Collage of students exploring the Seattle start up scene

This May, after final exams wrapped up, we journeyed with 25 of our Entrepreneurial Leadership Program and Perot Jain TechLab students to explore the vibrant startups in the Emerald City. Once we returned they reflected on their experiences at the various trek stops. These included visits to Mozart Therapeutics, Electric Era, Membrion, Seattle Kraken, Teracube, Carbon Robotics, Pioneer Square Labs, Fortive, a reception at Bruce Wanta’s Classic Car Garage, and even a Mariners ball game. Here are their stories.

Mozart Therapeutics

Our first stop on the Seattle Trek was Mozart Therapeutics, where the impressive architecture and vibrant work atmosphere immediately captivated me. We enjoyed breakfast before the leadership team shared insights about the startup. Katie Fanning, President and CEO, discussed the company’s origins and evolution, while the research team explained their processes. Jason W. Chien, Chief Medical Officer and a Michigan alum, provided valuable input on startups and shared his journey from professor to Mozart Therapeutics.

The visit included a fascinating lab tour, a fun trivia round with prizes, and a group challenge revealed by Chien. The experience was enriching, meticulously planned, and deepened my understanding of the biotech startup world. I left inspired and more informed about the industry and my own career path.

–Mridhanya Satheesh Kumar, ELP Cohort

Electric Era

Our visit to Electric Era offered a glimpse into the forefront of EV charging technology. The company’s latest development, the PowerNode-OS, stands at the center of their mission to streamline and stabilize the way electric vehicles are powered.

Inside Electric Era’s headquarters, we observed a team keenly focused on delivering their electrification solutions. Their work environment is a testament to their commitment to creating an efficient and widely-accessible EV infrastructure.

As part of our visit, Electric Era challenged us to work in teams with our fellow students to identify new market segments for emerging electrification technologies and developed go-to-market strategies. Ideas we generated in the short time included SuperSonic-style charging stations, drive-through gas stations, and rural charging stops in partnership with Dollar General.

A poignant piece of advice from Electric Era’s CEO Quincy Lee underscored the essence of effective business leadership: “If you’re going to found a company, even if you’re the CTO, the customer pain is what should drive.” He also recommended “The Qualified Sales Leader: Proven Lessons from a Five Time CRO” as essential reading for aspiring market leaders.

Overall, our experience with Electric Era highlighted the importance of user-centered innovation and market awareness in shaping a sustainable transport landscape. As Electric Era continues its journey, we anticipate a significant impact on EV charging solutions, reflecting their vision for a cleaner world.

–Maansi Nema, ELP Cohort

Membrion

Exploring Seattle’s startup scene led us to Membrion, a company revolutionizing filtration technology and tackling global wastewater challenges using silica gel. Founder Greg Newbloom and Chemical Engineering Professor Lilo Pozzo discovered its potential for creating precise ion filtration membranes, crucial for water purification, battery energy storage, and drug purity. This journey showed that entrepreneurship goes beyond novel ideas; it requires adapting to market needs. Membrion initially targeted battery performance but pivoted to wastewater treatment, addressing the urgent demand for better disposal methods, demonstrating flexibility as their strategic cornerstone.

Membrion’s innovative business model charges for the volume of treated wastewater instead of selling equipment, ensuring consistent revenue and aligning with clients’ economic interests. This approach also opens opportunities like retrieving valuable metals from wastewater, crucial for the semiconductor industry. The key takeaway is that successful entrepreneurship involves positioning technology to showcase direct customer benefits, supported by a coherent market entry plan and the ability to pivot decisively. A strong technical foundation must be paired with financial acumen and responsiveness to customer feedback.

–Devika Harikrishnan, PJTL Climate Change Cohort

Our visit to Membrion was inspiring, featuring a comprehensive tour of their facilities and a close look at their innovative ceramic desalination membranes, which can recover up to 98% of water from harsh industrial wastewater. This hands-on experience demonstrated how their flexible, customizable systems enhance sustainability and reduce costs in industrial facilities.

We also met with founder and CEO Greg Newbloom, who shared his journey from chemical engineering to founding Membrion in 2016. He highlighted the importance of integrating technical solutions with strategic business planning, including securing millions in Series B funding and understanding customers’ financial needs. Greg’s insights into combining technical problem-solving with business innovations were particularly enlightening and motivating.

–Hector Benitez Ventura, ELP Cohort

During our visit to Membrion, CEO Greg gave us an in-depth tour of the factory and lab. Membrion stands out among Seattle startups for its rigorous engineering foundation, exclusive partnership with the University of Washington laboratory, and a patent from a renowned professor. Gregg, who holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering, initially gained entrepreneurial skills through a less successful foray into the battery recycling industry.

Greg emphasized the difficulty of aligning scientific research with market demands, highlighting the importance of understanding technological constraints and potential hazards. His journey underscored the need for substantiating product value with reliable data and market research. Membrion’s ceramic desalination membranes, capable of recovering up to 98% of water even in harsh conditions, demonstrate their commitment to solving complex water recycling challenges. This visit was inspiring, showcasing the essential connection between technical expertise and entrepreneurial skills in bringing innovative technologies to market.

–Cody Lyu, PJTL Climate Change Cohort

Kraken Community Iceplex

After wrapping things up at Membrion, we set off to the Kraken Community Iceplex, the practice facility for the NHL’s newest franchise, the Seattle Kraken. We were greeted by our hosts with a “Welcome University of Michigan” display and then given a tour by the head facility manager. We admired the three NHL-size rinks and even got a chance to sit in the zamboni driver’s seat, with Ansh getting the rare opportunity to drive it back into the garage. The tour continued through the locker room, where we saw the locker of former Michigan player Matty Beniers, and then to 32 Bar and Grill for lunch. There, we chatted with Samantha Holloway, co-owner of the Kraken and Michigan alumna, about her entrepreneurial experiences and involvement with the Kraken.

After lunch, we headed downstairs, laced up our skates, and hit the ice. Some of us practiced our hockey skills with sticks and pucks, while others worked on upcoming pitch preparations. We enjoyed about an hour of skating, racing, and skill showcasing before packing up and receiving Kraken beanies as souvenirs. The visit to the Kraken Community Iceplex was a memorable part of the trek, providing us with a glimpse into a professional sports facility and valuable insights from Samantha on tech and sports entrepreneurship.

–Conor McNabnay, PJTL at Mcity Cohort

Teracube

Meeting Sharad Mittal was an honor. His kindness and humor shone through as he shared his inspiring career and life experiences. At the library, he set up his presentation with the CFE staff. He began by discussing his family background and professional journey, detailing his path to becoming the CEO and Founder of Teracube.

Mittal shared his work experiences at Microsoft and Amazon, where he conceived his first startup, BlueRigger. He recounted the challenges he faced and how they shaped his entrepreneurial journey. He also explained the inspirations and innovative ideas behind founding Kinivo and Teracube.

We ended the session with a group challenge, solving a given task together.

Three key lessons from Mittal stood out:

  1. Innovation is key—start with what you have.
  2. Location is irrelevant—remote teams can succeed.
  3. Maintain a job while working on your startup as a safety net.

–Mridhanya Satheesh Kumar, ELP Cohort

Bruce Wanta’s Garage Reception

The Seattle Trekkers had an eventful Thursday exploring the city, culminating in a memorable alumni reception hosted by Michigan alumnus Mr. Bruce Wanta in his private garage. This unique venue, filled with a dazzling array of collectibles and historic artifacts, captivated car enthusiasts and history buffs alike. For the CFE students attending, it was a priceless opportunity to connect with fellow Wolverines based in Seattle, expanding their professional networks in an unforgettable setting.

Personally, I had the honor of meeting several distinguished alumni and found the reception to be incredibly enriching. Imagine networking with a former Seattle mayoral candidate beside a flag that had once been to the moon—truly an evening to remember. Mr. Wanta, your generosity in sharing your collection and your passion for both Michigan and your treasures are deeply inspiring. The space you provided was not just beautiful but also fostered meaningful connections and camaraderie among us.

To all the alumni who joined us that evening, thank you for engaging with us and sharing your experiences. I left the reception feeling inspired and reassured about the diverse opportunities my Michigan degree could offer, knowing I have the support of such an exceptional network of Wolverines in Seattle and beyond.

–Alex Dryden, PJTL Climate Change Cohort

Carbon Robotics

At Carbon Robotics, we immersed ourselves in cutting-edge technology and joined a vibrant community of innovators who felt like family. Their AI-powered laser weed technology isn’t just innovative—it’s a testament to their commitment to revolutionizing agriculture. We were guided through detailed presentations on crop-weed differentiation and the data-driven enhancements of their weeder. Witnessing how a robust database fuels precision was fascinating, underscoring their dedication to pushing agricultural boundaries.

The leadership’s vision at Carbon was particularly inspiring—they see their agricultural work not as an endpoint but as a foundation for broader applications. They envision horizontal transitions into other sectors, showcasing their commitment to company growth. As aspiring entrepreneurs, witnessing this ambition taught us not only how to launch a business but also how to envision its future. Our visit underscored not just Carbon Robotics’ technical prowess but also the passion pulsing through their office. It revealed that at the core of innovation lies a human desire to collectively improve the world—a vital lesson for anyone entering the startup realm.

–Mehdi Zaidi, ELP Cohort

Pioneer Square Labs/Fortive

Our visit to Fortive and Pioneer Square Labs (PSL) immersed us in the tech investment world, where we encountered the harsh realities of entrepreneurship. Fortive candidly shared insights into the ups and downs of the tech industry, emphasizing that failures pave the way to success—a poignant lesson for us as fledgling entrepreneurs navigating the early stages of our journeys.

At PSL, we delved into the inner workings of an AI-startup accelerator. Their team stressed the critical attributes of leadership, focus, and perseverance in the face of adversity, intrinsic to the tech landscape. The highlight was our pitch session, where we pitched our group ideas to seasoned investors, receiving candid feedback on refining our focus and enhancing our presentation skills to captivate investor interest effectively.

The transparency of Fortive and PSL about the startup ecosystem challenges, coupled with their commitment to mentorship and investment in emerging talent, was highly motivating. It underscored that behind every successful startup lies resilience and a supportive community. For us, aspiring entrepreneurs, this experience reinforced the importance of resilience, mastering the art of the pitch, and cultivating vital networks essential for navigating the entrepreneurial journey.

–Mehdi Zaidi, ELP Cohort

Seattle Mariners Game

The Mariners game was a fantastic end to our Seattle trek, thanks to Fortive and PSL’s generous hosting in their suite, courtesy of CEO Jim Lico. The evening offered a unique mix of networking, entertainment, and relaxation, with delicious food and a vibrant atmosphere as we cheered on the Mariners. A personal highlight was a ten-minute conversation with Jim Lico about my startup, Altrix, which was both insightful and motivating. This event epitomized the community spirit and support of Fortive and PSL, showcasing their commitment to innovation and young entrepreneurs. We are deeply grateful for their generosity and hospitality.

–Hector Benitez Ventura, ELP Cohort

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