Innovation lives here
Meet members who took their light-bulb moments to full fruition
By Sheila Cain
Necessity might be the mother of invention, but great ideas only become reality with hard work and a certain amount of risk. Here at the WAC, great ideas are floated over workouts, discussed during business meals, and financed through shared connections. They’re nourished and nitpicked, developed and deployed. Some have the potential to change the world, others the way we live, and some just make life more fun. The Washington Athletic Club is full of innovators. These are just a few
of their stories.
For most of us, the photos are disturbing. A dead albatross with a stomach full of plastic debris. A beached whale with 64 pounds of waste in its stomach. A sea turtle with a straw in its nose. For WAC member Ray Timm, they represent a global emergency he could no longer ignore.
An aquatic-disturbance ecologist, Ray spent 25 years working as a government scientist, university researcher, and consultant. Then he went out on his own. “My ecologist guilt kicked in,” Ray says. Last year, he started Seattle-based Siskowet Enterprises. The company aims to put a stop—or at least a big dent—in plastic debris polluting the oceans. Current estimates suggest that between four million and 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. One infamous collection zone is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that circulates in the Pacific Ocean about halfway between Hawaii and California.
Ray is a year into plans for a clean-up effort that, when fully realized, would include an innovative fleet of “sweeper boats,” drones that would gather up plastic and other debris and bring it back to manned mother ships. There, waste would be converted into energy through high-efficiency incineration.
Each drone would be programmed to swarm around others, with high collection rates maximizing the amount of plastic gathered. Ray estimates that 500 sweeper boats could clean up the garbage patch in roughly 40 years.
So far, Ray and business partner Dan Gestwick are in communication with companies in Switzerland and France to build a device to convert plastics to fuel. They’re also working on a business development plan and seeking funding. Their proposal is in the running for an award from Conservation X Labs, a company that bestows cash prizes for technology solutions to conservation challenges.
Ray knows the task is a mammoth one. Waste continues to flow into our oceans around the world. “You’ve got to be a believer,” he says. “If ecosystems in the oceans collapse, humans aren’t going to have much to eat.”
What’s the downfall of being a creative traveler? The never-ending requests for detailed itineraries from friends and Instagram followers enamored with your journeys. WAC member and world traveler Amy Boes experienced this firsthand each time she returned from another adventure, many of which are taken with her sister, Mandy.
“We found ourselves spending hours emailing long lists or formatted Excel spreadsheets with our daily ‘must see’ details,” Amy says. “But email or a spreadsheet was not a great way to share ideas.”
Amy knew there had to be a quicker, easier, and more engaging way to share travel tips. She also knew it was basic human nature for friends and acquaintances to seek suggestions. And truth be told, she loves to share!
This desire to create a more intimate information-sharing experience led Amy, along with Mandy, to launch Globespinning, a travel platform that takes your pictures from a recent trip and turns them into a shareable, social media–ready itinerary. The app uses the metadata in geotagged photos to provide the names, locations, and contact information about sights seen and businesses visited. Officially launched in the summer of 2016, Globespinning is available on iOS, Android, and on the Web.
This blending of social and travel is what sets Globespinning apart from other travel apps, Amy says. While other apps use algorithm-based itineraries that list activities for top destinations based on the number of days a traveler plans to visit, Globespinning combines the initial trust already established with friends with recommendations about where to eat, shop and play.
“If they did it and liked it, so will I, right?” Amy says. “People trust their friends’ itinerary over any Yelp review.”
Amy left her 18-year merchandising career with Nordstrom to launch Globespinning and has since seen it grow into a company that is beginning to explore new possibilities with machine learning and artificial intelligence. The company is also in the process of pursuing an angel round of financing to take Globespinning to the next level of growth.
Says Amy: “I always say, if you have a dream, you’ve got to go for it!”
WAC member Cole Morgan has been a youth athlete and coach. So it seemed a natural fit when, a few years out of college, he took a job with a promotional company that sold fundraising products for teams to sell. Cole enjoyed the work and became friends with many coaches and administrators. But he was caught off guard one day when a close friend and high school coach made it clear that Cole’s fundraising program was the last thing he was interested in.
“I thought I was there to help,” Cole recalls. “It became very clear in that moment that I wasn’t.”
Cole took the rebuff as a challenge to create something better. He went home and called his friend Eddie Behringer, also a WAC member, for technical advice. A year-and-a-half later, Snap! Raise was born.
A purpose-built fundraising platform for teams and groups of all sizes, Snap! Raise is now an indispensable fundraising tool for clubs, high schools, and universities around the country. It allows teams to activate their network of friends and family to give online and eliminates the burdensome tasks that coaches and kids often assume when raising money.
The company has received considerable attention for its success, and Cole was honored as a winner of Ernst & Young’s 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Pacific Northwest. Snap! Raise also recently ranked 46th in North America for growth in the Deloitte 2018 Technology Fast 500.
Since Cole, Eddie, and a third partner, Stefan Berglund (also a WAC member but no longer involved in day-to-day operations), launched the company in 2014, it has grown by 4,000 percent and is now used in all 50 states. “It gives back a lot of time and saves a lot of headaches,” Cole says.
Now that’s an innovation anyone could love.
Bellevue natives and WAC members Hunter Brooks and Todd Fishman developed a taste for quick, healthy lunches eight years ago when they were both working in New York City. Grab-and-go salads, veggie-filled wraps, and other wholesome meals were available on nearly every street corner—in grocery stores, delicatessens, and tiny neighborhood bodegas.
Childhood friends who reconnected while working corporate jobs in the Big Apple, the pair was surprised at how convenient it was to get a wholesome meal on the move in Manhattan.
“It was easy to eat quickly and healthfully there,” Hunter says. “There really wasn’t anything like that available in Seattle.”
The two decided to quit their jobs—Hunter in advertising, Todd in hospitality sales—move back to the Pacific Northwest, and try their hand at entrepreneurship. In August of 2013, the business partners opened their first Evergreens restaurant at Third and Marion in downtown Seattle. Their mission: Bring innovative healthy, fast and flavorful meals to the masses.
The “fast casual” concept restaurants offer salad three ways: as a traditional salad, in a whole-wheat wrap, or in a warm grain bowl. Meals can be ordered online and picked up at the restaurant or made to order at the counter from a choice of more than 40 toppings. What sets them apart? The company’s focus on quality ingredients and a delivery system that saves diners time while still offering a highly customizable experience.
“When we first got going, some old-school restaurant consultants told us, ‘You can’t make dressings in small batches,’” Hunter says. “We weren’t ready to listen to that.”
Dressings are made daily at Evergreens’ South Lake Union headquarters kitchen, and fresh herbs such as cilantro, mint, basil and dill are added later at each store location. Menu items and ingredients vary with the season, and the founders are passionate about avoiding additives and preservatives.
The Evergreens team is also exploring the use of technology to make the order and delivery process “frictionless,” Todd says. Evergreens now has 15 locations, from South Lake Union to the International District, and Todd says they’ll finish 2019 with 28. “It’s one thing to see numbers on an Excel spreadsheet, but a whole different experience when you actually achieve it,” Todd says. “We’re just the happiest we could ever be with what we’re doing right now.”
You don’t need to quit your job to innovate. Take WAC member Camden Finney. It was early July of last year, and the senior marketing manager with the Seattle Mariners had just received news that team shortstop Jean Segura was one of five American League final vote candidates for the 2018 All-Star Game. Segura’s inclusion in Major League Baseball’s showcase game would now be up to a vote of the fans.
Camden’s job? Rally enough support among Mariners fans to elect Segura. She immediately got to work.
During the following days, Camden and her team coordinated a dizzying array of promotional events and outreach programs to encourage fans to cast their ballots for Segura. Camden asked a T-shirt vendor to work overnight to crank out 500 “Send Segura” shirts. The next day, they were handed out to fans and draped over every seat on an Alaska Airlines Seattle-to-Los Angeles flight (where the Mariners were playing).
She also had players autograph caps, balls and jerseys to give away on social media; and she recruited pitcher Felix Hernandez, who was on the injury list, to wave signs outside T-Mobile Park and encourage fans to stop at the voting booth and cast their ballots.
She even organized a fan party, dubbed Segura Fest, on the field during the last hour of voting, complete with pizza and soda in the dugout, free merchandise, and player autographs.
Camden’s marketing innovation paid off. Segura collected more than 13 million votes and joined the 2018 All-Star Game roster. “It makes me exhausted just thinking about it,” Camden says looking back on the marathon 72-hour push.
“Our fans were incredible, and we look forward to finding more unique ways to get our players selected for the All-Star Game.”
—Sheila Cain is a Seattle-based freelance writer.
AS published in the May/June 2019 issue of WAC Magazine.
—Posted April 29, 2019