Day: November 16, 2011

Silicon Valley Visit – Students See the Future

Students at Brocade in Silicon Valley.

In spring 2011, students from across Michigan Tech had the opportunity to glimpse the professional possibilities that await them, thanks to a special spring break trip organized by the late School of Business and Economics Professor Bob Mark.

“While attending a conference in Silicon Valley a few years ago, I toured a high-tech business and saw technology that blew my mind,” said Mark. “It hit me that Michigan Tech students would really benefit from seeing what’s out there.”

To expose students to businesses that hire technologically savvy graduates, Mark organized tours of Silicon Valley companies, including Google, the Porter Family Vineyards, Plug n’ Play, the Stanford Research Institute, and Brocade Networks.

“Each and every site visit was a huge success,” he said. “The students asked great questions, and the company representatives were thrilled to have in-depth discussions. This type of technical expertise is not something they see in standard student groups—but then, Michigan Tech students are a cut above the rest.”

Participating students came from departments across campus, creating an interdisciplinary experience that Mark saw as beneficial for the entire group. Of the fifteen students, there were undergraduates and graduate students from business, computer science, mechanical engineering, and physics. Four were from China, one was from India, and one was from West Africa.

Michigan Tech alumni played a large role in the success of the trip, lending their time and expertise to enhance the students’ experience. Dave House ’65 led a presentation and data center tour at Brocade Networks, Tom Porter’s ’68 son, Tim, gave an in-depth tour of his family’s Napa winery, and Danielle VanDyke ’06 acted as a tour guide at Google’s Mountain View campus.

To wrap up the week, the Michigan Tech Alumni Association set up a reception at the Computer History Museum, which was attended by more than thirty alumni. Shankar Mukherjee ’86 and Dale Luck ’79 gave testimonials and entrepreneurial words of wisdom to the students at the reception.

“Our alumni love to talk to current students,” said Mark. “They went above and beyond to get us unique access, and we were treated like royalty everywhere we went.”

The spring break trip received positive feedback from both students and participating businesses—so much, in fact, that it will be offered as a one-credit class through Michigan Tech starting in spring 2012. The new structure will allow students to use their financial aid to cover the expenses. Mark expressed hope that the class will expand in the future to include faculty and students from all across campus. “We have great, smart students here at Michigan Tech, and it’s great to get them out into the world.”

The hard work, planning, and logistics that went into the trip were well worth the effort, said Mark. “The students’ reactions were unbelievable. When I was dropping off the last student, I asked what he thought. What he said summed it up perfectly: ‘It was life-changing.’”

Editor’s note: Bob Mark passed away after this article was written; we have included it to showcase his dedication to his students and his interest in their futures.

This article was originally published in Impact, the Michigan Tech School of Business and Economics magazine.


Pitching the Perfect Game (Plan): Students Sell Their Business Ideas

First-place winners Travis Beaulieu and Joel Florek receive $1,000 from Dean Darrell Radson.

At the Bob Mark Memorial Elevator Pitch Competition at Michigan Technological University on Nov. 14, 2011, students had three minutes to sell their next great business idea to a panel of judges. The pitches were as wide-ranging as they were clever.

Placing first–and winning the $1,000 top prize–was AsfalisMed, the creation of Travis Beaulieu and Joel Florek. Beaulieu is an applied physics major with a concentration in entrepreneurship and a minor in mathematics. Florek is a first-year engineering student and a member of the Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership. Their business would put everyone’s medical information on wallet-sized identification cards.

“We started with a USB drive,” Florek said, “before we moved on to student IDs. We’ve been working on it every night for a long time.”

“Yeah, we’ve been diligent,” Beaulieu agreed. “And we are going to present it to 10 other campuses across the nation.”

AsfalisMed also is a semifinalist in the statewide Accelerate Michigan innovation competition taking place in Ypsilanti, Mich., this week.

David Shull took home second place and $500 with his business, Picket, a textbook rental operation. His idea differed from similar current operations in one significant way.

“It’s peer to peer,” he said, “students working directly with other students. Using a QR code [scanned by their cellphones], they can make a connection in 30 seconds to a minute.”

Shull said his business would profit by getting a service fee, similar to eBay and PayPal. He said students would also be able to recover all their costs.

The SafePlug took third place. It was the brainstorm of biomedical engineering student Anne Dancy and mechanical engineering student Brett Jenkins. It would automatically turn off heat-producing appliances for those who have forgotten to do so.

“A bracelet would turn off the devices—hair dryers, electric blankets, portable heaters—if the person moved more than 50 yards away,” Dancy said.

By their calculations, they could sell the item and show a 40 percent return on each sale.

Other elevator pitches focused on web-based news-gathering applications, wedding services, better bicycle tires for Africa, healthier bakeries, Chinese language coaches and services for visiting the elderly with a cup of coffee.

It was the first elevator pitch competition named for the late Bob Mark, the Michigan Tech School of Business and Economics professor who started the competition in 2007.

TV6 news coverage and interview with Dean Darrell Radson.

Published in Michigan Tech News
By Dennis Walikainen