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Students and Startups Make the Perfect Pair

Posted by Dennis Cocco
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on Wednesday, March 09 2016 in Internships

This article was originally featured in the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of Community College Entrepreneurship, a publication of NACCE.

Students and startups make the perfect pairBarry Tabor is studying electrical engineering at Lorain County Community College and hopes to continue his education at one of the college’s four-year partnership institutions when he graduates. But Barry’s involvement in a work-experience program at Lorain County Community College sets him apart from your typical student. While pursuing his studies, he is working shoulder to shoulder with the founder of Lygent, a medical device startup company.

Lygent is developing an ophthalmic screening and diagnostic tool that will give pediatricians a quick, automated assessment of eye misalignment. Company founder Nick Vandillen is getting his prototype ready for subject testing and Barry is one of his go-to design engineers for this process.

“Being a small company, each member has a large impact on our work and success—including Barry,” said Vandillen. “Barry has provided knowledge and insight to our design process while growing his own skills as an engineer through hands-on, impactful work.”

Barry’s involvement with Lygent began with the internship program sponsored by the Innovation Fund, a non-profit seed fund founded by the Lorain County Community College Foundation. The fund awards technology-based startups up to $100,000 so they can validate their technologies and business concepts. And as the entrepreneurs learn from the Innovation Fund’s business mentors, local college students learn from the entrepreneurs.

Every entrepreneur who receives a funding award from the Innovation Fund—more than 150 since 2007—provides at least one college student with a unique learning experience. In the past, the fund founders have visited a classroom of aspiring entrepreneurs to offer their advice as guest lecturers. They have also sponsored booths at career fairs to talk about entrepreneurship as a career path, and they brought students into their companies and made them working members of their teams. This is exactly what Nick has done for Barry. “My voice is heard,” Barry says of his contributions to the team. “Nick listens to me and takes into consideration the ideas I have for this prototype we are creating.”

Outside the Classroom

This kind of meaningful contribution is often not available in any classroom, but it is consistent across the Innovation Fund program. For example, while Barry’s work impacts Lygent’s prototype path to market entry, another student is submitting Investigational new drug applications to the FDA. Other students are contributing to grant proposals to the National Science Foundation.

The program is giving students a chance to tackle significant projects and illustrates how internships at startups, specifically Innovation Fund startups, work. The startup environment is ideal for this kind of involvement; it’s lean, quick, and every action moves toward a single goal—getting a technology to market. There are no trivial jobs, and all resources, including interns, are on a task for the success of the company.

“When the entrepreneurs we invest in engage with our campus community by encouraging and enabling these unique educational experiences, the students benefit greatly,” said Roy Church, president of Lorain County Community College. “But the magic really happens when the entrepreneurs themselves find value in the contributions these interns make toward the success of their companies. That kind of symbiotic relationship between entrepreneur and student has solidified the connection between startup growth and the community college.”

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  • Work with SMART Microsystems yields big wins for Nordson – and the region

    Nordson Corp.’s Lorain County roots run deep.

    The global industrial company, based in Westlake, was founded in Amherst by Eric and Evan Nord, sons of local industrialist Walter G. Nord. While the Nord family no longer runs the company, the manufacturer retains close ties to the community, and nowhere is that more evident than in its relationship with SMART Microsystems, located in the Richard Desich SMART Commercialization Center for Microsystems on Lorain County Community College’s Elyria campus.

    Roots of the partnership

    Nordson SMART partnershipThe relationship between Nordson and SMART began in 2010 when the center bought state-of-the-art equipment from Nordson’s Advanced Technology Systems group, giving it a competitive advantage with capabilities in automated dispensing, plasma treatment and X-ray inspection.

    “We do microelectronic packaging, and Nordson manufactures a wide variety of equipment that supports that,” says Matt Apanius, president and managing director of SMART Microsystems. “When we first got SMART off the ground, we purchased four initial pieces of equipment from them.”

    From that initial interaction, Nordson and SMART developed an ongoing dialogue, discussing the capabilities of both organizations and how they could develop synergies that would drive both the company and the college forward.

    “They had a couple of conferences on site, and we attended,” says Dave Selestak, business development manager for Nordson MARCH, part of the Advanced Technology Systems group. “That, in particular, allowed us to see the additional capabilities SMART had gained as far as microelectronic diagnostic capabilities and the like.”

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    “SMART and LCCC are organizations committed to helping individuals and businesses in the region,” says Apanius. “You want to help the people in your own backyard, because when they’re successful, it benefits everyone who lives here.”

    Uncovering new opportunities

    Over the last six years, Nordson and SMART have worked together on a number of projects. SMART’s ongoing acquisition of advanced equipment and new capabilities has made it an increasingly valuable resource to Nordson.

    “For about a year and a half, Nordson needed sophisticated camera capabilities for looking at microelectronic devices,” Selestak says. “We worked on some designs of experiments (DOEs) that we wanted to turn into a white paper to distribute to conferences and trade shows.”

    Nordson worked with SMART and LCCC Business Growth Services to fund a DOE, a systematic approach to finding the relationship between factors affecting a process and the output of that process. That support helped pay for an LCCC student intern to develop a white paper evaluating how plasma might benefit the manufacture of microelectronics, especially circuit boards.

    The white paper – which showed that plasma helps clean circuit boards without inflicting any damage – was presented to a global audience at the 2015 Surface Mount Technology Association International conference in Chicago.

    “That student now works at SMART,” Apanius says. “It’s a great example of how everyone can work together for a lasting benefit to everyone involved.”

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    In addition to these projects, Nordson has sponsored a series of biomedical sensor technology conferences at LCCC, helping to boost the industry’s profile across the region.

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    As Nordson continues to leverage SMART to help develop new product lines, Selestak considers the relationship a critical factor in Nordson’s continued success and growth.

    “SMART and LCCC are very valuable sources for developmental capabilities,” Selestak says. “When you are in the process of developing a device, LCCC not only has the facilities to support the tangible needs of development but also the industry expertise that is going to help shorten the time to market. It’s not only about developing the device, it’s about turning it into something that’s commercially viable, and doing it as soon as you can.”

    Meanwhile, the partners always looking for new ways that their relationship and mutual goals can benefit each other, as well as the region.

    “The more applications Nordson develops, the more they sell, so that’s an instance where the partnership has a direct correlation to their bottom line,” Apanius says. “Every time we’ve worked together, it’s been a win-win for SMART, the college and Nordson. We’re creating a high level of mutual value for all involved, and that’s always what you want to aim for.”

    This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Impact magazine

  • As additive manufacturing explodes, MakerGear gets spark from LCCC’s Fab Lab


    In the early days of 3-D printing, MakerGear founder Rick Pollack bootstrapped a small business making components in his Shaker Heights garage.

    “When we started out, we made our machines out of laser-cut plywood,” Pollack recalls. “I was making printer parts one at a time in my garage.”

    In 2008, a friend introduced him to the Fab Lab at Lorain County Community College’s Nord Advanced Technologies Center. The lab had a much better laser-cutting machine, so Pollack quickly jumped on the opportunity to use it to augment his own equipment.

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    Eight years later, MakerGear is a thriving manufacturer selling thousands of 3-D printers a year to companies via its website, www.makergear.com, and an Amazon reseller.

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    3-D printing – also called additive manufacturing – is still a relatively young technology, but it’s fast becoming a key aspect of advanced manufacturing. Once the exclusive domain of research and development, 3-D printers have expanded beyond their R&D roots of modeling and prototyping to the production of end-use products.

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    LCCC opened the Fab Lab in 2005, making it the first of its kind in the country outside of Boston. When Pollack heard about it three years later, he decided to augment MakerGear’s production operations.

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    Zelesnik: Most companies don't want you to know if they have been breached. So every time you hear of confidential files being hacked, there are probably 50 to 100 other significant breaches that you don't hear about.

    Some industries more vulnerable than others.

    Huber: A really vulnerable area is in the manufacturing space. The industrial controls systems that control valves, tanks, manufacturing machines, rolling mills and nuclear power plants. Many of these were never developed with security in mind, and because of the expense, they are upgraded only in a 20- or 30-year cycle.

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    Chedid: Companies should also keep in mind that Europe has rich data privacy laws that are different from the U.S. That affects how cybersecurity solutions get architected and delivered, so you have to be compliant with those European standards. People with knowledge of that space can be very valuable in cybersecurity activities.

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    Huber: Cybersecurity involves everything from auditing and policy development, all the way up to very specific technical skills, such as penetration testing and vulnerability testing. There are functions that are technically deep, but there is still a place for nontechnical people in the profession.