Some of Georgia’s top college students will compete for cash prizes and a free patent filing at an invention contest Wednesday night as part of the Third Annual InVenture Prize at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
It’s the school’s way of teaching students about entrepreneurship.
Some of the inventions are life-changing. For example, one team created a device that improves the way medics insert a breathing tube into a patient’s throat. The students drew inspiration from the drawbacks of the current intubation method.
“Not only is it hard to see, but you have to be an expert at it, and even then there are failures all the time,” said student inventor Elizabeth Flanagan. “You break teeth. You hurt patients. It’s just a barbaric system.”
Other inventions are more light-hearted. Sophomore Aaron Fan and his team invented a motorized, self-balancing two-wheel skateboard they call the Velociryder.
The skateboard will compete against six other prototypes that have made it to the final stage of the competition. Other finalists include a guitar clamp that lets musicians change key and an emergency generator made of recycled parts.
More than 100 students entered the contest last year. The final seven teams will present their inventions at a contest that’s modeled on the TV show “American Idol.”
The students have spent months developing prototypes and working on the pitches they will make to the panel of judges at the final competition.
Inventor Roger Pincombe shared a portion of his pitch earlier this month at a demonstration session: “It’s automatic e-commerce advertisement creation. What does that mean? It means it helps e-commerce companies save time, save money and increase sales by automating the advertisement generation.”
Pincombe’s advertisement generation software might or might not win the InVenture prize. But he represents a new ideal for Georgia Tech. Pincombe left the university last year and joined Microsoft. He then left Microsoft a few months later to devote himself full-time to his invention.
That’s the point of InVenture, according to Craig Forest, an engineering professor at Georgia Tech.
“It’s changing the culture here at Georgia Tech to be more entrepreneurial and inventive like that,” he said.
Forest said the university has long trained students for staff jobs at big companies.
“You’re very prepared to be a small cog in a big company where you do your calculations and you make a small part to a successful product,” Forest said. “That’s an admirable route, and we do that very, very well at Georgia Tech and we want to continue to do that well.”
But the InVenture prize is introducing students to a different path.
“The InVenture prize is showing all of these bright students that their crazy idea that they came up with in their dorm room or their lab when they were not paying attention to the professor up front, that crazy idea they had actually can be something real,” Forest said.
Forest speaks from experience.
After graduating from Georgia Tech 10 years ago, he invented a bicycle storage rack called the Claw. He didn’t know anything about patents or building a prototype, but he entered an invention contest and won. When he returned to Tech to teach, he started the InVenture program so his students could have the same experience.
The top inventor will receive $15,000 and a patent filing.
Flanagan with the medical intubation team does not know if she will win but is quite certain she gets the point of the InVenture prize.
“I think the whole point of this is to be able to take something that you’ve kind of nurtured for the last couple of months and bring it into a real market and have people buy it and look at it and say, ‘There was a need and now it’s been fulfilled,’” Flanagan said.