Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Founder of Evive Station on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

We spoke with Tom Petrini, the founder of Evive Station, about his advice for young innovators in the engineering field.

Petrini built his company with the help of engineering students through the senior capstone design program. Evive Station offers its users double-walled BPA-free Tritan plastic reusable bottles, then allows unlimited cleaning and refilling--all for free. He brought his idea to the senior capstone design program and sponsored teams to help him create prototypes and build a business plan.

MNE: What do you think young innovators ought to know about entrepreneurship and the innovation process?

Tom Petrini: It's a life-dedicating process. Whatever it is that you're going after, your heart has to be behind it or you'll fail. You have to be able to deal with the peaks and valleys of what happens. You have to be very strong mentally and emotionally. You have to be able to hear 'no' many times before you hear a 'yes.'

MNE: What's the most rewarding part, for you, of seeing this process all the way through?

Petrini: The most rewarding part is to see people really stand behind the product and tell you how much they like it, to see something on Facebook or Twitter, or see people carrying around Evive bottles and using them. Really, at the end of the day, the coolest thing is making people's lives more convenient, and that's all I think every business shoots for: to make someone's life better in some certain way.

MNE: What advice would you give young innovators today?

Petrini: Entrepreneurship really isn't a thing that you go into and know all about. You have to be curious and want to be able to figure out any different part of a business. If you don't know, you have to go out and figure out the answer, maybe get someone to help you.

Read an article on the MNE website about how Penn State engineers contributed to Evive Station.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Patents and Intellectual Property

All this talk of innovation has us thinking about patents and intellectual property. But with the world moving from "mechanical" to "digital," as Charles Duhigg terms it, are the same old patent laws still adequate?

The digital age presents new problems in enforcing patent laws, and patent lawsuits are becoming more widespread. This has the damaging effect of discouraging entrepreneurs and making it more difficult and less attractive for them to hone their new ideas for the marketplace.

Further, the race for patents means that companies are filing patents for concepts instead of products and using these patents to, essentially, hold their place in line.

Duhigg writes, "[T]he marketplace for new ideas has been corrupted by software patents used as destructive weapons."

Listen to more about this in a story on NPR's Fresh Air: "In Digital War, Patents are the Weapon of Choice."

Read Charles Duhigg's New York Times article, "The Patent, Used as a Sword."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Interview with the MNE Judges

Two of our MNE Innovation Competition judges took some time out of their day to talk about their participation on the judges' panel and the importance of innovation in engineering.

MNE department: What made you particularly interested in sitting on the judges' panel for the Innovation Competition?

Marty Trethewey: My motivation was to promote innovation within the student body. This is a chance to give students opportunities to explore innovation, to take their ideas and move them forward.

MNE: Why is innovation important to an engineering curriculum and to the engineering mindset?

Hosam Fathy: I think it is very important to recognize that the biggest contributions that engineering has made to the welfare of mankind have come from radical shifts in thinking, rather than iterative, incremental enhancements of existing ideas. We can--and definitely should--teach students the process of polishing existing engineering systems to make them safer, more efficient, more durable, and less expensive. Beyond this "better mousetrap" mindset, though, we need to give them the freedom to radically shift human thinking. To quote Steve Jobs, we need to give these students the freedom to "make a dent in the universe."

MNE: What is your role as an MNE Innovation Competition judge?

Trethewey: During the contest, my role was to evaluate the students' proposals and provide them with some guidance as to how to be successful. Now, as the competition moves forward, I'll be available as a sounding board for their ideas and their organization to hopefully get them to a successful conclusion.

Fathy: My role is to do everything in my ability to help these students succeed. My hope is that I can help these students without stifling their creativity.

MNE: What role has innovation played in your career?

Trethewey: Innovation has always played a major role in my career, particularly during my industrial experience where trying to create products and items that the public wanted was very critical. You have to try to separate your ideas from the competition. Innovation is key to the American economy, and that's something we as Americans do the best. We need to instill that in our current students.

Fathy: It would be very arrogant of me to claim that I, myself, am an innovator. I have, however, been fortunate to learn from the creative and innovative work of others. Perhaps the biggest source of pride in my career is the fact that some of the most innovative people I have met in my life are my own students. It makes me very proud to think of every occasion on which my own thinking changed radically because of my students' work.

Marty Trethewey is the Arthur L. Glenn Professor in Mechanical Engineering and the Professor-in-Charge of Undergraduate Programs in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering. He holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University. A member of the Penn State faculty since 1982, Trethewey's research interests include experimental technique development, signal processing, experimental modal analysis, structural modeling and analysis, noise control, and product design.

Hosam Fathy is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the MNE department, a title he has held since 2010. Previously, he was an assistant research scientist and founder of the Control Optimization Lab at the University of Michigan, where he also earned his Ph.D. He holds an M.S. in mechanical engineering from Kansas State University and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Fathy's research interests include control-oriented modeling of health degradation in advanced batteries; battery health-conscious optimal power management in sustainable energy systems; networked hardware-in-the-loop simulation of sustainable energy systems.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Meet the Teams

Four teams pitched their ideas on Oct. 5 to our panel of judges in the MNE Innovation Competition. The teams were required to have at least one mechanical engineering undergraduate student, but other members of the team could be from any major--making this a true interdisciplinary effort!

Vertical Greenhouse

The first team to present (pictured at left) proposed a vertical greenhouse that will allow small-footprint organic agricultural production. Team members are Jared Yarnall-Schane (mechanical engineering), Dustin Betz (biology), Mike Ghen (computer engineering), Michael Zaengle (architecture), Jonathan Gumble (landscape contracting), and Kenneth Palamara (environmental engineering).

Modular Robotics Kit

The second team proposed to create a reconfigurable modular robotics kit to introduce the concept of robotics to middle school, high school and college students, thereby generating interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Team members include Randy Schur, Peter Heibert, and Chris Dickson, all mechanical engineering seniors.

Interactive Hand Device

The third team proposed an interactive device for the hand that would facilitate physical communication and interaction with the technologies around us, like computers and television. It would also have applications in robotics technologies. Team members include Zack Francis, a senior mechanical engineering major, and Eli Knebel, a senior computer engineering major.

Robotic Hand

Geoffrey Andrews was the last presenter, and he proposed an idea to produce a low-cost, lightweight robotic hand using stereolithography with potential applications in prosthesis development. Andrews is a sophomore mechanical engineering major.

The MNE Innovation Competition

Welcome to the blog following the first MNE Innovation Competition. The competition was made possible by the generous donation of an anonymous mechanical engineering alum who wanted to support the encouragement of innovation and entrepreneurship among our students.

The competition was announced in early September, giving students a few weeks to gather their teams and draw up a proposal for submission on the MNE Innovation Competition website. Four registered teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges on Friday, Oct. 5. Judging mimicked the popular Shark TankTM television program on ABC.

Judges for the panel included Dr. Marty Trethewey, the Arthur L. Glenn Professor of Mechanical Engineering and professor-in-charge of the MNE undergraduate programs; Dr. Hosam Fathy, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Elizabeth Kisenwether, assistant professor in the school of engineering design and the co-director of Lion Launch Pad and the new university-wide Entrepreneurship minor; and mechanical engineering alumnus Raymond Stevens (B.S. ME '88, MBA '97), founder and head of operations at AltheRx Pharmaceuticals.

"The MNE Innovation Competition was a great opportunity for us to encourage innovation in our undergraduate students while also being innovative in how students presented their ideas. The students did a great job, and the judges were supportive yet willing to ask the tough questions."
--Dr. Timothy Simpson, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and one of the Innovation Competition coordinators

Look for upcoming posts with more information on the judges and the participating teams!

Learn more about the MNE Innovation Competition at our website.