This conference of the former NCIIA, National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, was started twenty years ago with support from the Lemelson Foundation. Lemelson is named after one of the U. S.’s most prolific inventors, Jerry Lemelson. Granted over 600 patents during his career, Jerry is responsible for innovations like cordless telephones, automated warehouses, industrial robots, and fax machines. Their non-profit mission is to help an emerging generation of scientists launch ventures that improve life for people.
The “Open” is one of the best entrepreneurship events of the year. Attendees get to meet up close and personal student inventors and to view their works, which include cutting-edge innovation from undergraduate teams. This year there were over fourteen on hand to showcase their ventures and pitch their idea to conference attendees. In addition there was many targeted break-out sessions for educators such as cultivating class innovation, cases in social ventures, maker spaces, business model canvas for early-stages, comparing lean launch pad to discipline entrepreneurship, mentoring practices, evidence of entrepreneurial mindset, biomedical innovation, activating students by “flipping the switch”, the value of collaboration, tools for innovation in the community college, and teaching social entrepreneurship in the MOOC format.
Because this conference was the twentieth anniversary of the organization, several luminaries were on-hand including Dorothy Lemelson, widow and partner of Jerry Lemelson. She shared the head table at a celebratory lunch with members of a panel about the future of invention entrepreneurship. This panel, comprised to Jerry Engel from UC Berkeley, founding director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, Abigail Barrow, director of the MTTC, the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, and Todd Warren, Northwestern University venture capitalist, gave a thoughtful analysis into the future. Phil Weilerstein, CEO of Venture Well, moderated the discussion. Comments included keeping present momentum going, the next twenty years will be global opportunity, a lot of creative contributions are being wasted by producing too many Ph.Ds, and partnerships between the U. S. and international bodies will become critical.
Lynelle Cameron, President and CEO of Autodesk Foundation was presented the Sustainable Practice Impact Award. As Senior Director of Sustainability at Autodesk, Inc., Ms. Cameron has led the company in setting-up greenhouse gas reductions and creating sustainability workshops. The workshops are done through an online learning platform that teaches sustainable design and reaches over two million students worldwide.
Among student projects on display were Acoustic Shield from Texas A & M University, a reliable, cost-effective gunshot detection sensor designed to decrease notification time for first responders and Fluition LLC, Grand Valley State University, a revolutionary rehabilitation device that reduces clinician injuries and patient recovery times. Acoustic Shield grew out of an idea from a disabled policeman, Luke Neese, who was motivated by the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown CT December 2012.
Students from Morgan State University competed in the poster session with a social entrepreneurship idea to decrease recidivism in prisons through a software program providing support for education, job placement, and counseling. Oman Muhammad, director of their entrepreneurial development center, brought enthusiastic students Devonte King and Meaca Downing to Venture Well, both of whom clearly see their Second Chance Bmore’s potential.
Venture Well and National Science Foundation personnel hosted a session, “All Things I-Corps”, to explain the government’s commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation. I-Corps, President Obama’s featured component in his Innovation and Technology Plan, has enabled over 650 teams from universities across the country to complete a program moving products out of the lab and into the market. Teams are composed of academic researchers, student entrepreneurs, and business mentors.
The conference closed with a exceptional Open Minds showcase and reception in the Portland Collaborative Life Sciences Building featuring the best student teams and their prototype products. Complete with music and hors d’oeuvres, it was a fitting conclusion to a brilliant, collaborative conference.