In the wake of Steve Jobs’ recent passing, many people were heard to ask, “Are there any innovators left?” While someone of Jobs’ influence may only come around once per generation, there is an amazing amount of engineering innovation percolating across the U.S. Maybe the bigger question is: How do we capitalize on the innovators that we have?
(l to r) Lance Brown, WTWH Media, Inc., Tom Gillespie, founder of TommyCo., and his son Owen, and Steve Millard, President and Executive Director of COSE (Council of Small Enterprises).
It’s the hope of encouraging young entrepreneurs that led WTWH Media, the parent company of this publication, to sponsor COSE’s Business Pitch Competition. As part of WTWH’s “Live Your Dream” program, the company’s $25,000 contribution propelled the COSE competition to the next level.
COSE, formed almost 40 years ago as the The Council of Smaller Enterprises, is greater Cleveland’s largest small business support organization and has more than 15,000 members. The Business Pitch Competition included 88 aspiring entrepreneurs who submitted a two-page executive summary and two-minute video pitching their ideas. Similar to the concept of the popular ABC reality TV show, Shark Tank, the competition awarded $40,000 in prize money to the finalists, with the top winner taking home $20,000.
Following is a look at three of the semi-finalists in the program who had interesting engineering angles to their business plans, as well as the overall winner. All four came into the WTWH offices to interview with our editorial team.
TommyCo., maker of the Travel Tube (Overall winner)
Business Idea: The Travel Tube can be used both as a shipping container and travel case for golf clubs, firearms, fishing equipment, baseball equipment, architecture and surveying equipment, or any other item which lends itself to the size and shape of the tube. The Travel Tube’s hard shell case meets all airline safety standards so that you won’t need to purchase additional insurance.
Tom Gillespie, founder of TommyCo., designed the tubes for equal weight distribution of stored items. The tube is easy and safe to carry and can be attached to a motorcycle, ATV, or the exterior of any other vehicle.
The Travel Tube is made of high-density polyethylene plastic that provides rugged protection of its contents while O-Ring seals ensure water resistance under the most adverse weather conditions. Weighing less than 7 lb, it is substantially lighter than a traditional golf shipping container, and a further design feature makes it simple to convert into a standard golf bag. The three components of the Travel Tube can be simply and rapidly dismantled in order to load equipment, for easy cleaning and for convenient storage.
Initial design was done using Solid Works 3D CAD software. Prototypes were manufactured using 3D printing technology and mass production of the Travel Tube will use a rotational molding process. The Travel Tube will be manufactured in the greater Cleveland area.
Design Flux Technologies, LLC
Business Idea: Design Flux Technology can extend the life of an unmanaged battery pack by a factor of four. They use an electronic control system to accurately monitor battery-to-battery variations, predict failures, and communicate battery pack performance, all of which may be extended to most batteries and applications.
The alternative energy industry is a $200 billion dollar market and growing, but a major roadblock stands to limit this growth: energy storage. The alternative energy industry relies on battery packs for energy storage, but market demand is out-pacing the $60 billion dollar battery industry’s supply. Battery pack replacement is inevitable and expensive, often costing millions of dollars in these applications. Unless there is a way to improve battery life and performance, the cost of replacing batteries will hinder the growth of the alternative energy industry.
Design Flux Technology was born from battery research laboratories of Northeast Ohio to address a recurring and fundamental need for integrated battery management systems. After researching battery technology and consulting for industry, two University of Akron students, Courtney Gras and Tom Vo, founded the LLC with the support of their colleagues, mentors, and the University.
In the lab Courtney and Tom use Eagle CAD for PCB layout, Advanced Circuits to produce the PCB, Zephyrtronics SMD/BGA Rework Station, Fluke DMMs, Agilent and Tektronix oscilloscopes.
Innovative Developments Inc.
Business Idea: Wearable Human Interface Device.
For the minimalists among us, this “Human Interface Device” is essentially a computer mouse control that fits on the index finger of either hand. Its four buttons let you control computers, tablet PCs, TV and other media. With this wearable human interface device, you can open and close files, operate your CAD programs, and execute other tasks with your finger and thumb.
Inside, the device uses MEMS technology, an accelerometer and a gyroscope along with wireless technology from TI. The technology captures 3D data: position of the hand, angular rate, and accelerations in all three axes. Thus, touching specific locations along the touch pad controls cursor movement in 3D space, including left, right, middle mouse clicks, scroll and zoom functions. The device supports programmable gesture enabled commands.
If you use two of these devices, one on either hand, you gain the ability to alter the screen display; you will be able to stretch the image between the two cursors and alter it other three-dimensional ways.
Said Nick Mastandrea, CEO, CTO, and developer of this device, “It is a unique approach to human interface devices in that it gives you increased mobility in multiple environments. You can have both hands free to perform other tasks and then when necessary control your computing environment without needing a traditional mouse surface to operate a traditional mouse, or in other applications, need a special in-air pointer.
Applications, aside from personal use when you are in cramped spaces, include military and medical. The military are looking into the ability to control information dissemination with simple hand gestures. In medical, this device can help nurses move information across monitors and patients with limited hand mobility.
Tunnel Vision Hoops
Business Idea: Tunnel Vision Hoops
The goal behind founders Todd Alexander, Carlton Jackson, and Michael Walton’s design was to give crops the air movement they need, while adding additional growing or storage space. The company’s All-Weather Retractable Domes allow one person to fully open the end-wall and to vent the tunnel. The structures also improve tunnel access for large equipment.
Tunnel Vision was started after Alexander and Jackson joined a group of people doing a “barn raising” of a growing tunnel on Walton’s farm (the tunnels extend the growing season for certain crops to year-round). After hours of struggling, most of the helpers had given up, leaving the three men to figure out how to assemble the structure. They were alternately perplexed and frustrated with the instructions and construction of the building. Alexander and his team decided to create their own version, but one with domes on one or both ends. This construction allows for one person, using a repurposed boat winch, to open the dome end for air circulation in the hotter summer months. As a result, no electric fans are required, allowing the design to be totally off-grid. Other improvements include an attached rainwater collection system and a more secure mounting system, so the tunnel stays anchored, even in high winds. Optional wheels allow the entire dome to be moved when necessary.
Filed Under: Software • 3D CAD, Green engineering • renewable energy • sustainability, Materials • advanced, Energy management + harvesting