Innovative, highly technical and eager student entrepreneurs at the Oregon Institute of Technology “Oregon Tech” came together Thursday, May 25, to compete for seed money to turn their product ideas and prototypes into real businesses. The competition is open to recent alumni and all students pursuing bachelor’s or master’s degrees in a number of different engineering, technology, health care or business programs at the public polytechnic university. The winning team, called The Reclaimers, is a concept by students Annika Andersen (Renewable Energy Engineering & Electrical Engineering), Ashlei Morgan (Mechanical Engineering) and Jessica Arrington (Mechanical Engineering). The team plans to turn recycled plastics into crude oil and use their $9,000 winnings to advance their usability testing. Judges noted that the concept responded to a very real need.
This is the fifth annual Catalyze Klamath Falls Challenge, which began with the concept of keeping Oregon Tech graduates in Klamath Falls to start entrepreneurial efforts after graduation, and help spur economic growth and stability in the region. Started in 2015 with the first awards totaling $9,000 to the innovator’s concepts, this year the competition had a total prize pool of $22,500. This included cash and donated space at the Gaucho Collective, a community maker space that brings together Klamath Falls entrepreneurs and creatives. With the theme of ‘Innovation Close to Home,’ eight strong teams competed in the final round of judging. Five volunteer judges, all from Oregon Tech’s business, community and university connections, watched the presentations, asked many probing questions, and selected the winners. This is the first year that an all-female team took first place.
The distinguished judges awarded the first place team $8,000 to invest in startup costs and ignite project development. The second- and third-place winners received $5,000 and $3,000, respectively, based on their plans and presentations. Individual prizes were also awarded for Audience Choice at $500; Entrepreneur in Action presented by Kat Rutledge on behalf of Klamath IDEA; Impressions Design and Marketing; and Gaucho Collective at $250 (plus $500 for design assistance and $2,400 for office space). Additionally, two teams were awarded $500 each to further develop their business plans and compete against other colleges and universities in the statewide InventOR semi-finals in May.
The 2018-19 Catalyze Klamath Falls Challenge was sponsored by investments from our community sponsors: Avista Corporation, City of Klamath Falls, Cypress Creek Renewables, Gaucho Collective, Impressions Design and Marketing, InventOR, Klamath County, Klamath County Economic Development Association (KCEDA), Klamath IDEA, Klamath Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Wendt Family Foundation.
- The Reclaimers, First Place: $8,000 prize to further usability testing of their industrial business, turning recycled plastic into crude oil. Inventors include Annika Andersen, a Renewable Energy Engineering and Electrical Engineering student; and Ashlei Morgan and Jessica Arrington who both study Mechanical Engineering. The team was also awarded the Audience Choice award presented by the Oregon Tech Foundation for $500, and an InventOR award of $500 to advance to the InventOR semi-finals.
- Keepsake Keychain, Second Place: $5,000 prize to create a product that securely stores jewelry in a convenient clip-on case. Senior inventor Jacey Conklin is a Business Marketing major.
- Imagine Mapz, Third Place: $3,000 prize to design an app that allows community members to interface with government leaders regarding community concerns. Developer William Natividad is a senior in Environmental Sciences.
Throughout the event, finalists presented and defended their business plans to the panel of judges which included: Jason Aarstad, Gathering Grounds and Gaucho Collective; Stephanie Hirche, Craft3; John Lamy, Lamy Consulting; Chad Olney, Pacific Federal Credit Union; and Matt Wendt, vice president of Spruce Street Ventures. Kelley Minty Morris, Klamath County Commissioner and Oregon Tech Board of Trustees member, was the Master of Ceremonies and effectively led the teams and judges through the fast-paced, timed presentations.
The eight project teams who presented at the Challenge included:
- The Reclaimers: Annika Andersen, Jessica Arrington, Ashlei Morgan
- Wet Jet Boards: Kris Canete, Duncan Lees
- Lifestyle Pack: Tim Hasty, Christian Meyers, Madi Sattler
- Imagine Mapz: Will Natividad
- Nuclear Medicine & PET/CT Clinic: Kevin Pierce, Shad Thorton
- Direct Air Carbon Capture (DACC): Justin Villers, Thomas Tappert, Robert Dandrea, Cody Taylor
- Keepsake Keychain: Jacey Conklin
- Basin Digital Solutions: Samuel Bishop, Tucker Meyers, Andy Halfacre, Matt Volpe
Also in attendance on behalf of InventOR were Juan Barraza from PSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Thais Rodick from the Oregon Lottery. They presented The Reclaimers and SODACC (all-in-one capture and delivery system for CO2) with InventOR awards of $500 each to build prototypes and present them at InventOR. An award given to the business which is the furthest down the road, the Entrepreneur in Action award was presented to Klamath Tangent, creator of the WeeGo pack - an easy and convenient traveling pack that is already being made in Klamath Falls; inventor Timothy Hasty practiced on-the-spot product marketing by giving away two packs to lucky audience members.
Faculty and staff members of the Oregon Tech Innovation and Entrepreneurship Committee who organized and managed this year’s Catalyze event include: Aja Bettencourt-McCarthy, Chair; Mark Ahalt, Sharon Beaudry, Jesse Chaney, Tara Guthrie, Mike Healy, Franny Howes, Don Lee, SophiaLyn Nathenson, Barbara Neal, Hallie Neupert, Mason Terry and Kristy Weidman.
For more information regarding the Catalyze Klamath Falls Challenge, visit www.oit.edu/catalyze.