Kettering University students are a part of the Flint community for more than four years as they work, go to school and volunteer. Sometimes they also get the opportunity to invest in the community in a unique way during their co-op experience.
Two students, Adam Hartley ‘20 and Emily Dunkel ‘20, have had the opportunity to be a part of an entrepreneurship hub in the heart of Flint. Both Hartley and Dunkel worked with Skypoint Ventures, responsible for renovating and reutilizing the Ferris Building in downtown Flint into a shared office and innovation hub.
The building, now called the Ferris Wheel, has seven floors, with a lobby, the third floor for conference rooms, the seventh floor for permanent office space and the rest being for co-work spaces.
After spending years vacant, Skypoint purchased the Ferris Building in 2013 in the hopes of restoring it to its former glory. It is a piece of Flint’s storied past, getting its name from the Ferris Brother’s Fur Company, which once called 615 South Saginaw home. Construction is already underway, starting with the renovations that will be necessary to support high-tech and creative companies.
Hartley, a Business major at Kettering, has gotten to experience the ins and outs of the Ferris Wheel starting up. On top of that he has helped with 100K Ideas, a non profit organization created to help bring ideas or products to life, and Divide by Design, a company he is helping to start that creates a simple wall partition system to use for any type of room and is being used throughout the entire building.
“The goal is to create an innovative entrepreneurial environment in downtown Flint with 100K Ideas being on the ground floor with co-work spaces and startups being on the other floors,” Hartley said. “This opportunity has been unique. It’s nothing like most of the co-ops I’ve heard about. I enjoy it because I’m doing something new every day. I get to experience not just simulations like in class. I get to actually experience starting a business.
“I’ve seen Flint since I was a little kid. I’ve been on the outside watching all this stuff happen at Skypoint. To be a part of it is an awesome opportunity. It’s something I’ll be able to talk about for a long time.”
Divide by Design will be the topic of Hartley’s thesis. But his main focus during his co-op term is helping getting the Ferris Wheel and 100K Ideas going. He is part of a team of college students using their knowledge and skills to create entrepreneurial opportunities in the city.
“If you are running a startup or exploring a disruptive approach you want to be working with smart, creative and fearless students like Adam and Emily,” said David Ollila, President and Chief Innovation Officer for Skypoint Ventures. “The Ferris Wheel, 100K Ideas and Divide By Design would not be coming to fruition without the collaborative of our Kettering students.”
The students involved in the Ferris Wheel are engineers, graphic designers, business students and artists, among other things.
For 100K Ideas, when someone comes in with a product or business idea they are assigned a project manager. In two weeks, they are helped with a product/opportunity assessment, sketches and other introductory work. They are then guided through the next steps of a business, which could include CAD work, prototypes and a startup plan.
Students are also helping create the Ferris Wheel - the business and the physical space. For Hartley, he plays a more business role, as well helping build the customizable work spaces and conference rooms.
For Dunkle, who is a Mechanical Engineering major at Kettering, that means working on the physical space in different ways including figuring out which type of walls to use in which areas and helping with CAD work for the business ideas. Creative uses of her skills include taking old gears from the elevator shaft and turning them into a table.
“Inventing things is a dream for me. I have always wanted to be a part of that type of work. You can make anything. There’s no limitation. The only limitation at that point is your limitation,” Dunkle said. “I get to use the knowledge that I’ve learned at Kettering to do the gear table and other projects. I think it’s a really unique co-op opportunity.”
Hartley has been able to use what he has learned in class to help with real startups and business decisions with real due dates. The opportunities through Skypoint and the Ferris Wheel are great chances for him to grow and watch something form in Flint.
“We’re hoping this will be the place that people go to, not just locally but in Michigan and maybe beyond that if they have an idea or something innovative. We want to encourage the innovation and entrepreneurship in Flint. We hope this will be a hub for startup,” Hartley said.