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The Missing Link for Supporting Business Start-Ups and Innovation: A Workforce Model (Update 2/24/17)

Entrepreneurs gain access to equipment and talent to build prototypes, and college students earn work experience and money for college.

Photo of Ina Agnew

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The Need (Updated 2/1/17)

According to Forbes magazine, "small business is - quite frankly - big business" (Leinbach-Rehyle, 2014). Nationally, 63% of new jobs have come from small businesses. 90% of start-ups fail, and only 50% of small businesses survive five years or more (Forbes, 1/2015).  In our energy-centric State of Oklahoma, diversification is necessary to ensuring economic stability.  One of the best ways to diversify is by doing a better job of supporting business start-ups, expansions, and innovators.

The Idea (1/17)

The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST) is one way in which the State provides funding to entrepreneurs and inventors. Businesses and inventors apply to the Inventors Assistance Service. The applicant's ideas are vetted for feasibility, and checked for patent infringement. Once approved, applicants are sent to the New Product Development Center (NPDC), operated under the auspices of OCAST, to get help with the design of their inventions, and to make connections to other funding sources. If approved, NPDC assists the entrepreneur/inventor with funding through OCAST's sources.

The missing link (refer to Missing Link Project Chart for OCAST) is how to support businesses who need to produce a prototype that they can test and get mass produced or, how to economically produce limited runs of a "part"they need to improve operations/efficiencies. This is a critical period for the business as it needs time to secure capital to make the parts itself, or the prototype to demonstrate that it can provide a return on investment for potential investors.

Herein enters the partnership between OSU Institute of Technology (OSUIT) and OCAST. Initially, the NPDC will connect businesses that need assistance with the manufacturing program at OSUIT.  Over time, and with proven successes, the partnership will expand to include other programs such as civil engineering technologies, electronics/instrumentation, and other degree programs offered through OSUIT. Faculty and students will meet with the entrepreneurs/inventors to discuss needs and will engage in real, hands-on projects to produce the prototypes and limited runs.

Current Versus Proposed Process (Added 2/7/17)

Currently, if entrepreneurs/innovators are interested in producing a prototype, the process means working through multiple organizations (“touch”) who handle a single piece of the work, and don’t know or understand how its separate parts, the final product, will work. Each “touch” is a potential opportunity for derailment, or at the very least, a potentially large outlay of time and money.

In the graphic below, the innovator is an amputee who would like to ski once again. There are four touch points: 1) convey the idea to the designer, 2) conduct an initial fitting with an orthotic specialist, 3) manufacture the piece, and 4) ensure the prosthetic is properly designed and fitted. Each "touch" may be wholly developed without any knowledge of how all parts will fit together, and may result in time delays or additional cash outflow--both contributing factors to business failures.

Multi-Touch/Multi-Failure Points

The proposed approach (see graphic below) condenses the current process from a multi-stage path to one interface path, reducing potential derailments that can occur in a multi-stage process (e.g., time, money, poor fit, etc.). OSUIT’s faculty and students interact with the entrepreneur to understand the concept, how the product will be used, and then produce what is necessary by determining the best way to move the concept from the product development stage through the manufacturing process, completely in-house.

One Touch Manufacturing Process

Uniqueness of Idea (Updated 2/23/17)

The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, an organization dedicated to supporting and advancing manufacturers, noted that many manufacturers don't have access to the equipment OSUIT has in its manufacturing labs, or to the level of technical expertise (faculty) and human resources, e.g., college students. Please see the video, Manufacturing Lab, for a description of the program/equipment.

These project relationships enable OSUIT to incorporate supplemental curriculum for classes, contextualizing learning for the students, and providing them with additional technical skills for their resume.  Projects will be reviewed to determine modifications to the manufacturing curriculum as OSUIT must produce technicians whose competencies meet what industry demands. If manufacturing is heading in a direction that is not currently addressed by OSUIT's curriculum, i.e., five axis machines, CATIA software, etc., we can build this into the curriculum. And, it also provides a way for businesses who do not have representatives on our manufacturing advisory board, a voice for influencing the curriculum--what we teach, how, and certifications that students may earn on their way to the college degree.

Benefits to the Entrepreneur/Inventor:

* An economically feasible way to do limited runs and prototypes.

* Identify future workforce by working with college students.

* Relief in the form of additional time to secure capital and investors.

* Access to equipment they need, but don't have the wherewithal to purchase.

Benefits to the Student:

* Real work on real projects to build up in-demand technical skills.

* Earning money to pay for college expenses.

* Potential employment offers through businesses who utilize this service.

Benefits to the University:

* A revenue stream to reduce its dependency on tuition and fees.

* Discover trends and new directions for business that will affect what/how we teach.

* Networking that may result in future donations and board members.

Benefits to the State of Oklahoma:

* A new way to support start-ups and business expansions/innovations.

* Diversification of business to lessen dependency on energy.

* A workforce development program and way to address the skills gap shortage.

* Expansion of the tax base.

Pilot Project (Added 2/24/17)

The program will run at OSUIT, Pryor, OK. Our director and lead faculty are both engineers with many years of industry experience.  This type of work is currently carried out. One of the projects is illustrated below.

Design to Prototype to Manufacturing Project

After evaluating, using metrics described in a separate section, the program will be replicated at OSUIT, Okmulgee, OK.

Solicitation and Use of Feedback (Added 2/24/17)

We are in the process of developing a survey to distribute to OCAST clients. The NPDC Director has agreed to contact current clients and ask them to complete the surveys. We need to develop the questions that will help us collect the quantitative and qualitative data we need to make sure the program meets the needs of the people for whom it was designed.

We have, however, integrated feedback from administrators of all the partner organizations (OSUIT, OCAST, NPDC), and this led to the sections noted as (Added/Updated M/D/YY) in this document. OCAST acknowledged that there is a critical need for this service, and asked that we move quickly.  The discussion led to the following:

  • OCAST will provide a one-year investment of $30,000 to pay for a lead faculty.
  • OSUIT must provide the match.
  • OCAST would like to scale-up quickly with engineering and other programs.
  • NPDC will work with OSUIT on funding and project work opportunities.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

This idea is designed for college students, colleges, entrepreneurs, inventors, and the State of Oklahoma. College students earn experience and money for college; entrepreneurs gain access to produce inexpensive prototypes by paying a fee-for-service, AND identify potential workforce; colleges gain another revenue stream; and, Oklahoma improves its economic development and tax base. Projects provide supplemental education not currently in curriculum; OSUIT identifies trends to modify program.

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

OpenIDEO would be valuable in providing networking opportunities, referrals to government and state agencies or private organizations that fund entrepreneurs and innovators. What has worked, what are factors that should be taken into consideration. How do other States help connect businesses with others who can help them develop prototypes, provide expertise, etc.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The New Product Development Center can identify one of its clients that needs a part built. Students in OSUIT's manufacturing program can, under the leadership of manufacturing faculty, create the prototype for the business. OSUIT, along with the business representative, will then engage in a critical incident review. Questions: 1. What went well? 2. What were the problems, and how can they be addressed? 3. Did the current manufacturing curriculum provide the necessary knowledge?

Tell us about your work experience:

I've worked primarily for non-profit organizations, beginning with the Boy Scouts of America before transitioning into higher education. My job is to help students become financially independent through their college education. My passion is working with marginalized populations. My focus has been on helping companies develop their pipeline of technical talent by sponsoring students at OSUIT through paid internships and scholarships, as well as upfront employment agreements.

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone? 2-3 sentences.

On Shark Tank, at least one entrepreneur in each episode has a product that needs to be manufactured, but does not have the capital to make it happen. Those entrepreneurs are trying to take their concept from design and prototyping to testing and, finally, production. Entrepreneurs can access all these resources—engineering and manufacturing experts, production personnel, the equipment and facilities, at a reasonable charge, in just one place, through OSU Institute of Technology’s project.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

Integrating real-world projects into the academic curriculum to provide students with paid, relevant work experience, while improving the success rate of start-ups and business expansions by providing a single interface path (one place) for vetted project ideas to move from the concept stage, through all phases of development, to the production-ready stage.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

The proposed approach condenses the current process from a multi-stage path to one interface path, reducing potential derailments that can occur in a multi-stage process (e.g., time, money, poor fit, etc.). OSUIT’s faculty and students interact with the entrepreneur to understand the concept, how the product will be used, and then produce what is necessary by determining the best way to move the concept from the product development stage through the manufacturing process, completely in-house.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Proposed Metrics: • Customer satisfaction surveys • # of referrals • # of repeat customers • # clients served • Net revenue generated • # students involved • Compare the academic performance, persistence, and graduation rates of students involved in projects to those who are not • Placement of students into full-time positions with clients • Compare success rate of clients to entrepreneurs who are not clients • Comparison of cost per piece at average industry prices to actual pro

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

Our pilot project will start at OSUIT in Pryor, OK. We’ll scale up at the Okmulgee campus after evaluating in Pryor. Any organization that has the required assets: computer-based CAD, machining capabilities (both manual and CNC), quality metrology instrumentation, incubation facilities, and qualified, well-trained professionals, led by experienced mechanical and electrical technical staff can replicate it. What we’ll provide is our additional know-how from documenting the implementation process.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

• Complete and distribute survey to NPDC clients. • Create policies and procedures for working with referrals, identifying required reporting, etc. • Create metrics for evaluating new hire and project performance, tracking referrals, etc. • Create a position description and advertise for a project leader to work with existing technical staff. • Orientation and training for new hire.
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Team (3)

Jawad's profile
Jawad Ali

Role added on team:

"Jawad, I'd like to add you as a team member. Your idea is very similar to what I've proposed, and I think I could benefit greatly from your experiences as you move forward with implementation."

Dathane's profile
Dathane Turner

Role added on team:

"I hope you'll allow me to add you to my team. I'm interested in keeping in touch on how your idea progresses."

Ina's profile
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Attachments (2)

Missing Link Project Process.pdf

The Missing Link Process provides entrepreneurs and innovators with a one-stop shop for producing prototypes and limited runs. From the idea, to the design, and manufacturing, there will be an assigned faculty member and student team. This reduces time delays and increased opportunity costs that may happen when there is a failure at any point to complete the prototype.


The State of Oklahoma, through OCAST, provides funding to help inventors and entrepreneurs with developing their inventions. The missing link, though, is the development of prototypes that will then be manufactured and taken to market, or applied at the entrepreneur's place of business. College students in manufacturing can help develop the prototype, gain valuable work experience, earn money for college, and learn company knowledge that will make that student more marketable upon graduation.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jawad Ali

Hi Team ...excited to be part of this project. What steps have y'all been working on Ina Agnew and how can I help? If you would like to coordinate further over phone/email let me know! I'm going to tag Kate Rushton as well because that always seems to help : p

Photo of Ina Agnew

Hello Juwad:

Our Oklahoma team has completed the responses, developed the graphics, etc. For the pilot project, that will be handled at the Mid America Industrial Park location for OSU Institute of Technology.

What we are missing, though, is a survey for the data collection portion.  We would like to know if businesses would even take advantage of this kind of service.  What kinds of questions should be on a survey to distribute to entrepreneurs, economic development center staff, etc.? For example, "how likely are you to use a university service and college students to develop your prototype?" "When you started your business, what kind of support do you wish you had, but did not?"

Does this make sense? We need to gather data that will help us build our processes.  The New Product Development Center, which works with entrepreneurs, has agreed to distribute this survey to all of its clients.

Photo of Jawad Ali

That makes a lot of sense Ina. Anecdotally, I co-sponsored projects with med-tech companies that needed not just help with prototyping but connections to experts in the field as well as hospital systems. I also worked with a company that used an incubator type model at UT Austin to have campus office space as well as access to animal labs for testing. Is there a way for me to add to this phase? i.e. distribute the survey etc.



Photo of Ina Agnew

For the companies that needed help with prototyping, how did they access the service? Did you check out the graphics we added? Is it a similar process to what you used?

Did you have policies and procedures developed? How did you measure the effectiveness, satisfaction, etc? With this project, we'd like to evaluate how effective they will be. You'll see that we've identified metrics. What do you think of them?

Photo of Ina Agnew

Hello, Jawad:

I just wanted to check back and see if you've given any further thought to a survey we can distribute to businesses who are seeking funding for an invention or enhancement. We need to gather data that will help us determine if the companies will utilize this service, how they might like to be contacted, if they think it is worthwhile, etc.

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