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InventOR Alumni: Climbing up to a job at Nike

Tim Slama works at Nike.
Tim Slama works at Nike.

A year and a half after taking the stage at Invent Oregon to pitch the idea of tech-enabled, integrated climbing system for gym walls, Tim Slama, who graduated from Oregon State University in 2019, is walking the campus of Nike as a design engineer.

“I had a summer internship here last year,” Tim says. “And I got offered a return position to come back full time. It’s a great job, I love it.”

Tim had already started the Nike internship in 2018 when the Invent Oregon finals rolled around. He shared his progress with coworkers and took time off to attend the finals in Klamath Falls. After working for months on the climbing system with his OSU team, Halo Holds, the finals at Oregon Tech would be the first time the product would be viewed, tested, and climbed on by the public.

To date, the Halo Holds team holds the record of the largest to ever pass through the Invent Oregon program. Made up of the membership of the Sports Engineering Club at OSU that Tim, an engineering and business double major, helped start in 2017, Halo Holds listed nine team members.

“Our team was so large,” Tim says. “That really taught me a lot about working in a team.”

After advancing through the preliminary competition at Oregon State by pitching the Halo Holds concept, Tim and his teammates dove into the Invent Oregon process of taking the idea and turning it into a functional prototype.

“The structure of the program along with the coaching we received really allowed us to streamline an idea into a physical product,” Tim says.

The Halo Holds concept — the first project of the Sports Engineering Club — used Bluetooth-enabled technology for creating a climbing wall with two-way communication using an Android-compatible mobile device. The climbing holds lit up to help climbers scale the wall and users could crowdsource different climbing routes to accommodate climbers with varying ability.

The product was complex and Tim was one of the team members who would be on stage pitching it to judges. Streamlining the pitch was something he struggled with before the Business Model Canvas exercise the team went through during an Invent Oregon workshop.

“That was extremely helpful,” Tim says. “It’s so easy to zoom in on one aspect of the product but when you go through the process of how you’re going to deliver it to the end user, everything you want to talk about is right there in front of you.”

The day before the final the Halo Holds team brought the wall to Klamath Falls and set it up for the first time in public on the Oregon Tech campus. It was a big moment.

“It was so cool to see people’s faces light up when we lit up the wall,” Tim says.

The experience of the finals was memorable in many ways, Tim said. First, the trip to Klamath Falls allowed the Halo Holds team to make a stop at nearby Crater Lake. Tim also enjoyed the opportunity to meet smart students from across the state and learn about their cool ideas.

After the Invent Oregon final competition, where Halo Holds took home $7,500 in cash for the Best Prototype and People’s Choice awards, Tim and his team members worked on further developing the Halo Holds app and the wall.

“We spent about a year trying to produce something that was going to be scalable. We didn’t think at this time that we had the skill sets to continue to pursue it and scale it in the way that would be necessary,” Tim says. “Everyone graduated and everyone scattered all over the country.”

And that’s okay. The lessons learned and the experience was worth it and Tim says he was able to leverage the project in interviews and as an experience that will help him in building his career.

These days, Tim is getting used to his commute to the Nike campus. “It’s okay,” he says. “It’s not the highlight of my day.”

His work as a designer definitely benefits from the problem-solving skills and user-centric design thinking he honed during Invent Oregon. And he wouldn’t rule out another sports-related invention in his future.

“There’s a lot of great opportunities for intrapreneurship at Nike and it’s something that is actively encouraged,” he says. “I really love it here – we’ll see where the future takes me.”

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