Smartphone Robots, Insect-Wing Wind Power, Online Video Game Tourneys & More Notes from the UW Business Plan Competition

Hundreds of people packed the Bell Harbor Conference Center on Seattle’s waterfront yesterday for the University of Washington’s annual Business Plan Competition. Now in its 14th year, the competition is a great showcase of energy and ideas from student entrepreneurs and some of their more experienced collaborators.

Last night, the group of 37 teams was whittled down to the “sweet 16” semifinal round. You can learn more about the particulars of the competition at the Foster Business School website, and check out the list of the 16 semifinalists.

I wasn’t there as a judge, but decided to compile a few capsules of the proto-companies that caught my eye—even though some of them didn’t make the next round, or even have websites yet, we could be hearing more from these folks in the future.

Yoi! Gaming
Massively multiplayer video games are not exactly mainstream, but the people who are into them are really passionate—there are mini-celebrity players who make a living in competitive gaming, John Madden-esque online commentators, and big tournaments with serious prizes.

But Yoi! Gaming CEO C.J. Wong says there’s a gap between those big tournaments, which can be difficult to qualify for, and the smaller, local competitions that rely on having everyone in the same place. “We feel like we’re in 1918 before the NFL started—there’s a bunch of small leagues out there,” Wong says.

The idea behind Yoi! is to set up online matchmaking that can sort people into quick groups for competing against each other, with buy-ins and prizes—something that should sound familiar to anyone who’s seen online poker sites explode in the past decade.

Wong says, however, that online video gaming competitions have avoided the heat that regulators have applied to poker companies because the games are seen as more skill-based, and not related to gambling. Yoi! already has a license from Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of hugely popular game StarCraft—which, I am not making this up, is so popular in South Korea that tournaments are shown live on TV.

These guys are developing a small, cheap robot that uses a smartphone as its brain. The little machine, which looks like an iPhone riding a miniature pair of Segway wheels, is intended mostly for entertainment purposes on the consumer side right now—tooling around the house or “chasing your cat,” … Next Page »

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