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Charlotte Venture Launch Spotlight: Michael Walter
April 24, 2017 at 8:48 AM
Michael G. Walter, a Dayton, Ohio native, is an assistant professor of chemistry at UNC Charlotte. This spring, he participated in the 2017 Charlotte Venture Launch NC IDEA Program as the academic lead for his team who created the Polymer Semiconductor Education Kit (PSEK.) The company is developing a STEM education kit built around bringing the latest plastic electronic technologies into high school and college science curricula. Michael took the time to answer some questions about his experiences in the program and the next steps for his company.
How would you define innovation? And how does your company fit that description?
Innovation is a way of a bringing new ideas / advanced technologies to the world and making them a reality. Often these ideas were only recently thought to be not possible or unworkable. Innovation shows a path forward in a highly impactful way. Our innovation is educational based. We believe that students and teachers in high school and early college should have access to the latest molecular electronics knowledge and technologies, which are currently changing our world. Our innovation is a 3 in 1 plastic electronics science education kit for high school and undergraduate teachers / students. The hands-on educational activity kit allows the introduction of contemporary molecular electronics principles in three activities where student build and test an (1) organic polymer (plastic) solar cell, (2) a polymer light-emitting diode using materials similar to those found in current OLED screens in cell phones and TV screens, and (3) a conductive polymer synthesis ink lab. The curriculum has been developed to tie in concepts found in chemistry, physics, and device engineering.
In what ways did your participation in the Charlotte Ventureprise Launch enhance your time at UNC Charlotte and develop your skills as an entrepreneur?
It got me thinking about what are the real needs of contemporary STEM education, and how can we be open to thinking about our educational innovation in a new/different way. The Charlotte Venture Launch program also reinforced how bringing real-world applications into STEM classrooms is the key for inspiring and nurturing lifelong enthusiasm in students and teachers.
What is the next step for your company?
We have already begun to build a network of very interested teachers, STEM directors, and university researchers who have been exposed to the workshops that we have conducted. We are planning how to expand our impact and spread the curriculum/kits beyond word of mouth, and to connect to many more STEM centers / High School / University partners who are interested in utilizing the education kit and help develop workshops and science teacher professional development.
What advice would you give fellow students who think they have ideas for a startup company?
Talk to everyone who might be interested in your innovation! It is amazing how learning effective interviewing can change the path and focus of a great idea to make it even better and more effective.
What excites you the most about what you do? The least?
Pulling back the curtain and teaching the general public that the technologies that we know and use everyday are not as complicated as many people think. In fact, many of them operate on very simple chemical and physical principles, which can be taught to students at all levels.
What caused your “aha” moment leading to the creation of your venture?
When we first saw students and teachers using the materials in the workshop and they began experimenting on their own. They really enjoyed the learning process and opportunity to participate in a hands-on activity with some really cool STEM materials. They kept asking great questions, and wanted to learn more and more. It was clear that we had developed something that really excited the teachers and students.