With lights, a stage and an audience, plus five judges seated “Shark Tank”-style,
budding entrepreneurs earned recognition and cash prizes at the annual Innovation
Challenge Expo, presented by Trine University and Fifth Third Bank, Greater Indiana.
Top projects included a product to help those with sensory disorders rock safely,
a product to help subdue tornadoes, loyalty programs for sports team fans and a cleaner
way to change oil in boat motors.
The event was held for the first time in the T. Furth Center for Performing Arts,
with high school competitors presenting on Feb. 19 and projects from the Trine University
campus and community presented Feb. 21.
“I think that the new format of live presentations added a level of realism to the
pitch presentations for the entrepreneurs,” said Jason Blume, executive director of
Trine innovation 1. “The prior format with just presenting to a group across a table
in a closed room didn’t have the weight of the dimmed lights and judges on stage.
Several presenters in both categories commented that pitching in a setting like this
was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The judging panelists all enjoyed the diversity
of presentations and ideas, commenting on how this format made the presentations have
to stay direct and concise with their message.”
In the high school category, first place in the business division, with a $2,000 cash
prize, went to The Bounce Back, by Abigail Yeager and Mason Fritch of Eastside High
School. The Bounce Back is a wedge-shaped insert that allows rocking in any chair
with a back, and is designed for those who use rocking as a self-stimulatory behavior,
such as some people with autism.
Second place, with a $1,000 cash prize, went to Drone Shots, a plan for an aerial
photography business using drone technology, by Gavin Swift and Caleb Nixon of DeKalb
Nylex, an app with resources for African American hair styling, earned the People’s
Choice Award, given to the project receiving the most votes from the audience. Nylex
was designed by Saniah Levy, Nylo Gammage and Lexi Harris of Career Academy of South
In the technology division, Project Helix, by Tristen Anderson of Career Academy of
South Bend, won first place and a $2,000 cash prize. Project Helix seeks to reduce
the strength of tornadoes through the targeted application of sodium polyacrylate.
A nylon taffeta keyboard covering to protect computer keyboard from liquids, Open
Care by Morgan Verse of Career Academy of South Bend, earned second place and a $1,000
cash prize. The People’s Choice Award was given to Raymond Milon and Dee Griffin of
Career Academy of South Bend for The Face Recognition Wallet, a wallet that would
require facial recognition to open.
In the campus and community category’s business division, first place, featuring a
$3,000 prize, was awarded to FESS, LLC (Fan Experience Strategies), by Andy Myers,
a sport management major from Rossford, Ohio. FESS, LLC also won the People’s Choice
Award. The proposed company would build unique loyalty programs for professional sports
Second place, with a $1,000 prize, went to Sonivation, LLC, by community member Doug
McGregor. Sonivation leverages the BackBeat acoustic guitar amplification device,
a 2019 Innovation Challenge winner, along with a mobile app that provides musicians
the opportunity to sell compositions or gear, or offer lessons.
In the technology division, first place and a $3,000 prize went to EZ Fill, by Trine
alumnus Mario Bonardi and his cousin Tiziano Bonardi. EZ Fill offers a way for boat
owners to change oil in hard-to-reach motors that causes less spillage.
The second place $1,000 prize and People’s Choice were awarded to the Shank Week Communication
App, by Trine University students Michael Scoffin, a biomedical engineering major
from Portage, Michigan; Joe LeSueur, a biomedical engineering major from Northfield
Center, Ohio; and Marisa Robinett, a biomedical engineering major from Auburn, Indiana.
The app would enhance communication for victims of stroke and special needs students.
The contest debuted in 2014 and has been financially supported by Fifth Third Bank,
Top photo: John Milner, assistant vice president and regional manager at Fifth Third Bank, left,
speaks with an Innovation Challenge contestant during the event’s presentations. Milner
was part of the panel of judges for the event. Other judges were, from left, Marlin
Stutzman, former congressman and member of the Trine University Board of Trustees;
Josh Wenning, executive director, Region 8 Education Resource Center; Bill Causey,
mentor, SCORE; and Deb Richard, assistant professor, Ketner School of Business. (Photos
by Dean Orewiler)