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Making his pitch last week to about 40 students gathered in a Barsema Hall classroom, IDEAL Industries Inc. CEO Jim James said he wants ambitious, motivated and creative NIU students to help bring IDEAL’s new products and ideas to market.
He knows young people have the talent it takes. To hammer home his point, James held up a gleaming SK X-Frame Ratcheting Wrench.
The award-winning tool is expected to generate significant revenue for IDEAL—and an intern turned full-time employee was instrumental in its design and development.
Now the company aims to ratchet up its connection to NIU students through the new IDEAL-NIU Intrapreneurship Program.
The competitive program is open to NIU students who would like to gain experience in researching markets, developing products and building business plans—and who will be juniors or seniors this fall in engineering, business, marketing, design, communication, the sciences and other disciplines across the university. Interested students are encouraged to submit an application by March 25.
Faculty members on the intrapreneurship advisory board will review and schedule interviews with qualified candidates. Those accepted into the program will be assigned to interdisciplinary student teams tasked with building business plans to bring the company’s ideas and product innovations to market. The teams will ultimately pitch their work to top IDEAL executives.
Program participants who produce successful strategies will then have a shot at paid internships, funding resources for product and marketing development and possibly even job offers from IDEAL upon graduation, James said. Four or more teams will be selected in April, and work will begin in earnest next fall.
“What do you think of the program?” James asked students in the audience. “Too good to be true?
“It’s not—this is for real guys,” he added. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Students in the audience were excited.
“The best incentive is that it could turn into a paid internship and then an opportunity where you could run your own business,” said Malik Hughes, a sophomore technology major.
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. Just recently, IDEAL’s Audacy wireless lighting system was selected as the lighting control backbone of the Chicago Cubs’ enhanced Wrigley Field.
IDEAL is currently building an $18 million manufacturing plant in the Sycamore Prairie Business Park, which will free up space at two facilities in DeKalb. James said the space will be used as a place for students to develop their projects.
“Like they said, it’s almost too good to believe,” said junior Shekinah Bergmann, an Industrial and Systems Engineering major who plans to apply for the program. “I’m excited to develop a product that could actually be used in the real world.”
While faculty from business and engineering are serving as advisers to the intrapreneurship program, it’s not exclusive to students with backgrounds in those fields.
“We want students from all colleges who are ambitious, who are motivated and who work well on a team,” said NIU alumnus Glenn Hollister, a retired IDEAL executive involved in the intrapreneurship program.
“We’d like to have many different disciplines represented from across the university,” said Sharp, who serves on the intrapreneurship advisory board.
“This is a great personal opportunity for students to get real-world experience,” he added. “They are going to receive a lot of mentorship and guidance from people at IDEAL as well as faculty at NIU. It’s a real show of commitment from IDEAL. They’ve devoted a lot of time and resources to creating a program that’s going to be very beneficial to students for their careers going forward.”
“It’s in the vanguard in its construct to provide NIU students with unparalleled opportunities in product ideation, engineering design, market analysis, product feel and fashion appeal,” Tahernezhadi said. “The IDEAL program is a tremendous opportunity for our students to exercise their entrepreneurial inspirations with zero risk while getting paid for it.”
Dennis Barsema, who teaches NIU classes on social entrepreneurship and is himself a successful entrepreneur, wholeheartedly agreed.
“This is groundbreaking,” Barsema told students. “It’s going to be a tremendous advantage to have this experience on your resume.”
IDEAL has been involved with NIU on many fronts in the past—supplying executive speakers to business classes, supporting the annual STEMfest event, providing internships to students and hiring graduates.
Because of the company’s familiarity with NIU, choosing the university for the intrapreneurship program was an easy decision, James said.
“We have roots here, and our owners have been huge supporters of NIU,” he said. “We’ve been impressed with NIU President Doug Baker’s emphasis on making sure NIU students have job opportunities. And we know we don’t have to go far for talent—a lot of our employees have come from NIU. So it’s a longstanding relationship that we value.”
For more information on the IDEAL-NIU Intrapreneurship Program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.