Making his pitch last week to about 40 students gathered in a Barsema Hall classroom,…
The inaugural year of the IDEAL-NIU Intrapreneurship Program—designed to give students real-world experience bringing new products to market—has been a “huge success,” with nine students earning paid internships this semester with the Sycamore-based IDEAL Industries Inc.
Now a new round of students who will be sophomores, juniors and seniors next fall can apply to be selected for the first phase of the program. Interested students in engineering, business, kinesiology, design, public policy, communication, the sciences and more are encouraged to submit an application by Feb. 27.
Students who are accepted into the program will play a role in researching markets, developing IDEAL products and building business plans. Program participants who are successful in that first phase will then have a shot at paid internships–and even possible job offers from IDEAL upon graduation.
Interested students are invited to attend a presentation on the intrapreneurship program from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, in room 354 of the Engineering Building.
“It’s been a really good experience,” says Malik Hughes, a junior industrial management and technology major from Bolingbrook. Hughes was accepted into the program a year ago and earned an internship with IDEAL beginning this semester and lasting through the summer.
“The professionals at IDEAL are very helpful providing the resources we need to design and develop products,” Hughes says. “The experience has provided me with the opportunity to apply concepts we learned in the classroom to a real-world setting. It also gives me a chance to collaborate with students from other fields to come up with solutions to the problems we’re trying to solve.”
Based in Sycamore, the family-owned IDEAL Industries Inc. has been in operation for a century and boasts facilities and clients across the globe. The company manufactures more than 6,000 products used in automotive, construction, aerospace, electrical, data-communication, wire-processing, alternative-energy and other industries.
“We couldn't be more pleased with the talent and potential of our first group of students,” says James, who will lead the Feb. 16 presentation. “Their work thus far gives us high hope they will be successful executing their business plans.”
Here’s how the program worked this past year.
Applicants were screened by the Intrapreneurship Partnership Advisory Board, which also conducted follow-up interviews. Students selected for the program were offered positions on one of the two teams, each working to develop product ideas provided by IDEAL.
After working together for more than a semester, the teams each made their presentations to IDEAL executives in December. IDEAL representatives decided that both teams had demonstrated enough progress to be given the opportunity to continue. So the nine NIU students on those teams were offered paid internships. Now they are refining their products and business plans, moving toward full commercialization.
Bart Sharp, the Mike and Kristina McGrath Professor of Entrepreneurship in NIU’s Department of Management, says the program broadens students horizons and provides a potentially rewarding career path.
“From my perspective, it has been a huge success for the students, the university and IDEAL,” says Sharp, who serves on the Intrapreneurship Partnership Advisory Board.
“I want to emphasize that this opportunity is open to students from any major,” he adds. “The business and engineering angles are obvious, but when it comes to innovative projects like this there is tremendous value in bringing other perspectives to bear. Engineers think of things a certain way, and so do business people, and that can be limiting. Having an artist or a scientist or an English major look at the same issues can lead to brilliant insights.”
While product details are not disclosed, Sharp says there are elements in round-two projects that will be affected by human factors, biology, public policy, communications “and probably half a dozen other fields we haven't realized yet.”
“The teams will have the highest probability of success if they encompass students with affinity for each of those subjects,” he says.
Senior communication studies major Mercedes Ruiz of Chicago was accepted into the intrapreneurship program a year ago and recently earned an IDEAL internship. She says she felt a little intimidated at first when she found herself working on a team with OMIS, finance and engineering majors.
“But IDEAL is good at choosing the right candidates, and I feel like I have contributed a lot,” Ruiz says. It was helpful, for example, having a communication major on the team to help polish the final successful presentation.
Ruiz encourages other students to apply for the program and work toward an internship. There’s a substantial time commitment, but the potential payoff is big, she says.
“IDEAL is like a second home now,” she adds. “I learned how to be professional, how to network with people and how to handle certain situations. I feel it has helped me to grow, not only as a student but as an individual.”