NMU provides support for local entrepreneurs

by Chris Kauffman and Peter Pless

Everyone has ideas; it is an entrepreneur with an exceptional thought process who reaches out to pursue the dream. Local case in point is the entrepreneurial idea to provide secure canoe and kayak storage along the Hiawatha Water Trail so paddle boaters can store a boat and belongings in a secured locker and have access to the communities and natural points of interest that dot the water trail between Big Bay and Grand Marais.
The idea to build secure storage originated with the Hiawatha Water Trail Association. Through the support of U.P. Engineers and Architects, Inc., a prototype was designed, developed and installed at the Chocolay River Marina in Harvey.
This idea represents an entrepreneurial launching pad, but how does the project proceed? Enter NMU; the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), the Studio for Experimental and Eco Design (SEED) and the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE). These organizations are an invaluable community resource for residents of the U.P.
SIFE is a cross-disciplinary student organization that strives to promote lifelong business skills and teamwork, responsible decision making, innovation and dedicated excellence throughout the community. SIFE can assist business and community organizations in a number of ways. One is to provide volunteer assistance to community-outreach programs and organizations. For example, the SIFE team is participating in a conference: “Community Ties to Entrepreneurship: A Community Forum Connecting Youth and Entrepreneurs.”
Another method is by providing companies with support needed to create, develop or improve business plans. SIFE members are available to meet with businesses or entrepreneurs and outline what their businesses do or what they would like them to do and work together to develop business planning stages.
A personalized business plan is a road map for implementing strategies that will contribute to growth and lasting success. A third opportunity offered by SIFE is joint collaboration between NMU and businesses and community organizations. SIFE and NMU are unique in that they provide access expertise in many different areas.
SEED was developed to function as a community resource that provides progressive solutions to budding entrepreneurs. Originally, this “center” was an offshoot of the new academic major in the School of Art and Design titled Human-Centered Design. SEED was created to develop new relations within the community as a resource for design related activities.
SEED is intended to be a creative service. The goal is to assist in seeing an idea through a creative process and into a feasible global market solution. A potential client will be asked to write a brief statement addressing the nature of the project, the target audience and describe any vision for future plans and research to support expansion. Sketches and designs are not required, but the client is expected to be active and provide feedback.
The title SEED advocates the two key components that contribute to any initiative: experimental—to explore outside the conventional in order to create new possibilities for the world that is envisioned; and eco—to develop alternate perspectives and proposals to overcome obsolescence and seek new modes of sustainability.
CEEE is the entity that brings together the players in an effort to advance market economics, entrepreneurship and personal finance through real-world applications.
U.P. Engineers and Architects, Inc. decided there were many ways to bring the system to the community and encourage kayakers using the trail system to explore nearby towns and they also worked to help NMU students and local entrepreneurs to determine whether this was a market-worthy idea. Kelly Drake and Bill Sanders presented the project to CEEE. The NMU kayak locker project was born.
The NMU team consisted of the CEEE, SEED, SIFE and faculty housed in the College of Professional Studies.
The project was given to SIFE to create a business plan, refine the design and produce and sell kayak lockers. The group is working on a business plan that hopes to create a business at NMU to produce and sell paddle boat lockers.
The College of Professional Studies and the faculty at the Jacobetti Center will provide guidance on the actual building of the kayak locker and advice on designs that are able to be manufactured. The Jacobetti Center itself has the capacity to build and produce many types of products, including paddle-boat lockers.
Finally, the Human-Centered Design program in the school of art and design will develop and refine the fundamentals of the design process while integrating environmental sensitivity and overall sustainability.
Students have developed a critical eye in questioning product existence and market value. Answers to these questions lead to examinations and proposals that do not offer short-term solutions, but address a shift in future cultural lifestyles. These “shifts” can range in complexity from a simple kitchen tool to a communication device or a broader more conceptual system where the end result is not a physical product at all, but rather, a user experience.
Every project comes with a specific set of constraints. Typically, the constraints represent physical issues such as form, size, comfort, materials, manufacturing process, etc. Then, there are the social issues that ask what new qualities will be communicated. Is design really just about form? Most students of design will tell you otherwise. As a design concept is developed, the attributes of the project must be dissected, sometimes adding elements, sometimes subtracting.
Going forward, the concept begins to develop into models and crude prototypes made of paper, cardboard, foam and other materials scavenged from local hardware stores. In this refinement process, the final design begins to reveal itself through progressive models, sketches, computer models and final prototypes that are produced using computer controlled laser cutters, routers and three-dimensional printers. The conclusion of any given design project is the final proposal along with human factors, form, color options, dimensions, materials and manufacturing processes.
In the boat locker collaboration, students will work to achieve a product that will look attractive and house several paddle boats securely, but address the concern of gracefully placing a cumbersome object into a storage receptacle. For this reason, an eighteen-foot kayak will be in the studio so that students will be able to see firsthand the importance of creating a user-friendly experience.
Until the students research and develop initial concepts, any form or features are valid steps toward the solution. The product created in this project is unforeseen, but the spirit of business, design and manufacturing will result in learning within the university context. For details, e-mail ppless@nmu.edu or visit art.nmu.edu/department/seed.html

— Chris Kauffman and Peter Pless
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