“One of the things I like about KCC is students present prototypes that are tangible and show how they will impact the community – that is a big difference. Something that shows tangible results and could go to market quickly and have an immediate impact on the community.” – Juan Barraza, InventOR director

KLAMATH FALLS — In a surprising and rare judgment, both student-led teams competing for prize money in this year’s Klamath Community College Badger Venture contest were selected to advance to the state-level InventOR collegiate competition.

An annual entrepreneurial and innovation contest open to students and recent graduates of KCC, Badger Venture is a collaborative effort to nurture invention prototypes and business concepts. It is presented in partnership with Klamath IDEA, Business Oregon, and the Klamath Community College Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

On Wednesday, April 20 on the KCC campus, Badger Venture teams presented in front of a public audience, and a panel of four judges comprised of local business leaders and entrepreneurs. This year’s judges included Todd Andres of Pacific Power and Klamath Falls City Council, Tricia Clemans of Vertue Lab, Ellsworth Lang of Kla-Mo-Ya Sleep Inn and Suites, and John Novak of Novak’s Auto Parts.

Prizes included “Best Business Development Concept” ($2,000), “Best Prototype Concept” ($2,000), “Entrepreneur in Action” ($500), “Best InventOR Prototype Concept” ($500), and an “Audience Choice” award ($250).

Following a welcome by KCC President Dr. Roberto Gutierrez, and Kat Rutledge, SBDC director, each team was given an opportunity to present their concept and answer the panel’s questions. Afterward, judges deliberated while audience members provided anonymous votes for the “Audience Choice Award.”

The Tayas Yawks team, comprised of Paul Monteith and Anthoney Rasdal, was awarded the “Best Business Development Concept,” and “Entrepreneur in Action” awards, totaling $2,500. The Diesel Weasels team, comprised consisting of Charisse Wells and Austin Nunn, received the “Best Prototype Concept,” “Best InventOR Prototype Concept,” and “Audience Choice Award,” tallying $2,750.

Based on the innovative business pitches and potential societal impact of their respective concepts, judges announced both teams would advance to InventOR.

“These teams were perfect in what we are looking for with invention, and when I heard the other team’s (Tayas Yawks) social impact working in the community providing a second-chance opportunity – both are worthy of advancing,” said Juan Barraza, director of InventOR. “One of the things I like about KCC is students present prototypes that are tangible and show how they will impact the community – that is a big difference. Something that shows tangible results and could go to market quickly and have an immediate impact on the community. A lot of other concepts require a lot of research and development, we don’t know if they would make it to market, but these two are so close.”

Each Badger Venture team is matched with an instructor and mentor and spends much of the school year developing their concept while undergoing business model development in preparation for a pitch to judges serving as potential investors. The goal is to encourage competitors to identify problems that could be solved through a concept, prototype, or service developed in southern Oregon, with potential for economic growth.

Wells and Nunn of Team Diesel Weasels are both KCC Diesel Technology students. Wells, the lone female student in program, invented a new tool that allows wrenches to be coupled together, permitting torque and leverage in tight, unreachable spaces. Team Diesel Weasels presented their tool concept with a prototype in hand, while detailing plans to pursue a patent and sell the tool design to a branded manufacturer.

Team Tayas Yawks includes Monteith, a teaching assistant in the college’s welding program, and Rasdal, a KCC welding student. Monteith currently operates Tayas Yawks (translated as “medicine bag” in the Klamath language) as a nonprofit, providing peer support for individuals recently incarcerated or in recovery from drug addiction.

The team pitched their concept as an expansion of Tayas Yawks’ operations to include a fabrication shop that would supply full-time quality jobs and training for individuals in their program, building trailers as a means to provide a second opportunity in life.

InventOR welcomes around 40 collegiate teams annually to showcase their business and innovation concepts. Each team that advances to the semi-finals is given $2,500 to further develop their idea, while vying for $30,000 in prize money at the final competition in Grants Pass June 23-24.

Team Diesel Weasels and Tayas Yawks will compete alongside two teams from Oregon Tech which were selected at the Catalyze Klamath competition to also advance to InventOR: National Early Response Firefighting System (NERFS), and Klamath Angel Mobile Health. These teams consist of Oregon Tech students Graeme Wiltrout, Eddie Medina, Jemisha Vargas, Marcus Delamarter, Fletcher Stults, Toby Ruston, Chrys Chan, and Le Quynh Dao Nguyen.

Badger Venture organizers noted the event had arguably its largest public turnout to date, something Barraza noticed as well.

“The community support of students has been impressive,” added Barraza. “Klamath Falls has shown support for its students over the years. The effect of that support will reverberate for years to come with economic impact in the region from all of the KCC alumnus.”

KCC Badger Venture participants Anthoney Rasdal, l-r, Paul Monteith, Austin Nunn, and Charisse Wells proudly display checks collected
at the annual innovation competition last week. Both teams will advance to the statewide InventOR contest in June. (Photo: Kurt Liedtke)

Team Diesel Weasels, consisting of KCC students Charisse Wells (left) and Austin Nunn, present their prototype wrench coupling invention
to judges at the annual Badger Venture competition last week. (Photo: Kurt Liedtke)