Engaging Innovators + Essential Skills for Entrepreneurial Success

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The economy in the Puget Sound area has been driven by entrepreneurs for many years. Boeing, Amazon, Nordstrom, Costco, Bartell’s, Dick’s, Microsoft, Starbucks … the list of companies that have gotten their start here in the Seattle area is long and illustrious. It’s both inspiring and energizing; we are a city of inventors.

However it begs the question, how did this area end up with such a concentration of talent and skills to spawn so many successful companies? And can Seattle continue to be a powerhouse in innovation and start-ups in the future?

Part of the equation, in both respects, has to be the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, where the next generation of entrepreneurs are honing their skills through programs like their annual Business Plan Competition (BPC).

Starting with over 80 teams earlier this year, hundreds of judges from local companies whittled the field down to four finalists. On May 24 those finalists pitched their companies to a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs and business leaders and were grilled about all aspects of their companies, from technical details about their product to questions on their marketing and sales strategy.

Four Essential Skills Entrepreneurs Need When Pitching Their Product

As I watched the pitch round, I found myself reflecting on the skills the students developed over the course of their education and the competition that enabled them to successfully address the judges’ questions. What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

Here are four essential skills the BPC entrepreneurs had in common when pitching their product:

  • A well-crafted pitch: Every entrepreneur must understand the technology and product they are building their business around. However, what might not be as obvious is that they also need to succinctly explain the product and articulate its value to others. During the BPC, the teams had the opportunity to practice this skill in several formats, from a 1-minute elevator pitch, to a trade show format to a longer 15 minute pitch.


  • A sound strategy for protecting intellectual property: Entrepreneurs must also understand the patent landscape and how to navigate Intellectual Property issues. A sound strategy will ensure their company has freedom to operate while at the same time, is protected from the competition. Several of the BPC teams were exposed to IP issues which varied based on the nature of their companies. For example, some teams based their companies on IP developed at the UW (which required licensing agreements) while others created their own IP which they needed to protect.


  • Outline your sales and marketing plan: A successful entrepreneur must also develop a marketing and sales strategy that enables them to reach their customers and bring in revenue. During the BPC, teams had to demonstrate an understanding of who their target market was and how they were going to reach them to produce sales and generate revenue. These strategies include everything from the addressable market size to identifying sales and distribution channels.


  • Prove your business model: Finally, a successful entrepreneur must be able to demonstrate how their company will generate a profit. BPC teams had to model their capital needs and revenue for several years to demonstrate what capital investment would be needed and how it would be used to enable the company to become self-sustaining.

The Puget Sound area is filled with entrepreneurs taking big chances to build new companies from the ground up. We are extremely lucky to have not only a culture of entrepreneurship but also, programs like the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship  to support and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs who will power the local economy for years to come.