The role of an entrepreneur is innovation through creativity. Through its Independent Innovators Network scholarship competition, The Michigan Colleges Alliance encourages students to develop a business of social entrepreneurship concept.
Hillsdale freshman Sam Swayze won the most recent round of the competition earlier this month, receiving more votes than any of the other 24 submissions for his concept of a new way to train workers in Michigan’s manufacturing sector. He was awarded a $7,500 scholarship for his achievement.
“I wanted to pick a topic that was relevant to the state of Michigan, so I settled on tackling the problem of underemployment in the Rust Belt,” Swayze said.
In context, underemployment refers to underutilization of assets, be it labor or some form of capital, such as machinery or buildings. Swayze said he found this to be a large issue in Michigan.
“I then went about brainstorming and used Google to find what the current dialogue on the issue is. It turns out there is a lot,” he said. “It’s a big problem and there are a lot of people pushing solutions.”
One potential solution Swayze found compelling came from Awesome Inc. in Sweden. The idea is that governments, businesses, and universities work together to facilitate meaningful research and the sale of said research, allowing for a decrease in transactions costs.
“I really like the idea a lot, and so in my own proposal I wound up somewhat mimicking that,” Swayze said.
Swayze called his proposal “Redesigning the Rust Belt.” The basic idea is of a firm which “helps clients increase their return on investment in training on the operation, repair, and maintenance of their industrial equipment,” according to Swayze’s submission. Said firm — made up of innovation-minded employees — helps clients gather data on their product-specific knowledge and uses this data to develop cutting-edge training processes.
Swayze proposed potential steps to the actualization of this idea, while also postulating some of the potential concerns associated with the concept, such as funding.
Professor of Marketing Susan King served as Swayze’s sponsor for the competition. After her initial review she said she found Swayze’s idea promising, but suggested he develop more concrete ideas for potential sources of funding, avenues for raising awareness of the project, and ways of coping with ever-changing technology.
After addressing King’s concerns, Swayze submitted his final proposal to a committee of reviewers comprised of Michigan’s business leaders, according to Michigan Colleges Alliance Chief Operating Officer Marcie Levey. Swayze’s project received more votes than any of the other proposals, making him one of the six scholarship winners. According to Levey, Swayze is the first freshman to receive the top score in a round of submissions.
“The competition has drawn many interesting and compelling projects,” Levey said in an email. “Sam’s proposal addressed a particularly relevant and timely need in the Michigan economy, using innovative technology to provide a new way to train workers in the manufacturing sector.”
King said she was proud to see a Hillsdale student win the award, especially since there were submissions form students at 11 different colleges and universities throughout the state.
Swayze, who thanked King for her help, said he appreciated the financial prize, but added that the real benefit came from the production of the proposal itself.
“I’ve never really felt like being an academic was something I was quite good at,” he said. “But this was something I felt like I might have some talent at and be able to do. Michigan is my home for the next four years and helping my community was something I was really passionate about back home. Although I am no longer there, I wanted to continue that habit.”