Knee-deep in Innovation

Camille Weber serves as The Chamber’s Professional Development Coordinator, where she runs the Young Professionals Network, Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Leadership and Youth Leadership; three amazing programs that have proven time and time again to turn out some of the best leaders in our region.

Though the programs are consistently successful, they are anything but consistent. Rather, Weber is knee-deep in innovation every single day.

Her commitment to innovation is immediately visible with a glance into her office, crammed with a colorful array of markers, pipe cleaners, play dough and other fun stuffs (not to mention the glittery hula hoop). These are not solely the playthings of youth leaders. Adult leadership participants often leave class days covered in marker ink, too.

It’s about breaking your mind out of the office mold and creating a new perspective. It’s about having fun as a means to discovery. It’s about finding out what can happen when you are stretched in new ways. Innovation is at the heart of a growing economy and leads to business startups, job creation and new technology.

Appareo logo“Encourage risk taking and tolerate failure” is a core value at Appareo Systems, LLC, a Fargo-based company offering custom development and manufacture of low-cost innovative avionic solutions for original equipment manufacturers. Chief Operating Officer David Batcheller adds that you can’t limit your tolerance for failure; you need to practice it in perpetuity.

“I could spend the better part of an afternoon listing the epic mistakes we’ve made along the way,” says Batcheller, whose company is now recognized worldwide as a leader in flight safety innovation. “If you are going to be game changing, you need to do something no one’s ever done before. You don’t know ahead of time if it’s going to work.”

Innovation is often found at the intersection of knowledge transfer, as in the student/mentor relationship. Appareo’s internship program is known for providing an intense learning and growing experience for college students. Batcheller likes to push the limits of how much a student can handle because he has seen it lead to amazing results.

“Interns take on core responsibilities in programs that are very important to us with significant budgets. We give them an opportunity to struggle,” Batcheller says.

As a result, students grow quickly both personally and professionally.

“When you are working on a real life project, there are dependencies between team members at play. You need to continuously re-evaluate expectations and adjust your plans,” Batcheller says. “It gives students a flavor for the environment and helps them make decisions while they are still in college about what they really want to do. They can see it in action – unvarnished.”

Brenda Wyland is the associate director of NDSU Research and Technology Park, Inc. (RTP), a mash up of university research and private industry which has led to impressive new technologies and a handful of thriving businesses, including Appareo.

“Engaging students with the private sector is invaluable for both parties,” says Wyland. “Students are provided with the opportunity to work on real-world projects that have a direct impact in the marketplace and the private sector gains access to future talent which is a top priority for all companies.”

The model is succeeding. According to the 2011 NDSU Research & Technology Park Impact Study:

  • The 19 businesses located at the RTP account for 893 direct, on-site jobs and another 551 indirect, off-site jobs.
  • RTP businesses pay salaries that average $57,000 per year.
  • The RTP generates more than $10.9 million annually for local and state governments.

“The driving force behind new job creation and business start-up is innovation,” Wyland says. “The earlier we involve our students in that process, the more successful our economic environment will be.”

Innovation week logoIn an effort to do just that, the park is hosting its third annual Innovation Week, January 23 – 27, at North Dakota State University (NDSU). A highlight this year is the addition of Innovation Challenge 12, an innovation competition which has teams of NDSU students competing for cash prizes as they present creative research and development projects underway on campus and at RTP.

In addition, renowned businessman Tom Walter will present the keynote address on January 26, as part of the competition award ceremony. A serial entrepreneur from the Chicago area, Walter has started 29 ventures and acquired three more. He is a member of the Chicago Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.

Other activities taking place throughout the week include breakout sessions, in-class presentations and networking opportunities. For a complete schedule, go to http://www.ndsuresearchpark.com.

students at Innovation week

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About Yo Adrienne Olson

Yo Adrienne Olson is a Fargo girl, a blessed mom, a lucky wife, an innovative communications professional and a closet entrepreneur.
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