Teams advance to InventOR finals

Published by Adrien Vara on

Student presenter stands with a smile and hands clasped in front as she speaks. In a semi-circle facing her students sitting at the table. To the far right, Abigail Van Gelder, stands at the podium.
Chloé Le Moing, a member of one of the OSHU teams, presents her wellness industry product “CORÉ.” The product aims to help professionals in the medical field. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Two media students, Amaryah Vara and Robin Bailey, skipped classes May 8 to 10 to participate in InventOR’s semi-final bootcamp at Portland State University, a program that encourages students to see themselves as inventors.

“Invent Oregon is the state’s only college-level prototyping competition, providing the grants and guidance necessary to take a student’s idea for positive impact through all stages of prototyping,” the competition’s website explains. Student teams develop a device or product that could be commercialized from a concept through prototype. Recruitment for InventOR teams began in the fall and competition continues through June when teams present their finished prototypes. Invent Oregon is the state’s only college-level prototyping competition.

On a table cluttered with craft supplies and a disposable coffee cup, a student focuses on her project. She is wearing dark framed glasses with a yellow tint, a dark gray shirt and blue nail polish.
Adrien Vara, computer systems information student, concentrates on her quick prototype construction. Using tape, popsicle sticks, plastic straws, and pipe cleaners she replicated the idea of her team’s glove design. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

This experience turned anxiety and confusion into ambition for Vara and Bailey, the UCC teams’ sole representatives at bootcamp. Coming from a small community college and competing against universities, Vara and Bailey were intimidated at first. However, they found they were not alone in this experience. One of the benefits of the competition is it challenges students’ assumptions, helping them to see that they really can be inventors.

UCC has two teams competing in Invent Oregon, most of whom are computer science associate professor Vincent Yip’s students. The two teams pitched ideas to InventOR judges at bootcamp with approved teams like UCC’s receiving $2000 per team in developmental grants to create a marketing prototype. The first team, Byte Me Programming, is comprised of Amaryah Vara, Felicity Tabor and Teddy Bassler.  The second team, TrebleCleft, includes Robin Bailey, Rory Jordan and Joanna Clark.

Byte Me Programming is designing an affordable specialized glove to help kids with tremor-related disorders. TrebleCleft is developing RiffRest, a revolutionary music stand try attachment customizable for bands, orchestras and music group productions.

Woman stands facing the right with left arm bent and arm raised up in mid-speech. Her other arm is propped on her hip. She is wearing dark framed glasses and with a colorful black, red and accented blue outfit. On a chair to her left closer to the camera is a purple jacket.
Stacey Hoshimiya, assistant director at the Center for Entrepreneurship, discusses the process and benefits of connecting with mentors. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

At bootcamp, mentors Stacey Hoshimiya and Vanessa Zamy, experts in entrepreneurship, gave their insight about design thinking, value propositions and customer research. Other mentors and panelists including Tripp Hurt and Dan Gilette encouraged teams to consider green engineering and challenged preconceived notions about prototyping.

Student teams then used the panel information plus their own inspiration from personal experiences, or challenges faced by others around them, to either design or adapt their designs. Logan Hearty, a graduating MBA student from Willamette University, was inspired by his grandmother to create LiftLite, a body-activated lift chair alternative.

Student with dark hair and a black shirt faces to the left. His hands are held just above hip level as he describes the environmental impact of regular cigarette filters. Nearby to the right, facing away from the camera, a man with red hair and a blue shirt listens.
Michael Van Sant, a graduating MBA student at PSU, pitches his product to the other teams. He emphasizes the negative impact regular cigarette filters are having on the environment. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Similarly, Joshua Vanderpool, a first-year OHSU biomedical engineer, is re-designing a knee scooter called “Eazistep.” Others were motivated to make environmental differences.

Michael Van Sant, a graduating MBA student at PSU, is developing an alternative cigarette filter called “EarthGuard.”

Man with blond curly hair stands facing the right. His right hand is in his pocket while his left arm is bent at the elbow mid-speech. He is wearing a blue shirt and a smile.
InventOR panelist, Blake Turner, shares his past experience as a participating student. He discusses the value of mentorship and adaptability. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Blake Turner, from Rogue Community College, developed a hydrogen conversion kit for a car engine, spurring him into the entrepreneurial world. After a lot of work getting his prototype approved, he was able to bring it inside the PSU exhibition hall. There was just one more problem he faced: no one told him about the stairs. He did some quick strategizing using the trailer as a ramp to move the converted 1963 Corvair up the small staircase. After not winning in his first competition at InventOR, Turner returned the following year when he earned several awards including second place. Two years later, Turner is now working at the Center for Entrepreneurship at PSU to assist in producing InventOR along with several other programs.

Woman stands facing to the left with her right arm bent at the elbow finger pointing to the left. She is wearing a flowy white shirt and dark pants. Around her neck is a gold ring necklace. She is wearing dark frames and is smiling.
Abigail Van Gelder, the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at PSU, encourages and motivates InventOR teams. She discusses the importance of curiosity and asking questions. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Through Turner’s experiences, he attests to InventOR students gaining a valuable and unique experience. “[InventOR helps] students who do not see themselves as entrepreneurs or inventors and shows them that this is a pathway they can pursue,” Turner says. “Whether it is an engineering student finding they can do business or vice versa, it is all about showing students the ability they might not realize they have.”

Another benefit of the program is the large network of entrepreneurs and innovators across Oregon who give their time and resources to support the students. Abigail Van Gelder, PSU Entrepreneurship Center director, explains. “We pair students with mentors and subject matter with experts throughout the competition.”

List of InvenOR finalists.
All of the teams listed will proceed to the finals. Infographic by Jazmin Ode / The Mainstream

InventOR teams are proceeding to the finals in June, including the two UCC teams who will present their prototypes with the other finalists. Overall, 21 colleges and universities were involved.

Funding for transportation and grants has been covered through The Lemelson Foundation, The Roundhouse Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation and Business Oregon.

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