Vincent Castro and Eric Solie were the 2016 UAF Arctic Innovation Competition Main Division 1st place winning team for their idea, Attently. This idea is a cloud-based software service, which utilizes a video feed from a standard webcam or smart phone camera, calculating both the number of faces in view and the percentage of those faces which are actively paying attention in the direction of the camera.
Inspired Development The idea for Attently came out of Startup Weekend, an event held every year for aspiring entrepreneurs in Fairbanks. Attently’s creators were fascinated by facial recognition technology, which falls under the category of computer vision – or when computers understand how to see and pull information out of images. They were also drawn to public speaking, so trying to think of a technology that could combine those two ideas was key.
Taking a Chance “At the time of the AIC competition, we had won the Startup Weekend, and I was very excited to have won that and getting a spot in AIC was the cherry on top,” said Eric. “As we got closer to the competition, I realized it was a much bigger deal, a much bigger competition with a lot of people, a lot of competitors, and a lot of money on the line. I started getting a more excited for it and a little bit nervous. Walking onto stage there with a big crowd looking at us and giving our pitch – which we had refined somewhat by the time we got there – was a very cool experience.”
Into the Future The group’s plans for the next year is to finish the customer discovery phase, figure out who their first focus target market is, and then to develop their product. Their dream for the company is to develop something that is effectively and efficiently solving big problems for a lot of customers in various segments of the market. They want to develop a product that everyone is talking about, so that when people are giving a speech or speaking to an audience they will immediately ask: “What was the Attently score on that?”
Words of Wisdom “The advice I have for anyone looking to compete is to go for it,” Eric said. “It can be a little bit intimidating with the application you have to fill out and the people you have to get up in front of to pitch your idea to, but it is also a hugely valuable experience.”
Hear more about what has happened over the past year from the expanded Attently team!
The UAF Arctic Innovation Competition (AIC) team recently caught up with Shalane Frost, AIC 2016 2nd Place winner and Fan Favorite award winner in the Main Division for her innovative idea, The NoseHat. It is a malleable nose and cheek cover for use during outdoor recreation in winter. It’s ergonomically designed to fit any face shape or nose size, while allowing unobstructed breathing during vigorous activities like Nordic skiing.
Shalane designed The NoseHat when she couldn’t find a product that met her own needs. While she was creating, prototyping, and testing her design primarily for use by skiers, she was surprised to find that there was a lot of interest in the idea from participants in other sports such as mushing and fat-biking. Now that she has been marketing and selling her finished product, The NoseHat has appeared in every major endurance race in Alaska and has customers from all over the world.
The most important thing Shalane learned about product development was not to launch with a pre-defined notion of who your customer is and how they are going to use your product. She also learned how much people liked customizations. She initially assumed she would be able to make a “one-size-fits-all” product, but she soon learned that she would need to make multiple sizes, in addition to allowing people to pick their favorite colors. The customer favorite seems to be the “cheetah” design!
Shalane’s best advice to future competitors is to have a prototype! “Even if it’s not what you intend to sell or it doesn’t work or it’s not quite right – have something the judges can feel in their hands. The idea makes good sense in your own head, but in order to have it solidify in others’ they need to be able to touch your product.”
Check out this video of our interview with Shalane and see the NoseHat in action!
Vincent Castro, UAF Chancellor Dana Thomas, UA President Jim Johnsen, Eric Solie, School of Management Dean Mark Herrmann, Frank Paskvan of BP and Professor Ping Lan pose with the grand prize check at the 2016 Arctic Innovation Competition.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Management awarded more than $28,000 in cash prizes Saturday, Oct. 22, after the final round of presentations in the 2016 Arctic Innovation Competition.
The competition, now in its eighth year, invites innovators to propose new, feasible and potentially profitable ideas for solving real-life problems and challenges.
The top prize of $10,000 in the main division was awarded to Vincent Castro and Eric Solie for Attently, a cloud-based software service for speakers and presenters. Attently uses a video feed from a standard webcam or smart phone to detect the number of faces in an audience and calculate the percentage of people who are paying attention.
Castro is a UAF senior in computer engineering, and Solie lives in Fairbanks. Their idea also won the Startup Weekend Fairbanks competition in September.
“The prize money is a huge aspect of the competition, but when you are on stage you are thinking of something else,” Solie said. “Like how good it feels to have your idea validated by well-respected, professional judges.”
With a record 27 Cub Division entries from youths ages 12 and younger, the competition was intense. Kyle Fischer, Keiveri Flannery-Schutt and Paul Melchert, who traveled from Anchorage, took first prize for their Lightning Lawn Razor, a sleek, remote-control mower.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Recycling Commission sponsored a special cash award this year. Harrison DeSanto, Andrew Ladd and Nathan Bauer received the $2,000 Recycling Kicker Prize for Activate Alaska LLC, a project to manufacture activated carbon from Alaska biomass. Such carbon is used in water filtration systems.
A complete list of winners is available on the AIC website.
A $75,000 gift from Usibelli Coal Mine was announced at the ceremony, making the mine the lead sponsor of the competition for the next three years.
UAF Chancellor Dana Thomas, UA President Jim Johnsen, Shalane Frost, School of Management Dean Mark Herrmann, Professor Ping Lan, and Bill Staley of Northrim Bank pose with the 2nd place and Fan Favorite awards at the 2016 Arctic Innovation Competition.
UA President Jim Johnsen, UAF Chancellor Dana Thomas, Paul Melchert, Allysa Wood of Kinross, Keiveri Flannery-Schutt, Celine Graas of Kinross, Kyle Fischer, Professor Ping Lan, and School of Management Dean Mark Herrmann pose with Cub grand prize check at the 2016 Arctic Innovation Competition.
Cameron Gackstetter won the Main Division 1st place prize of $10,000 in the 2015 Arctic Innovation Competition for his innovation of the ThawHead. The ThawHead is a portable, 40-pound apparatus which uses a two-stage process to thaw ice and then remove melt water and debris in an efficient manner. The ThawHead is designed to assist with the removal of ice and snow from airport lighting canisters, thus exposing the lights and any areas that may need to be repaired.
The inspiration for the ThawHead came to Gackstetter through his recognition of a common and troubling Alaskan problem. On airport runways, groundwater often freezes inside airfield lighting canisters, and the ice build-up can damage wiring and reduce visible lighting. This can quickly become a critical issue if pilots cannot see the runway in order to safely land their planes, especially in rural areas and during the dark winter nights. When the lights freeze up, workers have to thaw the ice away to clear them. This is usually a long, slow process, and the typical methods (such as using a blowtorch) can be a hazardous task for workers and can also potentially damage the lights. Gackstetter wanted to create something that would quickly, safely, and efficiently thaw ice and remove melted water; thus, the innovation of the ThawHead came to be. Gackstetter sees the ThawHead as not only helpful, but necessary, in areas with harsh winter conditions, including Alaska. He explained, “The ThawHead cuts a 2-hour project down to 15 minutes, so it’s a big time saver.”
Taking a Chance
Gackstetter and his wife Shannon did not submit their idea until 11:58 p.m. on the day of the submission deadline. They had no expectations of winning the competition, but believed that they wouldn’t know how successful the ThawHead could be unless they tried. Taking a chance did in fact pay off for Gackstetter, and the AIC competition showed him what a promising innovation he had in the ThawHead. Winning the AIC and taking advantage of the resources and connections this provided served as a starting point for the couple to take their invention to the next phase.
Into The Future Since winning AIC, the Gackstetters have attended multiple conferences to demonstrate the ThawHead, including a Canadian cold weather exhibit in Minneapolis. The state of Alaska has already purchased two of the machines and plans on purchasing more in the future; in October, the ThawHead will be featured in a trade magazine. The Gackstetters hope to convince more municipal and state governments, as well as the U.S. military, to purchase the ThawHead. In addition, they are marketing a complementary invention called the Thaw Rig – an optional, self-contained support system for the ThawHead, which is housed in an insulated trailer that can be pulled behind an ATV or snowmachine.
Words of Wisdom to Competitors Cameron and Shannon’s advice to competitors would be, “Don’t afraid to ask questions.” The couple explained that having help from mentors and leaders is definitely beneficial for all competitors. “Believe in what you’re building,” said Cameron. The couple’s final advice to AIC competitors is, “Good luck and have fun!”
View a video taken during an interview with the Gackstetters on August 11, 2016.
With his creation of The Wylie Post, Wylie Rogers, along with his partner John Miller, won the Alaska College Student Kicker Prize at the 2014 Arctic Innovation Competition. The Wylie Post modernizes the hockey net peg by making it safer and more efficient to anchor hockey nets to the ice.
Focus on Safety The Wylie Post was created to help make playing hockey safer for all players. Many aspects of hockey have benefited from advances in technology, but not the net peg. The old steel pegs do not hold the net sturdily enough, allowing teams to lose control of the net or causing players to receive unnecessary injuries from running into the net. Rogers witnessed these problems firsthand during his college hockey career with the UAF Alaska Nanooks, and invented The Wylie Post to create a more stable net for a safer game.
Support Leads to Success When The Wylie Post was first created, Rogers admits that he was often unsure what he should to do next in order to make his innovation successful. He explained that he could have avoided many obstacles throughout this process if he had known someone who had previously gone through similar situations. With support from his mentors – Dr. Ping Lan, AIC director and professor of business administration at the UAF School of Management, and Ky Holland, assistant professor of business administration management at Alaska Pacific University – who helped guide Rogers to his next steps, The Wylie Post finally began achieving its full potential. Rogers stated, “Ping was like my Miyagi, he tells you just enough and then makes you figure out the rest.” Rogers further shared that Holland was instrumental during the process of engineering the pegs through the prototyping stages and into a market-ready product.
Mentorship – Paying it Forward Thanks to the success of The Wylie Post, Rogers has found himself mentoring fellow innovators. He has learned a lot from the process of creating and marketing his own product, and now he shares these learning experiences with other innovators who may be facing similar issues. Without his own mentors helping him throughout its creation, he firmly believes The Wylie Post would not be where it is today.
Into the Future Rogers hopes to see The Wylie Post receive a stamp of approval as the safest hockey net peg on the market; he looks forward to a day when hockey teams will be required to use The Wylie Post to protect their players from injuries caused by unstable nets. Rogers’ ultimate dream is to be able to go into any rink anywhere and find his product in full use.
Words of Wisdom for AIC Competitors Rogers would like competitors to know that they should never be afraid to ask someone for help. He explained how he would constantly call his mentors for help and absorb the information they were giving him like a sponge. He believes competitors should understand that it’s fine if they don’t know everything, and that asking for help always works in their favor. Rogers shared these final words of wisdom for AIC competitors – “Surround yourself with good people and good things are bound to happen.”
Hear Rogers share his stories and experiences in person at this year’s AIC Final Competition on Saturday, October 22, 2016!
View a video taken during an interview with Rogers on July 20, 2016.
The AIC team recently interviewed Marc Golat, part of the team behind the Thread Wizard bolt cleaner, which received an honorable mention in the 2015 Arctic Innovation Competition. The Thread Wizard was created for mechanics to have a safer and more efficient way to clean dirty bolts.
Inspiration for the Thread Wizard The idea for the Thread Wizard was thought up by Golat’s business partner, Gary Taylor, who is a mechanic. The old way to clean dirty bolts was using a wheel grinder. This wheel grinder would frequently cause injuries due to bolts coming loose and shooting off into the room while being cleaned. In addition, because the wire bristles on the wire wheel can fall out, they can potentially end up in someone’s eye or finger, making the use of this old product even more dangerous for mechanics. Taylor witnessed this problem first hand when he was cleaning old bolts and was almost struck in the eye by a bristle from a wire wheel. Taylor decided something needed to be created to ensure this would not happen to other fellow mechanics. Thus, the Thread Wizard came to be, a product that not only saves time and money, but also creates a safer work environment for mechanics everywhere.
The Thread Wizard Innovation Taylor took the original wire wheel and transformed it into stationary tool. Previously, mechanics would hold their bolts against a quickly spinning wire wheel. The Thread Wizard addresses this potential hazard by fitting the wire wheel into a sturdy handle, which can be held by hand or clamped into a vise. The wires protrude into various-sized holes surrounding the wheel. When a bolt is turned through the Thread Wizard either by hand or by power tool, the wire wheel removes dirt, rust, and other build up quickly and safely.
AIC Idea Update Since the idea was presented at AIC 2015, the Thread Wizard is now being sold all over the world through Golat’s and Taylor’s company, GolaTTAylor Tools, Inc. The Thread Wizard team has started marketing the product globally and now sells the product in Canada, Estonia, and even Australia. Golat stated that his team’s main goal is to help people understand what this new tool is and how it can help mechanics. His team has already started achieving this goal through a 5-minute segment about the Thread Wizard air on Velocity TV, a program that reaches over 50,000 people. Just through this segment alone, sales of the Thread Wizard have already increased. The team hopes to continue making people aware of their innovation and expanding their sales reach.
Words of Wisdom for AIC Competitors Golat believes that all competitors should feel confident about entering the Arctic Innovation Competition if they have a new innovation to share with the world. Golat explained, “Any product, no matter big or small, is worthwhile to show somebody, because you might have something that’s really good, so don’t be afraid.”
View a short video taken during an interview with Golat on July 20, 2016.