Startup Week 2019: Opportunities for UA students to engage in the entrepreneurial ecosystem

  • University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty, staff and students interact with alumni at the Nanook Rendezvous on July 19, 2019. (Photo/University of Alaska Fairbanks/JR Ancheta)

Students of all ages — from kindergarten to post-graduate level — are part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and represent the next generation of innovators and idea makers.

Connecting with them as they foster their ideas and bringing them into the innovation pipeline can only be beneficial for continued innovation across Alaska, the Circumpolar North, and the Arctic. They have a desire to develop solutions to today’s needs to build a better future. 

Taking the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) as an example, students can get involved in clubs, innovation competitions, entrepreneurial opportunities and projects commercializing academic research. At UAF, the cross-disciplinary Active and Innovative Minds (AIM) student organization strives to teach its members about entrepreneurship as a lifestyle.

Here, students decide on the clubs projects and events and drive the direction of AIM. This includes being part statewide events such as the 2019 Hackathon with UAF’s Hackathon Club and the Alaska Developers Alliance. 

Students can get involved in the early stage of ideation through the Arctic Innovation Competition (AIC). This is Alaska’s original idea contest and is maintained and organized by the School of Management (SOM).

Students can connect with SOM’s organisers or submit their ideas to get through to the Pitch day. There is even a prize of $2,000 for the best pitch by an Alaskan College Student, that can support them taking their idea to the next level.

This year students from UAF took on the planning and organizing of the Fairbanks Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event that provides aspiring entrepreneurs an opportunity to develop their plans for a new business. Here, the students interact with the TechStars facilitator, university innovators, and community entrepreneurs. In addition, the students learn how to “ask” for sponsorship for the event. 

During the 2019 Startup Week, there are events occurring both on the campus at UAF as well as in the community of Fairbanks, see FAI. One specific event is the Nook Tank, a design thinking and pitching event. This is co-hosted by the UAF’s Learning Living Communities (LLC), Department of Residence Life, Alumni Association (UAF-AA), Honors College (UAF-HC), and College of Engineering and Mines (CEM). UAF’s School of Management (SOM), Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization (OIPC) along with Arctic Sun Virtual Reality (ASVR) are providing sponsorship/prizes for the event.

At the Nook Tank, the students attending learn the ideation process all focused on developing solutions to some of Alaska’s Arctic Engineering needs. In mixing across LLCs and degree programs students get out of their comfort zones and have to think outside the box in developing solutions for Alaska and the Circumpolar North.

Recently, UAF became a National Academy of Inventors (NAI) member joining the University of Alaska Anchorage as the second institution for Alaska while Faculty Ambassador Dr. Peter Webley as inducted as a Senior Member of NAI in the spring. NAI provides its member institutions, including its students, access to its Global Academic Inventors Network (GAIN) to connect seasoned academic inventors with collegiate innovators.

GAIN pairs aspiring student innovators with mentors from across the NAI that can provide advice on future entrepreneurial opportunities and how to engage with the US innovation ecosystem.

Looking across the University of Alaska system, students can engage with business driven ideas and projects through the Alaska Community Challenge. Here, Alaskan companies, start-ups, non-profit organizations, and public agencies have shared challenges and problems that would be an educational student project and help share the resources of the University across the State.

The Avy Pouch Student Team won the 2019 IDEAs award. The students developed a new avalanche airbag system as an alternative design to Ray’s, consisting of a universal harness for attachment to any backpack designed to meet the European Avalanche Airbag Standards.  (Photo/Courtesy/Amanda Byrd)

During the 2018-19 academic year, four UAF mechanical engineering students took on one of these projects, Avy Pouch. This was a collaborative venture with entrepreneur Ray Huot and students Riley Bickford, Cory Florence, Sam Kendall, and David Woo. The students, developed a new avalanche airbag system, an alternative design to Ray’s, consisting of a universal harness for attachment to any backpack designed to meet the European Avalanche Airbag Standards.

The students also won the Tomorrow’s Innovators award as the best invention disclosure from UAF and UAS students and post-doctoral researchers as part of the UAF Innovative Disclosures and Entrepreneurial Activities (IDEAs) awards. 

Alaska is the U.S. Arctic state. Alaskans adapt and innovate to live in the remote places across the vast Arctic landscape. Alaskan’s look for solutions to their needs today. They build new technologies that makes life easier. It’s about working together for the benefit of us today and for the generations to come. Then we will have a land for social, cultural, and technological innovators and entrepreneurs to prosper for generations to come.

Where might the next innovators arise from and what technologies, industries, and organizations might we see entrepreneurs develop that put Alaska on the map? In addition, we might look at existing sectors for industrial growth, like the oil and gas industry, as well as those developing solutions to the needs of Alaska and the Arctic today. Co-creation of entrepreneurial programs and initiatives with the students of today will then develop the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Dr. Peter Webley is a Faculty Ambassador of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization, Research Associate Professor, and the Associate Director of Research at the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft System Integration. Dr. Webley was a key member of UAF’s first successful start-up company, V-ADAPT, Inc., who commercialized decision support software on detecting and forecasting the location of hazardous volcanic ash clouds. Peter is a geoscientist, innovator, and entrepreneur. He has a passion to train and mentor the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs and is connected to the wider Fairbanks entrepreneurial community and statewide innovation ecosystem.

11/19/2019 - 3:57pm