Sometimes the best entrepreneurial ideas involve simple solutions to common problems. Paul Norem, founder of Martin Environmental Technologies...

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Sometimes the best entrepreneurial ideas involve simple solutions to common problems.

Paul Norem, founder of Martin Environmental Technologies and a former chief engineer with the U.S. Coast Guard, found a solution for the barnacles and ice that stuck to his ship, dragging it down and causing more fuel consumption.

Phillip Lee, founder of, created an alternative to the time-consuming process of apartment hunting as a student at the University of Washington.

At the annual Early Stage Investment Forum in Seattle Friday, both seasoned and youthful entrepreneurs showed off their ideas, hoping to woo potential investors and grow their nascent businesses.

Martin Environmental Technologies was born when John Martin approached Paul Norem 12 years ago at the Marco Shipyard on the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Martin wanted to test a special coating on the SeaWind, a boat that Norem planned to take to the Bering Sea for the crab season.

The boat went through heavy ice, but this time the ice didn’t cling to the surface, Norem said. It involves an epoxy, silicon and stainless-steel coating called SlickCoat that resists bonding by barnacles, ice and even graffiti. ‘

The coating also is environmentally friendly, he said, and it complies with a United Nations ban on toxic coatings that came into effect earlier this year.

While that initial test worked well, it took more than a decade of perseverance to get the company ready to go to market.

Martin Environmental is trying to raise $1 million to hire more employees and build its infrastructure, targeting the commercial-fishing market.

For Norem, who spent 30 years at sea, being part of a growing Seattle company means “now I sleep in my own bed at night.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Lee, 22, is a recent UW graduate with a master’s degree in accounting.

“Being in college, you go through the painful process of trying to find a place every year,” he said.

Lee came up with a Web site to let apartment-management firms connect with students looking for short-term housing. Spottago includes a mapping feature so students can see where their friends live or where nearby bars and restaurants are. The company makes money by charging a listing fee for apartment owners, along with online ads.

In all, 27 new companies introduced products and services at the forum, including enterprises in home-energy monitoring, computerized control for jet boats, software to capture and store audio video proceedings for governments, and even a company delivering organic pet food. (For a list, go to

“There has been such a diversity, from new propulsion systems for marine technology to fake skin that isn’t rejected by the body,” said Peter Quinn, executive director of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network.

Quinn said he was impressed by how many of the companies have developed thus far using their own resources.

“They’ve bootstrapped themselves and now they’re at a place where they finally need some help,” he said. “This to me shows the value of entrepreneurship in Seattle and how really exceptional the climate is.”