Would you buy the one-key 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 upping your game with Precision Putt Golf, an indestructible ball with an app that provides accurate ball location, game data, and real-time club recommendations.
These are some of the product ideas presented on 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 DMACC’s work-based learning course participated in Innovate U, which is sponsored by Availa Bank, in conjunction with the North Central Iowa Small Business Development Center and DMACC .
A description of Innovate U provided by Availa’s Director of Marketing, Lisa Irlbeck, said: “Their (students’) challenge is to find something that solves a problem they see in their life and/or in the community. They then try to create a commercial product or plan to solve this problem. They will also come up with ideas on how to manufacture/produce their invention, how to price their invention and how to market it, including defining their target audience. They will put all this information on a laptop and a PowerPoint presentation to present to the jury.
The students were divided into six teams, five or six students per team. Each team was assisted by mentors, including Matt Meiners, Carroll Chamber of Commerce; Rosanne Nees, Carroll House; Bryan Moore, Bank Availa; Jeanne Wintermote, Availa Bank; Austin Scott, fuse box marketing; and Darcy Swon, Center for Small Business Development.
Students brainstormed ideas and made their formal presentations in DMACC’s new James and Marjorie Knott Commons.
Teams were rated from 1 (correct) to 5 (superior) according to the following criteria:
“What problem does it solve?”
“What makes it different?”
— Launch plan/next steps.
The judges were Adam Schweers, Business Development Manager for IT Support and Services, ICE Technologies; Jeff Scharfenkamp, Bank Availa; Lisa Thompson, Bank Availa; Beth Glynn, Mrs. Glynn’s and Co. store; and Heidi Baratta, Baratta Steakhouse.
The teams and their product ideas were:
Safety Sock (hi-tech, high-performance padded sock) – Kenya Prescott, Gage Rotert, Kenzie Schon, Sophie Jackson, Ashton Vogl, Zach Dirkx and mentor Matt Meiners.
Insta-Vital Band (ongoing information for healthcare professionals and the general public that may be reported to family/caregivers) – Cal Wanninger, Olivia Auen, Ally Roiland, Abby Warner, Nick Macke, Morgan Muhlbauer and mentor Rosanne Nees .
EZ Squeezy (precision toothpaste and toothbrush sanitizer vending machine) – 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 the mentor Austin Scott.
Lazi-Babi Stroller (electric stroller the driver doesn’t have to step on, provides a convenient way to explore while having a child close at hand) – Ethan Legeling, 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.
The judges awarded first place to Open Says-Me and second place to Precision Putt Golf.
Whether or not they become entrepreneurs, the students said, Innovate U will be valuable to them in the future.
In their DMACC course, students explore a variety of careers and learn the skills they need.
Gracie Brincks of the Open Says-Me team told the Times Herald: “(Innovate U) certainly takes a lot of what we’ve learned in internship so far, like working in a team and collaborating with other people brings you really 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 band who had worked in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We’ve been really good at listening to other people’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 will keep an open mind.
One of this year’s judges, Schweers of ICE Technologies, also has experience of being an entrepreneur himself, as the founder and former owner of Computer Concepts of Iowa and Midwest Data Management.
Schweers, who a few years ago was a mentor at Innovate U, told the Times Herald, “I think it’s a good thing anytime you get kids together and really get them to collaborate on something new is not just telling them via a book or a program, where they have to be creative and they have to be thoughtful and they have to work together.
Schweers, who served as Carroll’s mayor from 2012 to 2015 and is now also the managing partner of Court Street LLC, branded as Western Iowa Living, a real estate group buying and renovating apartment buildings in the area, continued, “The uniqueness of the ideas that come out of it has always been fun to see. I thought there were some very good ideas, very practical ideas. Every time you get into tech and patent development, I’m sure it gets harder to think about. But at the same time, I think they’ve done a good job of talking about how they could market in a way that includes a national and global presence, while using social media, Instagram and all the different models, even Amazon, and distribution from this point of view. 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 decide to pursue some kind of entrepreneurial business in the future, it at least gets them thinking about all those little bits who really need to continue in order to move the business forward.”
Swon of the Small Business Development Center noted that not all students will seek to become business owners, but it’s always helpful for them to get into the mindset of working together to find solutions.
“They worked together really well,” she said. “No one was disrespectful to anyone. It was just a really good day. It was the third year I was involved, and every year it gets better and better, so I can’t wait to see what happens. will happen next year.
She added: “The number of ideas these children come up with is beyond me. They really, really think outside the box. Some of the ideas were really wacky, and some were really good solutions to some problems.
The Innovate U day began with a panel presentation by representatives from three companies – Jeff Blum, engineering director of Puck Enterprises; Taylor Nees of Muff Waders, who was featured on “Shark Tank”; and Shelby Smith, founder and owner of Gym-N-Eat Crickets, which produces cricket snacks.
Josie Ayala from the Open Says-Me team said: “I just heard from all the entrepreneurs, their stories and their journeys, and it could be any of us if we want to pursue this.”
Irlbeck said Availa Bank is now looking to offer Innovate U in more communities.
She said the partnership with the Small Business Development Center and DMACC in Carroll has been very successful.
She said: “(Availa’s) mission is to empower our team to inspire and enable our customers 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 offer this hands-on entrepreneurship training to our Carroll students.
Irlbeck said she was a mentor for a similar event at Council Bluffs and when she started working to bring the event to Carroll, Kimberly Tiefenthaler (now executive director of the Carroll Chamber of Commerce and Carroll Area Development Corporation) was the Regional Director of North Central Iowa Small Business Development Center.
“While working together to modify the event from what was done in Council Bluffs, it was determined that Availa Bank would have first right of refusal for any rollout of the program in other regions,” said- she declared. “SBDC’s North Central region also fits into Availa Bank’s footprint, so we plan to partner with them in all areas where we have branches. Currently, we are working to organize similar events in the communities of Jewell and Webster City.”