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PHCC announces Big IDEA winners

For nearly a month, community members participated in Patrick Henry Community College’s (PHCC) Big IDEA Challenge – an intensive 30-day competition to accelerate the creation of new products and technologies that foster innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities with the intent to create new jobs in Martinsville and Henry County.

Participants worked in a collaborative environment to research and test their ideas while creating a 3-D model. Of the 10 participants selected to compete – eight worked on ideas for a new product and two worked on ideas for new technology.

Rhonda Hopkins and Suzan Kirby tied for overall winner of the Big IDEA Challenge and Chris Wagoner was named the student winner. All participants signed a nondisclosure agreement to protect each idea and, even though some have progressed considerably in the process, secrecy is still paramount until a patent is established with the US government. But that doesn’t mean the winners aren’t excited about sharing.

Hopkins is an officer manager at Martinsville Glass whose idea was bottled up until she learned about the challenge. She had researched how to create an invention but found that making a prototype was costly. She turned to a higher power.

“I prayed about it,” she explained. “I said, ‘God, you’ve got to open up some doors if this is going to happen.” She soon learned about the Big IDEA Challenge. Producing a prototype was free and mentors at the Dalton IDEA Center were priceless for Hopkins.

All ideas were pitched to a panel of judges for a chance to win a prize package valued at over $5,000 consisting of marketing and design services to assist with turning the winning ideas into reality. Entrants were judged on product viability and marketability and presentation clarity and poise.

Hopkins drew on her talents as an actress for PHCC’s Patriot Players and at the BlackBox Theater during her pitch, which included singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” And she says for those using her invention, it will make their Christmas time more wonderful than usual.

“It’s a seasonal item that is permanent, reasonably priced, and easy to use. It’s used on Christmas trees and since 77% of US households display a Christmas tree – they’ll need it. They will love this”

Susan Kirby’s idea came to her nearly 12 years ago while helping her daughter plan a wedding. Her entire family knew about this idea but she just never knew what to do with it.

“I’d draw pictures over the years but that’s it, because I didn’t know what to do with it,” the Martinsville native and Janice Cain Stationery employee said. “My whole family knew about it but they all thought, ‘She’ll never do anything with it….and I hadn’t until now.”

Kirby incorporated assistance from her son and daughter and even utilized her daughter-in-law, who also participated in the challenge with an idea of her own.

“My idea is something that helps a bride prepare for her wedding. It will be inexpensive and unique.”

For Chris Wagoner of Bassett the process wasn’t nearly as easy. He earned an associate degree from PHCC in general engineering technology, a certification in Siemens mechatronics, and is currently working towards a Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) certification. Although he had familiarity and experience working with the equipment and staff at the Dalton IDEA Center, he didn’t have a readily available idea which sent him to cartoons for his answer.

“I wanted to be part of the Big Idea Challenge but didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was watching The Jetsons,” Wagoner said. “There are similar concepts today but nothing quite like this. It will make everyone’s life easier.”

Wagoner’s idea is costlier but also more intensive. It has over 100 different parts and he even dug in before the challenge started. “I came into the Dalton IDEA Center as soon as I thought of it and have been working on it for three months. The challenge definitely helped because I had to design it from scratch. It’s currently in the testing and prototype stage and my goal is to eventually have two working prototypes.”

For the winners, the next step is to continue working with the Dalton IDEA Center staff to refine designs and finalize prototypes while preparing for Startup Martinsville and Smart Start in the spring.  Smart Start allows the winners to develop business plans. Startup Martinsville assists with creating a successful entrepreneurial mindset as the winners compete for up to $50,000 in grant funds to start their business.

The next Big IDEA Challenge is slated for January 2017.