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The Toaster – A Summer Snapshot

By August 26, 2022February 12th, 2024No Comments

By Peter Nomeland and Erik Halaas 

While campus can be a bit quiet during the summer months, sparks of innovation and inspiration ensured the Toaster Innovation Hub remained buzzing with energy.

This relatively new campus resource has been a draw for student innovators and entrepreneurs — from aspiring 7th and 8th graders dreaming of ways to ease language translation services to doctoral candidates navigating uncharted territory in testing anti-cancer therapeutics. 

Read on for snapshots from summer @ the Toaster. . . .

Young Innovators

This summer, The Toaster hosted the Business Innovation Academy as a part of a two-week-long immersion camp for middle school students. The camp is a collaborative effort between the Carlson School of Management and Equity Alliance MN, the latter of which aims to “make the educational ecosystem across Minnesota equitable for every single student.” 

The camp includes various activities encouraging students to hone their entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills. The campers come up with problems, find solutions, design, and then pitch their ideas in a collaborative setting, while learning from Carlson faculty and touring the University. The campers used the Toaster for brainstorming and collaborating on ideas and building prototypes. 

Camp leaders and coordinators, Becky Momany and Laura Swenson, sat down with Toaster staff during these activities to further discuss the camp and their use of the space. The program “provides these students an opportunity to get the college experience. . . . They’re given a case on the first day and the case usually revolves around finding and creating a product or service that solves a problem,” says Momany. “Every day, they’re working in collaboration with students who they don’t know” in preparation for their “Shark Tank”–like pitch to a panel of judges. 

As for the Toaster: “This space is awesome. It’s amazing. This is the first year that we’ve used this space, and this fills that innovation and collaboration bucket. . . . In the past, they’ve just been in Carlson’s lecture hall working and using a computer.

“Now it’s hands-on, and they can build a prototype.”

Emerging STEM Scholars

The Toaster had the pleasure of hosting the Emerge Summer STEM program — a 4-week summer program for incoming President’s Emerging Scholars focused on STEM exploration, community building, and academic preparation as these students begin their journey at the University of Minnesota. 

The Emerge Scholars spent Tuesday afternoons in the Toaster for their study hall and community hours. “It was great to see the space activated in typically quiet summer months” said Erik Halaas, Innovation Outreach and Program Specialist at the Toaster. “As a space designed to promote multi-disciplinary collaboration, it is always great to see incoming students forging relationships with peers and mentors through the shared discovery of campus resources.” 

“The Toaster was a critical partner in the PES Emerge Summer STEM Program’s success,” says Emerge Program Assistant Director Jessica P. Cameron. “It offered a space for us to come together in community and encourage our students to think beyond their degree interests and tap into innovation and creativity. We were able to spread out and accommodate many different study styles!”

“Students were excited to be in a space where they could explore community, entrepreneurship, and ultimately have fun.”

Whether sitting in on a session about pre-health pathways, learning about opportunities at the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, or trying their hand on a 3D printer or sewing machine for the first time, the Toaster provided opportunities to inspire curiosity. 

For two of the incoming scholars, that curiosity led to being hired on as Toaster Ambassadors this fall.

“Go / No Go” and what lies ahead? 

The Toaster also hosted the Business Accelerator for Student  Entrepreneurs (BASE) over the course of the summer. 

Teams of recent graduates and current students from a variety of U of M programs presented their initial business proposals to an audience of mentors and local business leaders in June. Over the next eight weeks, participants connected to mentors; they refined and re-worked their business ideas guided by a series of workshops. 

One of those workshops connected participants and their mentors to Carolyn Lilyard, Business and Global Studies Librarian, and Mary Schoenborn, Library Liaison to Humphrey and Carlson, to demonstrate the power of effective market research and the wealth of resources offered through the University Libraries.

The participants returned on Aug. 4 for BASE Demo Day to showcase their startup companies and products and share their growth. Among the showcased innovations were Theodora LLC, which makes pillows to help breast cancer patients sleep more comfortably; the Assist, which creates devices to “assist” Sled hockey players getting on and off the ice; and Groupit, a software program that protects social media accounts and metrics from deletion.

“Some of the concepts will be modestly refined over the eight-week period,” BASE director Mark Sanders says. “Others  will change quite dramatically as the students re-think their concept and maybe pivot to  something better. And some might conclude that their concept just isn’t viable, and they should move on to something else.”  

Students aren’t in a competition that will name winners and losers, Sanders stresses. Rather, they’re at the end of a process, guided by mentors and informed by research, where they make a “Go / No-Go” decision. 

Whether or not the business ideas are viable enough to continue pursuing, it is that process that the Toaster staff and ambassadors are ecstatic to be a part of. 

This summer was great! What lies ahead? 

Kimberlie Moock

Author Kimberlie Moock

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