Portland State University’s entrepreneurial event is Oregon’s Friday Night Lights of invention education
After months of prototyping and pitch honing, the final round of the InventOR Collegiate Challenge resulted in the top prize going The Reclaimers, a team of women engineers from Oregon Tech in Klamath Falls who developed a system for recycling waste plastic into crude oil.
Reclaimers team members, Annika Andersen, Jessica Arrington, and Ashlei Morgan, created an economically viable solution to the problem of waste plastic and plan to make it available to rural communities. The prototype machine they developed for InventOR uses the pyrolysis process, which removes oxygen and superheats the plastic until it becomes a gas.
Now in its third year, participation in the statewide InventOR program grew from five participating schools in its first year to 17 colleges and universities from across the state sending 21 teams to the finals in 2019. The competition is presented by Portland State University (PSU) and, underscoring the competition’s identity as the Friday Night Lights of invention education, the finals were held last Friday at PSU’s premier sports venue, Viking Pavilion.
InventOR is a statewide invention and prototyping competition that has encouraged hundreds of students to develop solutions to the problems they see in their communities and translate those ideas into potential business opportunity. Teams are judged on the quality of their ideas, the strength of their pitches, and the viability of their prototypes.
“Invention-based businesses are important to the growth and resilience of Oregon’s economy,” said Carol Dahl, executive director at the Lemelson Foundation, which is a lead sponsor of InventOR along with the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship. “The InventOR Collegiate Challenge contributes to the expanding invention education pathway across the state that is reaching students in middle school, high school, community colleges and four-year universities. InventOR helps budding inventor entrepreneurs start to turn their ideas into products and businesses that will improve our lives and local economy.”
In addition to the grand prize — which includes $10,000 in cash plus a $2,500 legal startup package from InventOR sponsor Stoel Rives and the opportunity to pitch at the Bend Venture Conference this fall — the following prizes were awarded:
Second Place, a $5,000 award, went to Turner Automotive, a PSU team that developed a kit to convert a gas-powered car into a hydrogen vehicle. Turner Automotive also won the People’s Choice Award, a $2,5000 prize.
The Best Community College Team Award, $2,500, went to Pet Prosthetics, a team from Rogue Community College developing affordable, 3-D printed prosthetics for dogs.
The Impact Award, $2,500, when to Shift AI, a team from Oregon Health and Science University, that developed a new and less expensive way to detect cancer using artificial intelligence.
The Reclaimers also took home awards for the Best Prototype ($5,000), the Visionary Award ($2,500) and the Best Pitch ($2,500), and the Students’ Choice Award ($1,000). In all, the Klamath Falls-based team took home $21,000 in prizes.
“As the US woman’s soccer team is currently proving their strength and talent to the world at the World Cup, student entrepreneurs are proving their strength and talent at the InventOR competition. InventOR enables students to think big and provides the tools to help students become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs,” said Kate Sinner, innovation and entrepreneurship manager for Business Oregon, the economic development department for Oregon. “Business Oregon is proud to be a sustaining partner for this program that is now in its third year and we look forward to continuing to support student entrepreneurs both as competitors at InventOR but also as they continue to grow their businesses and participate in Oregon’s economy.”
InventOR grew from just 10 teams competing in 2017 to a field of 31 teams in 2019. Over the course of the year, students participated in preliminary invention competitions on their home campuses before advancing to the semifinal round of InventOR Collegiate Challenge at PSU in May, where 21 teams were selected to advance to the finals. Teams received $2,500 to fund the development of their prototype before the June 28 final.
“Wells Fargo shares the InventOR Collegiate Challenge’s belief that promising entrepreneurs and sustainability leaders can come from anywhere — urban settings, rural settings and everywhere in between — and that they all should be provided an opportunity to succeed,” said Ramsay Huntley, vice president and Clean Technology and Innovation Philanthropy Program officer at Wells Fargo. “Supporting early-stage clean-technology innovation is a key component of our strategies to support small businesses and advance environmental sustainability, and we are pleased to support this exciting event.”
In addition to funding from Wells Fargo, the InventOR Collegiate Challenge is sponsored by The Lemelson Foundation, Business Oregon, Oregon Community Foundation, the Oregon Lottery, Stoel Rives, Jama Software and Horan MediaTech Advisors.
Finalist teams represented 17 participating public and private colleges and universities from across the state including: Clackamas Community College, Eastern Oregon University, George Fox University, Klamath Community College, Lewis & Clark College, Linfield College, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University, Oregon Institute of Technology, Portland Community College, Portland State University, Rogue Valley Community College, Southwest Oregon Community College, University of Oregon, University of Portland, Warner Pacific University, and Western Oregon University.