Would you buy the one-key-fits-all Open Says-Me, a device that eliminates the need to carry multiple keys and offers an app for additional purposes?
How about Insta-Vital Band, which makes users’ health information constantly available to caregivers?
Or maybe you’d be interested in improving your game with Precision Putt Golf, an indestructible ball with an app that provides accurate ball location, game data and real-time club recommendations.
Those were some of the product ideas presented Friday afternoon, March 4, culminating the Innovate U entrepreneurial program at Des Moines Area Community College. Thirty-four students from Carroll Community and Kuemper Catholic high schools enrolled in the Work Based Learning course at DMACC participated in Innovate U, which is sponsored by Availa Bank, working with the North Central Iowa Small Business Development Center and DMACC.
A description of Innovate U provided by Availa Marketing Director Lisa Irlbeck said, “Their (students’) challenge is to come up with something that solves a problem they see in their life and/or in the community. They then try to create a business product or plan around solving that issue. They will also come up with ideas on how to make/produce their invention, how to price their invention, and how to market it, including defining who their target audience is. They will put all this information onto a laptop and PowerPoint presentation to present to the panel of judges.”
Students were divided into six teams, five or six students on a team. Each team was assisted by mentors, who included Matt Meiners, Carroll Chamber of Commerce; Rosanne Nees, Carroll Chamber; Bryan Moore, Availa Bank; Jeanne Wintermote, Availa Bank; Austin Scott, Fusebox Marketing; and Darcy Swon, Small Business Development Center.
Students brainstormed ideas and made their formal presentations in DMACC’s new James and Marjorie Knott Commons.
Teams were scored from 1 (fair) to 5 (superior) in the following criteria:
— What problem does it solve?
— What makes it different?
— Launch plan/next steps.
Judges were Adam Schweers, ICE Technologies computer support and services business development manager; Jeff Scharfenkamp, Availa Bank; Lisa Thompson, Availa Bank; Beth Glynn, Mrs. Glynn’s and Co. store; and Heidi Baratta, Baratta’s Steakhouse.
The teams and their product ideas were:
Safety Sock (high-tech, high-performing, padded sock) — Kenya Prescott, Gage Rotert, Kenzie Schon, Sophie Jackson, Ashton Vogl, Zach Dirkx and mentor Matt Meiners.
Insta-Vital Band (constant information to medical professionals and for general public can report to family/caregivers) — Cal Wanninger, Olivia Auen, Ally Roiland, Abby Warner, Nick Macke, Morgan Muhlbauer and mentor Rosanne Nees.
E-Z Squeezy (precision toothpaste self-dispenser and toothbrush sanitizer) — Hayli Van De Walker, Tanner Higby, Kenadee Loew, Caden Kock, Haley Hoffman and mentor Bryan Moore.
Precision Putt Golf (indestructible golf ball, app provides accurate ball location, game data and real-time club recommendations) — Ryan Rustvold, Tyler Mollhoff, Emersyn Walsh, Emily Freese, Bryce Bowman and mentor Austin Scott.
Lazi-Babi Stroller (electric stroller that the driver doesn’t have to walk, provides a convenient way to explore while also having child at your fingertips) — Ethan Lengeling, Sara Vonnahme, Caleb Henderson, Sterling Rodman, Jayden Kirsch, Lexie Thornock and mentor Jeanne Wintermote.
Open Says-Me (device that eliminates carrying multiple keys with an app for additional purposes) — Eddie Enriquez Rivas, Gracie Brincks, McKenna Vincent, Bella Hedke, Cristina Del Angel, Josie Ayala and mentor Darcy Swon.
Judges awarded first place to Open Says-Me and second place to Precision Putt Golf.
Whether or not they become entrepreneurs, students said, Innovate U will be valuable to them in the future.
In their DMACC course, the students explore a variety of careers and learn the skills they require.
Gracie Brincks of the Open Says-Me team told the Times Herald, “(Innovate U) definitely takes a lot of what we’ve learned in internship so far, like working as a team and collaborating with other people really gets you to where you need to be.”
Cal Wanninger said of his team’s Insta-Vital Band product, “This idea came from a few of the girls in our group who had worked in nursing homes and assisted living. We really did well listening to each other’s ideas and giving constructive feedback. We learned valuable aspects of teamwork, entrepreneurship and commitment to an idea.”
Since he plans to pursue a career as a chiropractor, Wanninger said, entrepreneurship won’t be his focus, but he’ll keep an open mind to it.
One of this year’s judges, Schweers, of ICE Technologies, also has the experience of being an entrepreneur himself, as founder and former owner of Computer Concepts of Iowa and Midwest Data Management.
Schweers, who a couple of years ago served as an Innovate U mentor, told the Times Herald, “I think it’s a good thing anytime you get kids together and have them really collaborating on something that’s new, that’s not just being said to them via a book or a curriculum, where they have to be creative and they have to be thoughtful and they have to work together.”
Schweers, who served as Carroll mayor from 2012-2015 and now is also managing partner of Court Street LLC, branded as Western Iowa Living, a real estate group purchasing and renovating apartment buildings in the region, continued, “The uniqueness of the ideas that come out of it has always been fun to see. I thought there were some really good ideas, very practical ideas. Any time you get into developing technology and patents I’m sure that gets more overwhelming to think about. But at the same time, I think they did a good job of talking about how they would be able to market in a way that includes national and global presence albeit using social media, Instagram and all the different models out there, even Amazon, and distribution from that perspective. So I think the kids overall did a very good job.
“The program is unique, it’s fun and it’s a good experience for them because if they do decide to pursue an entrepreneurial type of business in the future, it at least gets them thinking about all those little pieces that really have to go on in order to make the business go.”
Swon, of the Small Business Development Center, noted that not all the students will be looking to become business owners yet it’s still valuable for them to get into the mindset of working together to come up with solutions.
“They collaborated really well,” she said. “Nobody was disrespectful to others. It was just a really good day. This was the third year I’ve been involved, and every year it gets better and better, so I can’t wait to see what happens next year.”
She added, “The number of ideas these kids come up with blows my mind. They really, truly think outside the box. Some of the ideas were really far-fetched, and others were really pretty good solutions to some problems.”
The Innovate U day began with a panel presentation by representatives from three businesses — Jeff Blum, Puck Enterprises engineering manager; Taylor Nees of Muff Waders, which was featured on “Shark Tank”; and Shelby Smith founder and owner of Gym-N-Eat Crickets, which produces snacks made of crickets.
Josie Ayala, of the Open Says-Me team, said, “Just hearing all the entrepreneurs, their stories, and their journeys, and that could be any one of us if we want to pursue that.”
Irlbeck said Availa Bank is looking now to offer Innovate U in more communities.
She said partnership with the Small Business Development Center and DMACC in Carroll has been highly successful.
She said, “(Availa’s) mission is to empower our team to inspire and enable our clients and the communities we serve to achieve financial success. With that mission statement in mind, this program fits like a glove, and we were thrilled to bring this entrepreneurial hands-on training to our Carroll students.”
Irlbeck recounted that she was mentor for a similar event in Council Bluffs and when she originally started to work on bringing the event to Carroll, Kimberly Tiefenthaler (now Carroll Chamber of Commerce and Carroll Area Development Corporation executive director) was the regional director for North Central Iowa Small Business Development Center.
“While working together to tweak the event from what was done in Council Bluffs, it was determined that Availa Bank would have first right of refusal for any rollouts of the program to other areas,” she said. “The North Central Region for SBDC fits into Availa Bank’s footprint as well, so we plan to partner with them on any areas that we have branches in. Currently we are working on doing similar events in the Jewell and Webster City communities.”