Students Paul Wettin, left, Jacob Murray, Jeff Sweeney
and Carla Bagnell. Photos by Miles Pepper.
PULLMAN – It started as an idea in a college class. The instructor had a thumb drive with important information about an upcoming project, but nobody in the class had a laptop to upload the files.
“Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if you could transfer files from one thumb drive to another, instead of always needing a computer?’’ said Jacob Murray, a computer engineering student in the class, to his friend and fellow student Paul Wettin.
Murray and Wettin are two of four WSU graduates who will present their idea in Washington, D.C., this month as one of five team finalists in the 2010 Collegiate Inventors Competition.
The competition, started in 1990 and sponsored by the Abbott Fund and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is open to all full-time students at universities in the U.S. and Canada. According to its website, the competition “promotes exploration in invention, science, engineering, technology and other creative endeavors and provides a window on the technologies from which society will benefit in the future.’’
Last year as undergraduates the students – Wettin (computer engineering), Murray (computer engineering), Carla Heathman (electrical engineering) and Jeff Sweeney (business) – developed their working USB data storage and transfer device. Wettin and Murray are graduate students in computer engineering.
The WSU student team members were participants in the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute. The program helps train students in entrepreneurial skills through summer internships, visits with successful entrepreneurs, an on-campus summer program, and a year-long capstone design course that brings engineering and business students together to develop a product.
Murray is quick to admit that his good idea would have gone nowhere without the program. At the beginning of one of the summer courses, the students were required to pitch an idea to the class. He thought of the USB transfer device. The other students liked his idea and eventually chose it as one the class’ year-long, capstone design projects.
The students eventually took third place in WSU’s 2010 business plan competition. They are in negotiations with a company that is interested in their project and are also seeking funding to begin manufacturing.
“The transformation that has occurred in each one of these students as they have taken on this project has been nothing short of unbelievable,’’ said Robert Olsen, associate dean of undergraduate student services in the WSU College of Engineering and Architecture who leads the entrepreneurship institute. “With their confidence and ability to communicate, on top of their technical ability, they believe and I believe that they will have nothing but success in their endeavor.’’
In addition to Olsen, Denny Davis, professor in the WSU Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, and Joe Harris, professor of entrepreneurship, provided support for the project.
Finalists receive an all expenses paid trip to Washington, where they will present their idea to a panel of judges. The winning team will receive $10,000.