning the room I see people congregating around presenters, food, wine, and tables.  The first booth displays shiny red apples and small Dixie cups filled with dirt and seeds.  Curious, I lean in to hear what Dr. Kate Evans has to say.

*to find out more about each researcher, click on their picture*


Kate Evans, PhD

Apple Breeding & Genomics

I discover that Dr. Evans breeds new and improved apples.  She has us try various types, noting differences in taste, color, and texture.  Finally, we try her apple, with genetic markers that were selected with the growing conditions of central Washington in mind. 

I learn that the WSU apple breeding program is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, utilizing the newest tools and technologies to improve the efficiency and likelihood of producing more delicious and robust Washington apples.  From my understanding, they are making more “good” apples that taste better and last longer.


Karl Englund, PhD

Composites – Recycled Materials

Dr. Englund researches how to make new products out of previously-manufactured materials.  He shows me composite materials made from ski gear and recycled wood that have a wide range of application.  I also learn that research, such as this, addresses much of the fundamental science and engineering associated with materials and composites.  At the same time he also provides extension research and development for many industrial and commercial clients.

Dr. Englund is part of the Composite Materials and Engineering Center (CMEC) which caters to a variety of clients from commercial, government, and academic markets to collaborate on research projects that include the manufacture of composites and performance evaluations of all types of products.


Chen-Ching Liu, PhD

Smart Grid Technology

Dr. Liu advances the potential of smart grid technology.  I learn that smart grids facilitate efficient energy use, but raise issues concerning cyber security and information privacy vulnerability.  For example, someone could obtain energy usage of a home to figure out when the house is empty.  This is just one small example of a much bigger potential issue.  

But with Dr. Liu’s smart grid research, products and technologies provide improved cyber security measures, along with the continued development of more efficient and environmentally-friendly power networks for large systems and corporations. 

Santanu Chaudhuri, PhD


Applied Sciences Laboratory (ASL)

Dr. Chaudhuri is a member of the contract research organization Applied Sciences Laboratory (ASL), which turns knowledge and innovation into practical applications.  In talking to him, I find he is working on various projects that address important challenges related to national security, energy, advanced materials, and aerospace.  When I told him to give me a pitch in under 140 characters, I got something along the lines of “Canola oil used as hydraulic fluid in dams, how cool is that.”  Even in those few words, I see the application of knowledge and innovation into practical solutions.

Joe Harding, PhD


Leen Kawas, PhD


M3 Biotechnology


Dr. Harding and his team work to develop drugs to treat diseases many of us have been touched by.  Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Dementia, Diabetes, and Cancer are among the diseases they work to treat. 


Harding’s WSU spin-out company M3 Biotechnology Inc. has produced a number of drug candidates that target hepatocyte (liver cell) growth factor and have been shown to be effective in suppressing cancer in melanoma and breast cancer models.  This same technology has also contributed to restoring cognitive and/or motor function in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease models.


Bernie Van Wie, PhD


Desktop Learning Modules (DLMs)


As a recent grad I can attest to the difficulties of lecture-only classes mainly because I have always been a visual learner.  That is why Dr. Bernie Van Wie’s work is important.  His team has developed desktop learning modules (DLM) that are used in conjunction with existing lecture-style engineering classes.  The DLMs, in conjunction with associated interactive in-class activities, allow professors and teaching assistants to listen and observe students as they process information and interject immediately at the very points of misunderstanding.


DLM’s allow students to “see” concepts in action which has led to improved understanding and enthusiasm for topics they are learning. 


Grant Norton, PhD

Next Generation Lithium-ion Battery Technology

Dr. Norton and his group are producing next-generation batteries that are lighter, safer and more environmentally friendly, with applications in cell phone technology, computers, tablets and home electronics.  As I take pictures with my camera and tweet some things on my iphone, I quickly recognize the application of this research.


The new battery holds almost three times the amount of energy as traditional batteries.  Using lithium-ion battery technology, this battery is constructed of nanostructured tin rather than a traditional, carbon-based anode, enabling it to recharge many more times and more quickly than current batteries.


Aaron Crandall, PhD


Intelligent Home Environment


Dr. Aaron S. Crandall is a founding member of the CASAS Smart Home research group.  He is the lead engineer in developing the smart environment and collaborates with experimental psychologists on user experience and user goals for smart home technologies.  His work has had significant impact on the fields of health care, gerontechnology, and smart home technology deployment. 


One application that he explained is in the home of an elderly person.  The devices collect data to understand living patterns (when the person walks to the kitchen or the bedroom).  If a person breaks the pattern, the system is alarmed.  This allows the elderly to maintain their independence but still be monitored in case something goes wrong. 


Hakan Gurocak, PhD

Haptic Interfaces and 3D Environments

Dr. Gurocak and his team develop small, electronically-controllable brakes that can apply large resistant forces. A haptic interface, such as a force-feedback joystick, applies forces, vibrations or motion to the user’s hand as he or she handles virtual objects in a computer simulation.

Application spans the fields of scientific and medical visualization, simulation and training, and video game technology.  I learn of some examples that provide a little bit more clarity.  The gloves could be used to test designs prior to building prototypes which saves time and money. Or the same technology could be used by medical students to practice virtual surgery.

Thomas Henick-Kling, PhD


Markus Keller, PhD


Viticulture and Enology


Finally, I arrive at the wine booth to end the night.  Here Drs. Thomas Henick-Kling’s and Markus Keller’s collaborate on improving the product quality, production efficiency, and environmental and economic sustainability of the wine and grape juice industries, focused in and extending beyond the state of Washington. The specific example they bring is a wine with 75% irrigation and one with 30%.  They are using science (and their taste buds) to figure out how to decrease water usage in wine production.  Doing so helps lower production cost and conserve water. 


In looking around the room, there are many types of research represented but what they have in common is their dedication to solving real life problems that our world faces.  Their work helps us live healthier more efficient lives, and in that lays the true value of innovation.


To learn more about WSU’s innovations, please contact the Office of Commercialization. 

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Business Development | Education | Entrepreneurship | General | Innovation

WSU at WBBA's Life Science Innovation Northwest

by alexisholzer22. July 2013 10:33

Washington State University was in full effect at the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association’s annual Life Science Innovation Northwest conference, July 10 and 11. Up from just three WSU attendees last year, the WSU team this year brought spin out companies, research posters, two exhibit booths, and even had a faculty researcher in the College of Veterinary Medicine honored as a Woman to Watch in Life Sciences. Representing WSU at the conference were the Office of the Provost, Office of Research, Government Relations, Office of Commercialization, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, College of Pharmacy, Professional Science Masters, College of Veterinary Medicine, and WSU Extension. You can find all the materials and presentations on our website here.

 (L to R: Pam Kelley, Office of Research; Tatum Weed, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences; Adria Alhadeff, Corporate and Foundation Relations; Alexis Holzer, Economic Development; Travis Woodland and Heather Burke, Office of Commercialization)

(L to R: Pam Kelley, Office of Research; Tatum Weed, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences; Adria Alhadeff, Corporate and Foundation Relations; Alexis Holzer, Economic Development; Travis Woodland and Heather Burke, Office of Commercialization) 

We met with incubators and accelerators, venture capitalists, angel investors, and businesses bringing the consistent message: WSU is an active player in life science, we are open for business, and we want to partner with you. I cannot tell you the joy it gives me to see WSU’s Office of Commercialization staff networking for investment and partnership, or how exciting it is to have five Colleges collaborating on a conference presence to increase corporate and industry connections. The excitement was sustained with every person who came by the booth and said "Go Cougs!".This just did not happen even one year ago. Because of our office’s efforts to coordinate this collaboration, together, we made over 50 new connections to investors and potential partners for collaborative research, including a team from Madigan Army Medical Center (MAMC) who connected with WSU spin out M3 Biotechnology to discuss how M3 can tap into the vast patient pool at MAMC for clinical testing. 

Another highlight of the conference was the podium presentation from WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown on the growth of medical education and health sciences at WSU Spokane. With our exhibit booth right next to Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI), the conversation came up again and again that Spokane may be the next South Lake Union, poised for growth and innovation. So much so that a particular developer who declined to visit Spokane at the invitation of GSI earlier this year, has now reconsidered after hearing Chancellor Brown's presentation. That is a seriously effective message from a university, and a premier example of the vital role universities play in economic development. Although just one player in the network of necessary partners, universities are unique in that we are the providers of innovation and workforce needed by industry, and industry is starting to see WSU in a new light, especially in health sciences. 

It's not too soon to start planning for next year: mark your calendar for Life Science Innovation Northwest 2014: July 19 and 20 in Seattle!


Clockwise from top: Travis Woodland and Preeti Malik-Kale show posters on a wearable technology to detect dyskinesia and a training proceedure for veterinarians to learn and perfect laproscopic surgery, respectfully; both Governor Inslee and Mayor Mike McGinn proclaim July 10th Life Science Innovation Northwest Day; WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown gave a presentation on the growth of Spokane in the health and medical sciences.

Women to Watch award winners! Director of the Office of Commercialization, Sita Pappu (third from right) accepted the award on behalf of Dr. Katrina Mealey and her work in veterinary pharmacogenetics.


Business Development | Corporate Relations | Health Sciences | Partnerships

JCATI – not just a cool name

by alexisholzer26. June 2013 10:33

This past Monday marked the first research symposium of the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation (#JCATI – pronounced Juh-Kah-Tee) highlighting 18 university-industry research partnerships funded through this state program to the tune of $1.5 million. Attendees were a great mix of university faculty and their students (WSU, WWU, and UW), companies (ranging greatly in size), and public officials including Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, Governor’s Office of Aerospace Director Alex Pietsch (@WashAerospace), and directors of economic development councils from around the state. Dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture (CEA) Candis Claiborn gave an excellent presentation on the leaps forward her college has made helping faculty and students engage with industry for collaborative research and internships, thoroughly recognizing the role WSU plays in bolstering the aerospace industry and the impact university-industry relationships have on Washington State’s economy.

The JCATI symposium emphasized the goal of university-industry relationships by highlighting the difference between invention and innovation: invention is the creation of a new idea whereas innovation is the application of that idea, in this case, with a commercial and economic benefit for Washington. Dean Claiborn talked at length about CEA’s efforts to attract faculty that embody this idea of innovation, as well as a collaborative spirit that inspires them to work with colleagues across WSU. That recruiting focus paired with the implementation of business development officers directly in CEA we hope will increase innovation at WSU and statewide. In short: universities need industry and industry needs universities to create and implement new products and processes. 

To continue growing these outputs, universities must continue to increase our regular interactions with industry. It’s no secret that WSU Pullman’s location in Eastern Washington has been a challenge to these regular interactions, but with platforms like JCATI acutely focused on bringing Washington universities and Washington aerospace companies together, these meetings are becoming more commonplace. About 20 people from WSU were in attendance at a variety of levels from students, recent grads, their faculty advisors, administration, and development officers – a sign to me that our university is embracing industry in a way that has formally not been the norm. Here’s to hoping that JCATI can continue to support our efforts to collaborate on innovation; a new round of funded projects were supposed to be announced at the end of the day, only to be delayed until a budget deal is reached in Olympia. 

Not to end this blog on a negative note, a highlight (for me at least) was the keynote by ‘Mohawk Guy’, Bobak Ferdowsi on his experience as part of the NASA team that conceived, created, launched, and landed the Mars Curiosity (a great follow on Twitter @MarsCuriosity by the way). It’s pretty exciting knowing that a Washington educated student ‘made it to Mars’. By embracing innovation in Washington, who knows where else we will go.

Bobak Fedowsi aka Mohawk Guy at Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation symposium. (Semi-stalking photo credit: me.) 

The College of Engineering and Architecture's Alyssa Patrick provides additional insight on the college's research activities with the aerospace industry.

The College of Engineering and Architecture has been flying high for the past few weeks, literally.

Researchers had an exhibit on aviation biofuels at the Paris Airshow, the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) team had their first test flights, and it all wrapped up with The Joint Center for Aerospace Technology’s (JCATI) inaugural symposium on Monday.

The event took place in Seattle and was attended by researchers, students, industry leaders and aerospace enthusiasts from all over the state.

In 2012, Washington established JCATI to support the aerospace industry. The center encourages collaboration between universities and industry to conduct research, provide hands-on student opportunities in aerospace and to identify future research and technology needs.

College of Engineering and Architecture researchers received eight of the 18 grants JCATI awarded for the 2012-2013 year, ranging from projects in cryogenic fuels to 3D printing of space equipment.  

Dean Candis Claiborn joined University of Washington’s College of Engineering dean, Michael Bragg, and MIT professor emeritus, Earll Murman on a panel about academia’s role in the industry.

A major theme of their discussion was the shift towards an academic culture that acknowledges and rewards both students and faculty for innovation in addition to the traditional performance metrics like letter grades and number of publications. Such a culture change encourages cooperation with industry and regional partnerships that are encouraged by JCATI, while also preparing a workforce that can address aerospace challenges.

The symposium included a poster session that displayed the JCATI-funded research collaborations, from 3D printing with Aerojet Rocketdyne, to creating more efficient communication systems with The Boeing Company.

One WSU poster that attracted a crowd throughout the day was research from the Genii UAS team. Over the past year graduate and undergraduate students have worked with assistant professor Jake Leachman to research, design and fabricate a UAS that will run on a hydrogen fuel cell. 

The cost of traditional fuel and the environmental impacts associated with fuel combustion are major concerns for the aerospace industry, and liquid hydrogen is one potential solution. Liquid hydrogen is less polluting than fossil fuels since the only waste product is water, and studies have shown that planes can also run longer on the fuel.

JCATI Symposium poster session with WSU researchers (clockwise from top left): (facing camera) Christopher Chaney (left) PhD student in Mechanical Engineering and Justin Bahrami, Research Assistant in Mechanical Engineering; Deuk Heo Associate Professor School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Jake Leachman, Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering (center) discusses his Characterization Facility for Gelled Cryogenic Fuels research with the WSU Economic Development team. Photo credit Alyssa Patrick

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Business Development | Funding | Innovation | Partnerships

University-Industry Partnerships - Funding of the Future (and right now)

by alexisholzer19. June 2013 14:05

An ever increasingly important component of WSU’s Office of Economic Development is fostering lasting relationships with industry for research and workforce development. Working in step with industry can help build Washington’s next generation of educated workers and discover innovations to make our economy the most robust in the nation.

With regards to research funded by industry, WSU has done fairly well in awarded research dollars; in 2012, WSU received 193 awards totaling a little over $9 million. However, industry funding accounts for just under 4.1%[1] of the total research funding at WSU; we can and must do better, and it’s going to take a lot of work.

To provide some context from some of our peer institutions here are numbers from 2011[2]:


Federal Research
Expenditures ($millions)

Private Industry 

Washington State University $201 $5.2
Oregon State University $228 $5.5
Colorado State University $330 $14.8
Iowa State University $300 $20.9
Clemson University $76 $7.4
North Carolina State  $378 $40.8








WSU must do better because of this now household word: sequestration. In 2012, WSU researchers brought in 812 individual awards, totaling over $140 million from 19 federal agencies[3]. Think ahead five years and we can guarantee that these numbers will look different; government spending on university research will almost certainly shrink and become more focused. So where can universities make up the shortage in much needed research funding to continue the United States’ legacy of innovation? More and more universities are getting the memo: private industry.

In order for a university to truly be ‘economically engaged’ it must be in step with industry, understanding their needs, barriers, and vision for success; but these relationships do not happen as the result of one or two meetings. A considerable amount of trust and mutual understanding must be built up before universities and companies will share information or discuss a contract. So how do we go about building this trust?

With this in mind, we are launching a new feature of the Economic Development Blog highlighting our partnerships with private industry. We will first focus on organizations, which help foster these relationships such as the University Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP), Washington State’s Innovation Partnership Zones (IPZ’s), and the Network of Academic Corporate Relations Officers (NACRO). Subsequently, we look forward to reporting on progress and results of our participation with these organizations as well as industry conferences we attend and present at, and our work to help mid and small sized Washington companies develop their future workforce.

[1]Washington State University Office of Grant and Research Development (OGRD),; dollars awarded from “Business Concerns and Corporations for Profit” for state fiscal year 2012; data obtained June 17, 2013.

[2] Association of University Technology Managers database; university self-reported research expenditures for fiscal year 2011; data obtained June 18, 2013.

[3]Ibid, OGRD.

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Business Development | Funding | Innovation | Partnerships

Feature Friday: Apple-A-Day

by Kelsey Knutson7. June 2013 10:45


I hate to admit it, but my breakfast typically consists of chugging a cup of coffee on the way out the door.  And if I need to boost productivity at work, I pour another dose of caffeine.  The thing is, I’m not the only who is guilty of this.  In an effort to maximize our efficiency at work, we consume unhealthy food and beverages because it is quick, easy, and readily available.  This is the same phenomenon observed by Apple-A-Day.         

Dedicated to promoting health, the company brings fresh Washington apples weekly to their clients, benefiting employers, employees, and local businesses.  Employers are able to increase productivity and morale (visit their website to read more on this).  Providing apples to employees helps increase health but also makes employees feel valued (which is a form of motivation).  Employers are also giving back to the community, left over apples are donated to local charity and food banks.  The apples themselves are fresh, come in a variety of types, and support local business.    

These Washington apples are grown locally (in Yakima and Wenatchee).  Then Peterson Fruit (a family-owned fruit wholesaler) picks up the apples and brings them back to Mukilteo, WA.  Apple-A-Day then drives early Monday morning to pick up and deliver these fresh apples.  The point is, these local businesses are able to work together which allows for fresh and affordable products coming directly to you.  

Apple-A-Day started in 2009, when father of Danielle and Megan LaRiviere saw an opportunity.  The seed was planted while he was sitting in the lobby of a business, and saw that water and apples were made available to customers.  He then told his daughters about the idea and the rest is history.  

While attending WSU the girls work remotely; finding clients, making sales, and recruiting talent (Driver Edgar Gudino has been a part of the team since 2010).  During the summers, Danielle and Megan would continue to grow the business in their hometown of Yakima, WA. 

At WSU Danielle studied Entrepreneurship, which led to business plan writing and participation in competitions.  In 2012, her team received “Most Passionate” at the WSU competition and placement in the top 36 out of 101 teams at the UW competition.  But it didn’t stop there.  Upon graduation, Danielle teamed up with Alexia Schmidt (B.A. in Sociology from WSU) to bring Apple-A-Day to Western Washington.

Today they still serve the Yakima area but have also experienced growth.  They have over 80 accounts in the Bellevue/Kirkland area, and just launched delivery to Seattle on June 3, 2013.  They also received ‘Best New Innovative Product of 2013’ by the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce.  All in all, this is a great example of the impact small business can have and the entrepreneurial spirit that is alive at Washington State University.  Visit the Cougar Business Network to find more Coug owned businesses and Go Cougs!



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Business Development | Entrepreneurship | Feature Friday | Small Business

Feature Friday: College Hill Custom Threads

by Kelsey Knutson31. May 2013 12:21

College [noun]: company, group; specifically: an organized body of persons engaged in a common pursuit or having common interests or duties. 

Hill [noun]: a usually rounded natural elevation of land lower than a mountain.

Custom [adjective]: made or performed according to personal order.

Culture, in the business world, is used to portray the core-ness of a company.  It describes how people within the business think, feel, and act.  In the case of College Hill Custom Threads, their culture stems from a long line of leadership, philanthropy, and community.  These cornerstones were developed through their personal experiences in the greek system.  In the beginning, the team focused on designing shirts for greeks, by greeks.  They were able to relate to customers, identify their needs, and provide competitive prices.

The greek system may be comprised of multiple chapters but they come together to make a difference in their schools and across the world.  In the university setting, this pride is experienced as fans set aside their different interests to cheer on their team.  Similarly, businesses are comprised of various departments and groups who all rally around a common mission.  This is why CHCT isn’t just for greeks in college, its for everyone who is a part of something. 

College Hill Custom Threads (CHCT), has grown to accommodate a wide range of clients.  Founded in Pullman, WA (hence the use of ‘hill’ in the name), the company has gained traction with the community, university, and nation.  With this recognition, they have expanded, opening a new office in Seattle, WA.   

After talking to Owner, Tony Poston, I learned about the key factors that make this company noteworthy.  Their strong internship program provides experience and college credit opportunities for WSU students.  Sales reps across the nation are given the chance to earn some income and represent their schools.  Their full-time staff is comprised of WSU, U of I, and Boise State alumni who collectively form a robust team.

We, as Cougs, should embrace the spirit CHCT evokes (read the last Feature Friday to learn more about Cougs doing business with Cougs.)  Also, as a business community, we need to admire the innovative nature of this company.  Their ability to be proactive rather than reactive contributes to their continued success. 

Ultimately, CHCT is comprised of talented young-minds who enjoy what they do and continue to do it better.  For example, the daunting task of purchasing large orders is now all done online (thank you CHCT.)  In this case they identified a problem of inefficiency and implemented a solution.   As for future innovations, there are many ideas on the horizon for CHCT.  Follow them on twitter, facebook, their blog, to find out more.   

Welcome to Seattle College Hill Custom Threads and Go Cougs!

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Business Development | Entrepreneurship | Feature Friday | Small Business

Feature Friday: CougsFirst!

by Kelsey Knutson17. May 2013 10:25


When I was on vacation in Hawaii, I saw an older man wearing a Coug hat.  I had always heard the adage, ‘once a Coug, always a Coug,’ and figured I should test it out.  So, I waved at the guy and yelled, “Go Cougs” and guess what?  He smiled and said it back.

I’ve witnessed Cougar pride throughout my college education, but talking to a total stranger and bonding over our love for WSU made me realize that the Cougar family really is something special.  There is a sense of comradery and compassion that infects people beyond their educational years, it becomes a part of who they are for the rest of their life.

Its obvious we have no problem bonding with strangers or with the person cheering next to us at a football game.  So why can’t we do something more with this sense of pride?  That is where CougsFirst! enters the picture.

CougsFirst! is comprised of a group of passionate leaders dedicated to promoting Coug-influenced businesses to the WSU community.  Their mission is simple; when you’re thinking of buying something, buy from a Coug.  

So, the question becomes, how do you find out about these companies? CougsFirst! and the WSU Alumni Association started by introducing the Cougar Business Network.  Anyone can join by becoming a member.  After joining, the individual or business is then given access to the network, which allows users to search and post jobs and browse businesses.

Then CougsFirst! brought the online community to life through a trade show.  It was the first ever of its kind where the only commonality was a love of Washington State University.  Everything from coffee and cheese to banking and insurance was represented.  Ultimately, Cougs were able to find out more about each other’s businesses, businesses were able to build customer relationships, and I finally joined Wine By Cougars.  What’s the moral of the story? It worked.

As for the future of CougFirst!, we need your help.  I encourage you to do two things. 1. Register to the Cougar Business Network, you will be surprised what businesses and people you will find.   

2. Talk to us, share your ideas, because ultimately this group is about connecting people and helping each other out.

Join Cougar Business Network and ‘like’ CougsFirst! on Facebook to find out more.  

The Backbone

by alexisholzer15. May 2013 08:14


I know you’ve heard it: small business is the backbone of our economy and they are the job creators of America. As I traveled the backbone of Washington’s highway system last week, that phrase kept rolling around in my head. From a visit with an Auburn small business owner, to WSU Vancouver’s Business Growth MAP celebration, and finally the SBA Small Business Awards Gala, I know this statement to be true.

The first stop on my journey was Auburn to meeting with Pete Agtuca at his manufacturing facility. The remarkable thing about Pete isn’t that he’s Seattle Business Magazine’s 2013 Manufacturing Innovator of the Year (small firm), or even that he has invented low-cost and portable Powersails that could support disaster relief workers and other small businesses like his own by offsetting energy costs and providing advertising space. The thing I find most compelling about Pete is that he was late for our meeting because he was picking up supplies from Home Depot (they got his order wrong). Here’s a guy who owns multiple successful companies (no doubt 3 Phase Energy Systems will become equally if not more successful than his Laser Cutting Northwest or Pacific Air Cargo Transfer) and is still picking up orders from Home Depot. That to me is the quintessential example of a small business owner. One week you are accepting a prestigious award from Seattle Business Magazine, and the next week you are dealing with the day-to-day duties to ensure you remain successful. Hard work comes hand in glove with owning a small business. Don’t worry about Pete though; he’s poised to expand 3 Phase Energy System to a facility across from his current manufacturing facility. There’s another thing about small business: they expand where they are, continuing to support the communities where they live providing jobs right here in our region. By the way: he’s looking for interns!

From Auburn, it was off to Vancouver to participate in WSU Vancouver’s Business Growth Mentor & Analysis Program awards celebration. In a few words, this program pairs teams of business students in a capstone class with a mentor to provide recommendation reports to small business owners in the greater Portland/Vancouver area, and has been steadily growing over the last three years. These student and mentor teams identify barriers to business growth, do market research, and provide recommendations through a professional presentation. Ensuring actionable reports and sustainability, mentors remain in contact with the business to ensure that they are able to successfully implement the recommendations. Or in one case, the business owner hires the student team outright! It was clear that this program is working: students are getting professional experience working directly with small business, mentors are able to give back to their community, and the small businesses are able to overcome their business growth barriers through engagement with higher education. It’s worth noting too that the major supporters of the program are two large banks, Chase and US Bank as well as Foster Wealth Advisors. The keynote speaker from JP Morgan Chase highlighted several times in her speech, the importance of small business, not only for Chase’s bottom line, but for the role they play as the foundation for any community by empowering ‘everyday people’ to play an active role in the economy. As communities are strengthened, so in turn is the business climate. The cycle continues.

My week ended at the Museum of Flight with an inspiring evening at the 2013 Small Business Administration Small Business Awards Gala. By invitation from the Washington Small Business Development Center, I was able to hear from a variety of individuals about their daily struggles, business triumphs, and pride in their ability to support others through providing jobs in their communities. Most often, I heard how they never could have done it alone. Between business advisors who are now friends, small banks that are champions for their success, and the countless others that helped them along the way, the sense of community that operating a small business fosters in our corner of the United States was apparent.

I also had the chance to meet some of my new colleagues in economic development. You heard it here first: we are excited to announce that the WSU Small Business Development Centers will now be a part of the Office of Economic Development, beginning July 2013. Nothing will change about the impeccable business advising the centers’ advisors provide to the hundreds of Washington businesses annually, however we are excited to explore possibilities for expanded business services through integration with the university’s economic development arm.

In sum, if there is one thing to be learned about small business success: it takes a village. It might take one person’s vision, but it takes a village to get a business off the ground. It takes a village to sustain and grow a small business through collaboration and commercial support. Most importantly, it’s more fun to celebrate a small business’s success with a village. I hope the next time you happen to meet a small business owner in your own village, you will take the time to tell them how much they do for your community. They are, after all, the backbone.  

Women swept five of the six awards, including Small Business of the Year (not pictured)

Women swept five of the six categories of the evening, including Small Business of the Year winner Jill Blankenship, owner of Frontline Call Center on San Juan Island (not pictured).


Business Development | Education | Entrepreneurship | Small Business

Feature Friday: Mentorship

by Kelsey Knutson10. May 2013 11:44

Former Football Coach, Jim Walden, once said, “I can’t define it, I can’t tell somebody who isn’t a cougar what it’s like.  There’s something that happens at Washington State; you quietly and subtly become infected… Washington State is a passion.  Being a cougar is a passion.” Though this was said many years ago, it remains true today. From athletic sportsmanship to academic mentorship, cougars are infected with compassion for their school and each other.

WSU’s Beta Alpha Psi (an organization for financial information students) has capitalized on this bond Cougs identify with by initiating a mentorship program. The program began this year because Devin Ossman, vice president, saw a need and matched it with an opportunity. 

The mentorship program pairs accounting students with student and professional mentors to help with recruiting and interviewing.  Elizabeth Steere, President of Beta Alpha Psi, teamed up with Devin to create this program.  They both identified the gap between completing an education and getting plugged-in to the workforce.  So, they joined forces and created a test program that just so happened to work really well.

What can we learn from the mentorship program?

  1. Market Research: Devin reflected on his own experiences and then asked these questions: Who will benefit from this service? How will they benefit? Is the benefit great enough for them to pay for it (in this case, with their time)?
  2. Leadership Cultivation:  Devin is leaving this program in the hands of motivated leaders he has mentored.  This includes preparing supportive faculty and student leaders but also creatinga leader dedicated to the growth of this program. 
  3. Planning and Execution:  Devin first thought of this idea in a class that required a business/writing project.  This allowed him to really think about the needs of the “customer” (in this case students) and develop a business strategy.  He then found the right people and set goals with deadlines.  By achieving these goals, students were able to experience professional development, young professionals served their alma mater, and businesses now have more qualified applicants.

So, what is the lesson here?  Start with what you know, learn what you do not, find the right people, and execute your strategy.  Regardless of your job, we can all become better leaders by applying this philosophy. 

Thank you to the accounting mentorship program for starting something we can all learn from and best of luck in the future.

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Business Development | Education | Entrepreneurship | Feature Friday | Innovation | Metrics