Ohio Colleges Work to Launch Student Companies

For the past decade or two, universities in Ohio have been working to convert professors’ inventions or research on their campuses into viable commercial enterprises. But now schools are helping their students go commercial.

Lorain County Community College along with Akron, Cleveland State, Youngstown State and others have an Innovation Fund that awards as much as $100 thousand dollars to hi-tech startup companies. The University of Dayton also provides venture capital to student businesses.

Others promote business brainstorming. At a recent Kent State technology hackathon business professor Eddy Patuwo was volunteering and said the kids had some worthwhile business ideas.

“Many of them! And some of them actually coming out of this meeting end up starting companies.”

The organizers – mostly students- say this was the biggest hackathon in Ohio with almost 300 participants, many of whom came from other universities around the country. They work from Friday night until Sunday morning when they present their ideas to a panel of judges. Sleeping bags and junk food is piled up in every available space at the school’s library and pasta is being served .

More than a dozen companies are sponsoring this hackathon – not just tech companies like Hyland Software and Kent Displays but big ones like Progressive Insurance, American Greetings, and the Knight Foundation. One of the organizers is Blackstone Launchpad a business incubator that opened an office in Kent three years ago and now has offices on 15 campuses in a half dozen states. Associate Director, Kate Harmon, notes the sponsoring companies have tables here with representatives looking for smart workers.

HARMON: “They are. I think it’s a great opportunity for recruiting for a lot of these companies so they’re out here in force.
URYCKI, Instead of looking at resumes they’re actually watching them work.
HARMON That’s true, absolutely. I think what’s really valuable for companies nowadays is to come to events like this and you see the mindset of these young millenials. They think very differently from someone in their 40’s like myself. So it’s a great way to see the future of innovation through these students’ eyes.”

Harmon says most of the students are not looking to start a company but just having fun collaborating. But one participant last year who did launch his own company is Andrew Konya.

“What makes it cool coming to a place like this is you can have an idea and say ‘OK, I know I can do this piece of it but I know I need this piece and this piece of it also to complete it.’ So just start ‘Hey bud, what do you do? Do you program? Do you know this language? Oh you do, OK, grab him.”

At last year’s hackathon, Konya developed a prototype of his invention. It allows a group of people to have a conversation with another group of people by translating their ideas into a single statement at a time. Yes, it’s a little more ambitious than the Candy Crush game. His company, Remesh, has now received 200 thousand dollars in funding. And yet he’s back, losing sleep at another hackathon.

“It’s kinda cool to come back and support and encourage and see what new ideas are happening. So many new things, so quickly. This is the place to keep up with it because you can read stuff online but by the time it hits the press it’s existed for months or already been backed by something but when it happens here you might be witnessing the very first time this thing has ever existed. I just think that’s super cool. Wow.”

Another student, Preena Suri, will be back for the fashion hackathon this weekend. Her fashion school has a 3D body scanner she wants to use.

“My thesis project is related to "adaptive clothing" for the people who cannot walk. “

Suri wants to use her school's body scanner for her ideas but would like some help from the techies.

"I thought it would be a great idea to meet different people from a different backgrounds because there are more computer science people. Like when you’re working with adaptive clothing I need people who know about software because a 3D scanner then transforms into software that I have no knowledge about. So it’s basically about networking and getting more people to know about it. “

Competition is expected to be fierce for the fashion hackathon this weekend. With real money and careers on the line, these campus hackathons may become more entertaining than the school football team.

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