Open for business

Feb 16, 2007

The Kettering Entrepreneur Society (KES), a student organization dedicated to developing and supporting the entrepreneurial talents of students, is now open for business.

The Kettering Entrepreneur Society (KES), a student organization dedicated to developing and supporting the entrepreneurial talents of students, is now open for business.

The entrepreneurial landscape is a bit rough these days, pocked with sink holes into which many good and bad ideas flounder and eventually drown.

History has shown that markets for products can flourish one minute and then dry up the next like a shallow riverbed in Mid-Michigan during the hot and humid summer. Sometimes it's simply not enough to invent a product. Entrepreneurs must consider their intended marketplace, start-up costs, competition, manufacturing capabilities, consumer reaction to potential products, as well as the political, cultural and societal implications of bringing goods to the buying public. If it was as simple as coming up with an idea and flinging it at the wall to see if it sticks, the inventor of the Flushing Vehicle Spittoon (U.S. patent no. 4,989,275)-a device that allows individuals to spit in the interior of their vehicles and have the fluid drain out of the back of the car-would be rich. Although an idea for a product or service may appear to fulfill a specific need for a narrowly defined target population at a particular moment in time, not everyone will clamor to get their hands on the item.

Dr. Massoud Tavakoli, professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Dr. Andy Borchers '80, associate professor of Business, understand that it takes substantially more muscle to insure the widespread acceptance of a good idea in U.S. and global markets. In 2006 the two Kettering professors authored a proposal to the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance (NCIIA)/Kern Family Foundation to support the "e-Kettering Initiative," a program that works to develop the innovation and entrepreneurial skills and desires among students ( They received a $50,000 fellowship for this effort and one of the deliverables for the project includes the creation of the Kettering Entrepreneur Society.

The vision of the KES is to promote an entrepreneurial culture at Kettering University based on innovation and social value. The organization fulfills this mission by providing resources for successful implementation of an entrepreneurial venture and by stimulating regional and global economic development. In January, the group held its first informational meeting and more than 40 students attended to learn more about how they can put their entrepreneurial ideas into action.

According to Tavakoli, who serves as the adviser for the group, the KES can offer students who wish to develop their entrepreneurial skills many instructional and practical resources, including the following:

  • technical and business mentorship;
  • leadership opportunities;
  • short courses in Business and related subjects;
  • networking opportunities;
  • access to labs for product development work;
  • small group speaker discussions with industry experts; and
  • contest seed money for business plan competitions.

"The goal," explained Tavakoli "is to develop the entrepreneurial aspects of students, including the technical, business and management issues involved with developing an idea. Student members of KES are really driving the continuous development of the Society and it's clear many of them are very interested and serious about becoming entrepreneurs."

This organization is well-suited for Kettering students. Through the years, many graduates have gone on to develop businesses and products that have benefited our society. For example, Ermal Fraze '39 developed and patented the first removable tab for soda cans (often called the "pull-top"), and Milford Barron '37 invented a skin graft surgical instrument to help burn victims, as well as the Janke-Barron Heart Support used by surgeons to cradle the heart during surgery. These individuals understood that innovation is one critical mechanism of the U.S. economy's success. As the outsourcing of jobs and even research and design become more readily accepted by American firms, students with good business ideas require support and encouragement to pursue these ideas in the United States. More importantly, as the state of Michigan moves forward in its efforts to re-establish the region as a fertile location for new business development, activities such as those fostered by the KES support a new vision of what the state can offer individuals with good business and entrepreneur ideas.

To help students develop their ideas and achieve success like Fraze and Barron, Tavakoli said that Kettering faculty, alumni and business owners will play pivotal roles in the work of the Society by serving as mentors to students. This includes matching faculty, entrepreneurs who graduated from the institution and owners with specific expertise in a particular area to students who wish to develop an entrepreneurial opportunity for a business idea.

In addition, the KES will raise funds to send students to short courses, seminars and conferences. But to engage in these activities, students must outline their idea, define their needs and apply to the Society for support. The Society will then meet to discuss possible solutions to help resolve needs of students regarding their ideas. The group will also hold business plan competitions, which is part of the "e-Kettering Initiative" vision to provide seed money for viable business ideas. Other activities planned for the group and students include a speaker series with business owners/entrepreneurs, access to Kettering labs to work on product development and leadership opportunities.

For Kettering Computer Engineering major Jerry Fairbanks of Farmington, N. M., a senior who is also one of the founding members of the KES, this effort fulfills a critical need at the University. "I've always been interested in research with regard to computers and have had an idea that involves patent law. After speaking with Professor James McLaughlin, who is also an attorney, I would like to open a law firm one day that focuses on bringing in patents from other countries and sell them to U.S. firms," he said, adding that there are "many students who would benefit from the Society and what it has to offer."

Students interested in joining can learn more by visiting the KES website. Current levels of membership include general members, which allow students to attend all meetings and functions of the society, connect with an associate member as a mentor, attend entrepreneurial education presentations by associate members and develop a network of like-minded individuals. Students interested in general membership must complete an application form and provide a statement of interest to the society. Associate membership requires applicants to have an entrepreneurial idea that they wish to pursue while in college. The applicant must also submit a general description of their idea and an explanation of how the society can assist in developing the idea. There are many benefits for becoming an associate member, including faculty and/or business mentors, interaction with invited speakers, access to labs and equipment and participation in business plan competitions and opportunities to earn seed money.

To learn more about the Kettering Entrepreneur Society, visit the website, or call Dr. Massoud Tavakoli at (810) 762-7922.

Written by Gary Erwin
(810) 762-9538