The lack of a satisfying healthy snack to sustain him through the evening hours of his EMBA study group motivated Dan Smith to search for a better nut.
As a start, Smith developed a recipe to infuse almonds with natural flavors that leave no mess on the hands. And after much hard work, Smith and his team took first place in the University of Washington Foster School of Business 2017 EMBA Business Plan Competition. Then he put the plan into action, launching Recipe 33 to manufacture and sell the new almond-infused snack brand.
While the program’s long-standing EMBA Business Plan Competition has resulted in a number of new businesses, its purpose goes much deeper, says Benjamin Hallen, associate professor of management and organization and Arthur W. Buerk Entrepreneurship Fellow at the Foster School.
“The class is really founded on ways you can understand unmet needs and develop novel solutions for those needs,” he says. “It builds on skills that students are learning in the program.”
Hallen takes an evidence-based approach in teaching the art of finding and meeting unmet needs, which applies to new and established businesses. The 10-week experience includes a heavy dose of guidance from expert visitors and exposure to best practices.
“We think there is really a complementary relationship between theory and practice,” he says. “We marry them in this course.”
The competition, which takes place at the end of the program, can lead students to unexpected places. When Smith entered the EMBA Program, he worked in his family’s co-packing business and was looking to solidify his financial knowledge. But the more he explored the nut-infused idea, the more he saw a different path.
His team talked to retailers about the concept and researched the market. They ran the financials and determined how much it would take to validate the model. By the time they presented the plan and won the competition, support came from all corners. Two team members decided to invest as partners, and fellow students and several judges in the competition also indicated a willingness to provide capital for the business.
In the end, Smith took the leap, leaving the family business for Recipe 33. He is expanding the product’s reach and now sells to several local retailers and online through Amazon. He also continues to tap his EMBA network and touches bases with Hallen for advice.
Smith values his EMBA network and the business plan experience. “For us, it put all the fundamentals together,” says Smith. “For me, it really crystallized everything. I think it’s critical.”
The competition helps students gain confidence and entrepreneurial capabilities, which stays with them no matter their career path, says Hallen.
“The impact is especially obvious when you start a company, but we see it in so many other ways as well.”