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Student-led initiative ramps up innovation
After discovering his passion for entrepreneurship, recent industrial and systems engineering graduate Christian Lampasso founded and now directs a new innovation program at Ohio State that gives students the opportunity to delve deeper into the world of disruptive technology.
OnRamp is a 10-week paid program that gives students the opportunity to work with a corporate sponsor to transform their early-stage ideas into startups.
Autumn semester’s sponsor, Honda R&D Americas, provided ideas that stem from their collaboration with Smart Columbus for Honda 2030, the company’s vision on how it could impact the world in the year 2030.
Lampasso created the OnRamp accelerator program after being involved in Huntington Bucks Go Pro—a summer internship for student athletes. He played in 117 games over his four years on the Ohio State men’s hockey team, which advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four last year. During the internship, Lampasso learned about innovation and the startup industry, and wanted to share that experience with other students.
When Lampasso was in the early stages of developing OnRamp, he met with vice president of Honda R&D Americas, Ted Klaus, who expressed interest in the idea.
“OnRamp was born of the partnership that Ohio State has with Honda,” Klaus said. “The idea was first discussed at a Honda-sponsored workshop exploring Honda’s vision for a carbon-free/collision-free society and how to realize such a desired outcome leveraging Smart Columbus, the Smart Mobility Corridor and Ohio State’s ecosystem.”
Although OnRamp is housed within the Center for Innovation Strategies at Ohio State, corporate sponsors fund the program. Currently, Honda has provided funding to run the program for two semesters.
“The key to OnRamp is to have curious-minded, diverse students create empathy with the real issues that exist for people living, working and learning in Columbus. It is purposely a diverse cohort to create a bit of tension in the assumptions,” Klaus explained.
Working in groups of four, participating students take initial sponsor-supplied concepts and use customer validation and innovation techniques to generate unique solutions. The groups then have 10 weeks to develop the idea into a startup.
Lampasso knows the value of the steps involved since he used the same ones to develop the OnRamp program.
During customer validation interviews, OnRamp interns make sure they’re solving a real problem consumers face.
“You're basically defining the problem and validating that it's an issue that consumers actually have today and gathering data as you go,” said OnRamp intern Enrique Dominguez, a fifth-year in industrial and systems engineering.
Dominguez said the next step is to devise a solution to the problem they discovered, without actually building anything.
“The end goal is just an idea. You don't have to build anything, you don't have to know how to code, you don't have to make a robot,” Lampasso said. “It’s just brainstorming and ideation and doing that through the data that you gather by talking to customers."
After groups generate an idea to fix their problem, they interview customers again. This is important, Dominguez said, because consumers can provide helpful feedback to the group while they’re working on a specific solution.
Once the final customer interviews are completed, each of the five groups present their projects to company representatives, who will decide which ideas they want to pursue further.
There is also an opportunity for interns to develop the selected ideas through co-ops at the Center for Innovation Strategies.
“Over the summer, I have 20 full-time co-op positions that I have to fill. Those 20 co-op positions are actually building out that idea,” Lampasso said.
Lampasso stressed that anyone can apply for the program, it’s not just for engineers.
"Anyone can be an innovator, anyone can contribute,” he said. “It's all about who you are as a person and how you think."
Although it’s only the program’s first 10-week session, students involved with OnRamp are already benefitting from the experience.
“It's very organized and there's a structure to it and it just opens your eyes to a completely new way of thinking," Dominguez said.
Lampasso is currently in the process of adding other companies as OnRamp sponsors, which will enable the program to expand. His goal is to obtain 25 ideas and hire 100 Ohio State students by spring 2019.
by Alex Andrews, College of Engineering student communications assistant