Kettering University students help create co-work space, innovation hub in downtown Flint

Kettering University students help create co-work space, innovation hub in downtown Flint
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by Sarah Schuch

Kettering University students have been 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.

Two students, Adam Hartley and Emily Dunkel, have had the opportunity to be a part of an entrepreneurship hub in the heart of Flint. As part of their co-op experience at Kettering, both worked with Skypoint Ventures, the company responsible for renovating and reutilizing the Ferris Building downtown into a shared office and innovation hub.

The building, now called the Flint Ferris Wheel, has seven floors, with a lobby. The third floor is for conference rooms, the fourth floor for permanent offices. The rest is for co-work space.

Emily Dunkle, a mechanical engineering major at Kettering, used of her skills to take old gears from the elevator shaft and turn them into a table.

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.

Working at the Ferris Wheel has given Hartley, a business major at Kettering, experience the ins and outs of new projects, which he is putting to good use. He helped with 100K Ideas, a non-profit organization created to help bring ideas or products to life and is helping start Divide by Design, which 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 says. “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.”

Adam Hartley, a business major at Kettering, helped start Divide by Design, which creates a simple wall partition system to use for any type of room and is being used throughout the entire building.

Divide by Design will be the topic of Hartley’s senior thesis, which is required for graduation at Kettering and describes a comprehensive project performed by the student. However, 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,” says 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. Hartley plays a more business role, as well helping build the customizable work spaces and conference rooms.

For Dunkle, 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,” she says. “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. 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 he’s had 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 says.

— Sarah Schuch assistant director of marketing & communications at Kettering University

— Photos courtesy of Kettering University

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