WMU Innovation Day Highlights Student Entrepreneurs

KALAMAZOO — More than 100 students from kindergarten through college showed off product ideas Friday at the annual Innovation Day event sponsored by Western Michigan University’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Innovation Day is a celebration of future entrepreneurs presenting product prototypes and models, along with business ideas for services.

At Innovation Day, entrepreneurial students from across WMU and K-12 students present ideas to the public. Included among the WMU contingent are students enrolled in Entrepreneurial Engineering II and Engineering Design courses and those working through the WMU Starting Gate business incubator. The public, in turn, helps assess the students’ products and provides input.

Now in its eighth year, the event is the brain child of WMU faculty members Steven E. Butt and Tycho Fredericks. Both are professors of industrial and entrepreneurial engineering and engineering management. This year’s version drew 10 junior-level product design teams, 10 freshman-level product design teams, and 29 teams of students in grades K-8 from Kalamazoo’s Gagie School, a private school founded in 1976.

Highlighting the event was a kickoff keynote speech from Jia Jiang, founder of FearBuster, author of the book on how to overcome rejection, “Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible, One Rejection at a Time.”

Several years after Jiang began his career in the corporate world, he stepped into the unknown world of entrepreneurship. To conquer the fear of rejection, he embarked on a personal quest and started a blog to face “100 Days of Rejection.” He discovered that rejection can be much less painful than believed, and that the fear of rejection is much more destructive. His story has been profiled in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Yahoo News, Forbes and The Huffington Post.

Innovation Day sponsors included the Society of Plastics Engineers. Their sponsorship led to a couple of the more intriguing product entries — a tamper-proof drink cover for college students at parties, and a device to integrate headphones with eyeglasses for more comfortable listening.

Also a sponsor was the Mix design group, an effort of the Kalamazoo region’s economic development agency, Southwest Michigan First. Mike Roeder, who leads Mix, is president and COO of Fabri-Kal Corp., a Kalamazoo-based plastics manufacturer with 1,200 employees and $350 million in annual sales.

For Fabri-Kal and Mix, Roeder said, events like Innovation Day are “all about talent. We do packaging design and product design, and we want to cultivate a community of designers here in Kalamazoo — we want people to stay here after graduation.”

In fact, Roeder said, WMU is practically a feeder for Fabri-Kal.

“I’ve been here 10 years now with Fabri-Kal and we’ve hired a bunch of graduates from Dr. Butt and Dr. Frederick’s classes,” Roeder said. “We’ve also had their students do logistics and industrial engineering projects for us.”

Roeder said he was particularly pleased this year to see entrants make heavy use of 3D printing for prototype production.

“It’s great to see these kids develop everything in 3D printing,” Roeder said. “That’s a skill they’ll have coming out of school that’s directly applicable to us, because we probably do 30 (3D printed prototypes) a day.”

More about Roeder at this link. More about WMU innovation day at http://wmich.edu/engineer/innovationday. More about professors Butt and Fredericks here and here.

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