May 28, 2018
FOCUS: Startups & Entrepreneurs

CT Invention Convention breeds student entrepreneurs

Ron Katz Executive Director, Connecticut Invention Convention

Q&A talks with Ron Katz, executive director of the Connecticut Invention Convention (CIC).

Q. The CIC celebrated its 35th-year anniversary this year. Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

A. CIC is a nonprofit organization that provides invention education to students in grades K-12.

This year more than 17,000 students from 293 schools across the state participated in our program, which encourages students to use their creative problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to develop an original invention.

The program is designed to help students build the skills they will need to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), which is vital to developing the state's future workforce.

We are fortunate to be surrounded by many companies that recognize this need for talent development and receive 85 percent of our funding from corporate sponsors, including Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation, Eversource Energy Foundation, Hologic, Hubbell Inc., Stanley Black and Decker, and United Technologies Corp., among others.

Q. CIC has its own online invention curriculum for schools. What does it entail and how widespread is its use in Connecticut?

A. The CIC curriculum includes over 100 lessons and activities designed to stimulate creativity and problem-solving skills and teach the engineering design process through invention. Teachers have access to a portal that delivers these activities by category and grade level, and the program's flexibility allows each teacher to select the best lessons and activities for their classroom.

The CIC curriculum has now become the basis for a national invention education curriculum.

Q. You had 800 kid inventors who participated in the state finals in late April. What were the results?

A. Sixty-six students received sponsored awards at the state finals from 3M, ESPN, Lincoln Financial Foundation, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and Wepco Plastics, among other organizations. We also honored 166 recognized inventors who were identified by judges as standouts during the evaluation process. From this group, 200 student inventors were invited to represent the CIC program at the National Invention Convention (NICEE), to be held at the Henry Ford Museum, May 31-June 2.

At NICEE, which is also sponsored by UTC, students will meet young inventors from across the U.S. and enjoy educational opportunities designed to further their innovative spirit. Last year at NICEE, Audrey Larson from Wallingford received The Cantor Colburn Patent Award (a best of show award) for her invention "C.A.N.O.P.E. — Carbon Abatement Naturally Over Paved Environments." Larson will be competing at NICEE again this year and is a six-time CIC program participant.

Q. So, tell us some anecdotes of inventions that have gone through the program and yielded patents or actually led to the formation of a company.

A. In 2011, at 13 years old, Mallory Kievmen invented the Hiccupop, a lollipop designed to stop the hiccups. After receiving her patent, she located a manufacturer and started marketing Hiccupops and selling them through her website. Kievmen ran this business all through high school and even into her early college years.

Hannah Pucci, inventor of Egghead Ice Cream, has received her patent, conducted test marketing in Connecticut and is now working on improving the manufacturing process so she can bring her product to a broad market.

Lucca Riccio, inventor of a Bluetooth communication system for patients using CPAP oxygen, is in the final stages of his patent work and hopes to have his product marketed to individuals and healthcare facilities in the near future.

Both Pucci and Riccio were recognized as Student Entrepreneur of the Year by the CT Entrepreneur Awards in April 2018.

Q. How do students with marketable and viable inventions or startups go from the classroom to potentially developing their product or idea?

A. For many students, the process of bringing their invention to life outside of the classroom begins with honing their proof of concept and filing a patent application. From there, some of our students have gone on to secure funding to advance their inventions, be it through market testing or prototype development.

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