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Student innovators rise to the challenge

April 1, 2019

min read

Spring has returned at Wichita State University, and while many students are diligently taking class notes and prepping for finals, five teams of student innovators are wiring electromagnets, printing 3D prototypes and turning gears in preparation for a different kind of final exam.

They’re finalists in the Koch Innovation Challenge, a student innovation competition sponsored by Koch Industries that begins in the fall with a semester-long innovation course and, for five teams, culminates with a final project pitch to a panel of judges in May. It’s a hands-on program that tests students’ ability to think entrepreneurially and solve problems through innovation and collaboration.

“I think working on entrepreneurial skills at the collegiate level is excellent,” said Nadine Dytko-Madsen, a global project engineer with Molex who is no stranger to the product innovation and development process. “I think it’s preparation for real life.”

While the program is in its third year at Wichita State, this was the first year that teams had the opportunity to practice their pitches to a couple of experts from Koch Industries – including Dytko-Madsen and Jason Illian, entrepreneur and investor with Koch Disruptive Technologies.

“It’s exciting,” said Illian. “Even when the prototype’s not perfect, it’s exciting to see people trying something new. Because when they’re trying new things, it creates new opportunities, and those opportunities cascade down to a bunch of levels that make people’s lives better.”

Over the course of five separate sit-down sessions with each team, Dytko-Madsen and Illian answered questions and provided constructive feedback on how the teams could improve their pitches and projects heading into the final presentation.

Among this year’s big ideas: a recovery pillow for knee surgery patients, a water level sensor for the visually impaired, a tool for changing hearing aid batteries, a toothbrush with integrated toothpaste, and a hydroelectric system for capturing energy from industrial water use.

Final presentations and judging for the Koch Innovation Challenge will take place May 10, 2019, at Wichita State’s Experiential Engineering Building. The winning team will earn the title of Koch Innovation Challenge champion for 2019 and advance to compete in a national innovation competition in the fall.

Cast your vote in the Koch Innovation Challenge!

Want to help these student teams take their innovations to the next level? Visit and vote for your favorite innovation. The winning team will get an extra judge’s vote in the finals, so your vote matters.

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