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ISU grad student wins $50K in prizes in startup competition

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 8:30 a.m. CST

NORMAL (MCT) - An Illinois State University graduate student's business selling 3-D printers and providing workshops on how to make and use them won $50,000 in cash and in-kind services in the Startup Showcase business competition organized by the Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at ISU.

Rob Martin of Springfield, a graduate student in project management, launched Open-Source Classroom, about a year ago.

The primary focus of his business is to provide professional development workshops to teachers to help them teach their students about this relatively new and fast-growing technology, which uses digital information to create three-dimensional objects.

Martin, who majored in engineering technology and renewable energy as an under-graduate at ISU, already has a training session scheduled with the Bloomington-Area Career Center and has been talking with officials at Bloomington District 87.

"I can't tell you how many hours I just sat watching my 3D printer and figuring out how it works," Martin said Friday. "We've streamlined the learning process for teachers."

He competed against three finalists on Friday, making presentations to a panel of judges who are involved in business and investment.

The competition was open to students from ISU, Illinois Wesleyan University, Lincoln College and Heartland Community College. All four finalists were from ISU.

Doan Winkel, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at ISU, said the focus in previous years was on developing a business plan, but this year's competition called for students to show they had taken steps to put a team together and start a business.

The panel of judges not only questioned the young entrepreneurs but also gave them advice, such as broadening or narrowing their focus and avoiding pitfalls related to patents and copyrights.

While Martin intended to concentrate on workshops in a school setting, the judges suggested he develop two versions of his product-- one for education and the other for the industrial sector.

The other finalists were: Chirag Rajpal, whose Live Braille company is developing a glove with sensors to provide mobility assistance to the visually impaired; Kurt Marks, whose Cryptic Apparel company makes T-shirts with his unique designs; and Obieze Agbo and Keith Viramontes, whose CrunchLaunch company is designed to help independent musicians promote and develop themselves.

The keynote speaker was Mike DeLazzer, founder of Redbox video rental kiosks.

(c)2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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