Alumni mentors help students perfect product pitches

Posted: June 30, 2023
Alumna Taylor Klunk inbetween the team of four students she mentored
Alumna Taylor Klunk (center) with her student mentees (from left) Ishwarya Iyer, Aaron Gillespie, T.J. Blair and Russel Heiser at the IBE Spring Pitch Competition. Blair is holding the team’s pedal extender prototype.

Industrial engineering alumna Taylor Klunk ’22 enjoyed her time at Ohio State so much that she relished the opportunity to help students following the same path she did.

Klunk is one of nine Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) Honors Program alumni from across the country who mentored teams of first-year IBE students this spring as they developed marketable solutions to help the limb loss and limb difference community overcome common daily obstacles.

The challenge is the first design-build project engineering and business students tackle as part of the rigorous, four-year honors program that teaches them how to communicate across business and technical domains and practice an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving. It’s also the focus of the Engineering 1282 course all IBE students take during their second semester at Ohio State.

As a former teaching assistant with the IBE program for over three years, Klunk was confident in her ability to provide meaningful feedback to students and was eager to pay forward.

“IBE was such an impactful part of my four and a half years at Ohio State. I received mentorship through the program myself and I wanted to give back in that way,” she said. “Also it was just so fun to continue to stay involved in a class that was very helpful in setting me up for success in the real world.”

Nine student teams researched the difficulties faced by individuals with limb loss and limb difference before designing solutions such as a waterproof cover to keep prosthetic legs dry while showering, a device that assists individuals with one hand with handwashing and an inflatable sleeve that provides custom fit and cushioning for lower-limb prosthetic wearers.

“We define the end user group and it’s up to the students to define their project scope. They do this by talking to end users and experts. They investigate the market size, product pricing, what channels to sell it through, and then they design and build prototypes of simple solutions,” said IBE Director Kristina Kennedy, an associate professor and course instructor. “They create a solution, but they also build a business model and go-to-market strategy around it.”

In addition to receiving weekly feedback from Kennedy, teaching assistants and their peers, each team was matched with an IBE alum who served as a professional mentor to help them hone their presentations prior to the pitch competition that caps off the class.

“The alumni mentors support the students in the final eight weeks of the semester to help them fine tune their presentation skills, work on their pitches and develop more competitive and impactful messaging as they work towards that final pitch competition,” Kennedy explained.

Klunk mentored the TRIA team made up of T.J. Blair (computer science and engineering), Aaron Gillespie (biomedical engineering), Russel Heiser (computer science and engineering) and Ishwarya Iyer (information systems). After learning about the difficulties people with right leg amputations experience while trying to drive, they created a portable pedal extender to allow individuals to comfortably drive with their left foot.

“Driving is a really big portion of someone’s life. When you’re not able to do that or you’re doing it with difficulty or discomfort, it becomes very hard because you can’t get to places on your own,” Iyer said. “The main goal with our product is to give back our end users their independence and to make driving more comfortable.”

The foursome found Klunk’s feedback invaluable as they worked to perfect their product and pitch.

“It’s been really great because she gives us new perspectives we haven’t even thought of,” said Gillespie. “With her being through this before, it’s pretty helpful. And she’s a marketing manager, so it’s nice to have feedback from someone whose mindset is constantly on that as part of their job.”

Four judges watch as a team of IBE students pitch their product.
The Nail Safe team pitches their hands-free nail cutting device to a panel of judges during the IBE Spring Pitch Competition.

Klunk drove to campus from Cincinnati to support her team at the packed final pitch competition held in Mason Hall. Each team had just 10 minutes to present their product, prototype and business plan to a panel of industry leaders, which included several Ohio State IBE and engineering alumni. In addition to being a component of their final grades, three teams also received coveted Top in Class, Top Technical and Best Business Model awards and small scholarships.

“It was fun to see it culminate in the final product and see the feedback I provided actually make its way into the final presentation,” said Klunk. “It was all the students, but it was cool to see the little part I could play in helping them reach their goals of a really polished and professional presentation at the end.”

Now a marketing technology manager in Baby Care for Procter & Gamble, Klunk is excited to see how the newest cohort of students benefits from the IBE program.

“[IBE] was very impactful for me in getting my internships, my job and everything in between,” she explained. “I work in an IBE-esque role right now and I think a lot of that is attributed to my work in IBE during my undergrad. It set me up for success in this role."

In addition to IBE’s challenging curriculum, the robust support given by dedicated alumni like Klunk is one of the program’s strongest assets, Kennedy said.

“We have a really active alumni group and they love being engaged,” she said. “We have alumni that host networking events in key cities in the summer when we send our students out on internship or co-op. And we maintain a robust alumni database that our students can tap into; they’re a great resource for our students and we are grateful for their engagement.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications,

Categories: AlumniStudents