Category: Entrepreneurship

Michigan Tech Hockey Hero turned Energy Entrepreneur

Mark Malekoff was a member of the Michigan Tech Ice Hockey team before graduating in 2008 when her earned his Bachelors in Business Administration.
Mark Malekoff was a member of the Michigan Tech Ice Hockey team before graduating in 2008 when he earned his Bachelors in Business Administration.

Mark Malekoff jokingly refers to his four companies as his “backup plan.” The original plan was to become a star in the National Hockey League.

The Grande Prairie-born-and-raised entrepreneur was captain of the local Alberta Junior Hockey League team, the Storm, before receiving a scholarship to play for the Huskies at Michigan Technological University. Plans for an NHL career changed in Michigan, however, as Malekoff studied finance and developed an interest in business and entrepreneurship that set him up to run his own company – then companies – back in Grande Prairie.

After graduating in 2008, Malekoff returned home where he quickly found work as a business analyst with Bonnett’s Energy Corp. and found an opportunity to volunteer coaching AAA hockey. Not one to sit still, he also began working towards a certified management accountant designation, which he received in 2011.

In what he calls his “spare time” between working at Bonnett’s, studying for his CMA and coaching, Malekoff took on enough debt to purchase three rig mats and begin renting them out to energy services companies in and around Grande Prairie. That was the beginning of his first business, TriTech Energy Services Inc., which now rents sour service storage tanks, pipe skids, manifolds and flowlines in addition to rig matting.

Inspired by British billionaire Richard Branson’s “screw it, let’s do it” attitude, Malekoff eventually took on more debt to acquire a safety and training business in June 2013. That acquisition became TriTech Safety and Training Inc., Malekoff’s second company, which provides at least four courses a day for oilfield personnel throughout Alberta and northeastern B.C. who require first aid, hydrogen sulfide or workplace hazardous information system training.

Was taking on debt nerve-wracking? Definitely. “You go from college, where you don’t have a lot of cash, to taking on a mortgage, and then taking on debt payments,” the now 30-year-old serial entrepreneur says, though he echoes Branson’s optimism: “Just go for it.”

This year, he decided to launch two more companies: Nakoda Energy Services and Rise Energy Services. The first business targets hydraulic fracturing companies and hopes to sell them third-party heat-capturing inflatable lid systems for their frack tanks, which he says can reduce water heating budgets for pressure-pumping companies by $20,000 per day. Rise Energy Services meanwhile offers downhole tools services to drilling companies in the field.

Asked if he has always had an inclination toward entrepreneurship, Malekoff says no. Not when he was a young boy or a teenager – he didn’t have time. “I was always pretty tied up playing hockey,” he says.

This story was written by Alberta Oil Staff for Alberta Oil Magazine.


Tech Students Collaborate Innovatively

Michigan Tech’s campus is abuzz with activities leading up to technological innovations and ground-breaking advancements in various fields of engineering. While they may be successful as technologies, do they have the potential to offer opportunities for creating new businesses around them? Our senior year students provide the answer by undertaking the Business Development Experience courses (BUS 4991 and BUS 4992).

Business DevelopmentOffered as a two-course sequence – BUS 4991 in the fall and BUS 4992 in the spring – the Business Development Experience provides students with the perfect entrepreneurial learning experience and the opportunity to work alongside Tech’s engineering students, real-world innovators and entrepreneurs. Students assume entrepreneurial roles and work in teams on projects offered by the Enterprise program, Senior Design, MTEC SmartZone and the Innovation & Industry Engagement (IIE) office housed in the Advanced Technology Development Complex. The course provides an opportunity to integrate these entities into a sustainable entrepreneurial eco-system.

These two courses are taught by Dr. Saurav Pathak, who holds the title of ‘Rick and Jo Berquist Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation’ within the School of Business and Economics. This year, he has secured six projects for his Business Development Experience course for students to tackle. The majority of the projects for this academic year are sourced from entrepreneurs local to the Upper Peninsula. Among the projects supporting Tech’s surrounding community include a novel clothing protector for traveling professionals, a gravity-enabled wood pellet de-duster, and a patented new masonry brick-laying technology.

Another locally sourced project is brought to Business Development Experience students by Michigan Tech SBE instructor, Jonathan Leinonen. He will be mentoring students and requesting that they offer a fully developed online game related to and of interest to the Michigan Tech student and alumni body.

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Graphene, a highly conductive and extremely strong transmittable metal

The course would also involve students finding a “route-to-market” for two patented technologies – offered as projects by the IIE office. Students would find ways to commercialize a new way of processing “red mud” – a toxic waste produced during the extraction of Aluminum from Bauxite – with hydrophobic polymers into useful items such as cat litter. The other project’s goal would be to identify the potential partnerships, applications, and competitive landscape of Graphene, a highly conductive and extremely strong transmittable metal. Graphene is thought to be the future technology for capacitors.

Throughout the process, students will gain skills from establishing a target market, conducting customer discovery, developing a business model, pricing framework, developing a financial strategy, proposing a prototype, and potentially deploying a commercial version of each product. Over the last three academic years (2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14), more than 60 students have undergone this entrepreneurial learning experience working across 18 technology-based projects provided by our partners. The academic year of 2014-15 will see 23 additional students undergoing this experience working over 6 projects.

In the past, project owners have made generous donations to show their support for our students’ efforts. This year, the Dean’s office has offered funding that would be used to enhance the student learning experience by letting them go outside the classroom and achieve tasks that are essential of any business development. Dr. Pathak’s vision for the coming years is to make this course a revenue generator for the SBE wherein only sponsored/funded projects would be considered.

Carly Harrington, Academic Advisor for the School of Business and Economics, explains the importance of the Business Development Experience in these projects,

With our senior-level Business Development Experience, students have the opportunity to handle financial planning, marketing plans, and business management for real-world research projects and engineering design teams. This opportunity allows for cross-disciplinary collaboration building teamwork skills and strengthening student’s resumes.

Current Michigan Tech students interested in enrolling in the Business Development Experience should contact Carly Harrington (benson@mtu.edu) to discuss their course schedule. Prospective Tech students with questions about the Business Development Experience should contact business@mtu.edu.

This article was written with contributions from Dr. Saurav Pathak.


SBE Senior Opens Own Business

Scott Ramage has just a few months left until he graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Operations and Systems Management from the School of Business and Economics, but that didn’t stop him from celebrating the opening of his new business on February 5.  This unique venture is called 906 Vapor, and is an electronic cigarette lounge and vapor bar.

What is an electronic cigarette?  Often referred to as an e-cigarette, this personal vaporizer often looks much like an “old-fashioned” cigarette with an LED light on the end.  Using one of these satisfies nicotine cravings without most of the chemicals and carcinogens known to typical tobacco products.

Where did Scott find the inspiration to become an entrepreneur before even graduating?  He says that he owes some of his success to his dedicated personality, persistence, and of course, the classes he’s taken as part of his undergraduate career at Michigan Tech!  The idea for 906 Vapor originally began as a homework assignment for Scott’s Management of Technology and Innovation (MGT 4600) course.  His professor, Andre Laplume, encouraged him to keep thinking about ways to make the business into a reality.  Scott also drew inspiration from Michele Loughead’s business courses, as well as BUS 2300: Quantitative Problem Solving, taught by Roger Woods.

After graduation, Scott plans to continue his success with 906 Vapor while furthering his education.  Perhaps he may even be interested in pursuing his MBA through the School of Business and Economics!

For all of SBE’s young entrepreneurs, Scott offers some advice: “If you have an idea and you believe it will work, take the chance and give it all you have.  Even if you fail, keep trying.  The experience and knowledge gained can never be taken away from you.  It can only benefit you in your future endeavors.”

Do you have an idea for a new business venture?  Or have you recently started your own business?  Tell us all about it in the comments!


MTU Team Makes Final Cut of MCIP

The Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize is a six month program that enables teams to go from an idea to venture launch.

A new statewide entrepreneurial contest aims to arm students with the resources and skills necessary to launch a successful tech start-up in the state of Michigan. In addition to more than $100,000 in award money, the Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize (MCIP) offered participants intensive start-up training based on the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program.

Michigan Tech fielded a team out of a project for the Business Development Experience course — one of four required for the Entrepreneurship Concentration.

"Our low cost ventilator which encompasses a robust and simple design, is used to provide life saving care for infants suffering from respiratory ailments in developing countries," said Smith.

The Michigan Tech students who participated were:

  • Cole SmithManagement major
  • Brock TreanklerManagement major
  • Colin PuttersMarketing major
  • Carolynn MagnusonMarketing major
  • Derek MazurBiomedical Engineering major

The challenge kicked off in late October with a two-day workshop and culminated in February with a final showcase and awards ceremony. During the intervening four months, participants attended biweekly online progress meetings and received pitch training, mentorship and up to $2,000 in prototype funding. Teams were encouraged to brainstorm and innovate on their business model and position in the market.

90 teams participated in the first round and 29 made it on to the finals. Applicants were evaluated based on:

  • The viability and impact of their technology
  • How their business differentiates itself in the marketplace
  • The skill and experience level of the team members.

The Michigan Tech Team mentored by Professor Entrepreneurship and Innovation Dr. Saurav Pathak, Instructor Jonathan Leinonen, and Senior Lecturer in Accounting Anne Warrington was one of the teams selected to advance to the finals. Their project was to develop a low cost ventilator for infants in Ghana. This is an International Business Venture project out of the Enterprise program. The Michigan Tech team went on to win a $2,000 grant to further develop their product.

Event coordinators say the statewide venture challenge will help both the state and its students by keeping Michigan relevant in the knowledge economy and creating different career paths for college graduates.