Engineer Learns Business

The College of Engineering and Engineering Technology is proud to congratulate G. Addison Merchut, Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student, on his recent win of the NIU College of Business Social Venture Business Competition. Together with his teammates, Addison is the second engineering student to win this competition in as many years.  
The Social Venture Business Competition was born in the College of Business and encourages young minds to use social entrepreneurship as a platform for creating lasting social ventures that address a local or global need.  The class is open to all majors, but students must be selected to participate. 
Along with Merchut, this year’s winning team included Mike Cahill (Accounting, M.A.), Zach Fiegel (Marketing, B.S.), and Kaitlin Lynch (Community Leadership and Civic Engagement, B.A.). The team worked together to form Vitalert, a mobile application that provides real time safety information about dangerous situations in their area.  Vitalert crowdsources and maps real-time user reports of violence, aggregates the reported data, and then sends alerts to all users in the identified risk zone.
According to Merchut, “our team saw a gap where we could leverage existing technology in a new way. Vitalert uses mobile smart phones to keep citizens safe.  It helps eliminate the idea of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could be a world-wide phenomenon.”
When the semester first began, Dennis Barsema brought the class together for a meet and greet, where students described themselves and chose their teammates.  “I think our group gravitated towards each other we were on the same wave length,” explained Merchut. 
Having the opportunity to work with Business majors was the added bonus to this already great experience for Merchut.  “As an engineer, I took the class to learn about business. Mr. Barsema’s lectures were valuable in the way he shared his experiences, and it gave me exposure to people I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn from. Business is the other side of the coin when it comes to engineering. I experienced the exercise of learning how to articulate my ideas to people whose minds are trained to think and do things differently. In return, they’ve shaped my outlook on what it really takes to bring a product to market. As a result, I think differently.”
G. Addison Merchut
Mechanical Engineering
Currently working for Omron Global
Both the College of Business and the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology have a keen focus on providing real-world experiences to their students. “Creating a synergy between business and engineering is a crucial and logical step forward to really providing real world experiences. I was excited to participate as a mentor this year because I strongly believe that engineers are the critical mass in business, but often benefit from the guidance, foresight, and expertise of business professionals. It’s a brilliant alliance.”
Utilizing mentors is an important step to achieving success in this class.  Merchut described his relationship with his mentors as “essential to the development of Vitalert. They identified the problems or pitfalls that will surely lie in our path.  Things we aren’t trained to think about: legality, use-case scenarios, and even distribution. They taught us to really think about the ways each person may use our product. It changed our focus entirely.”
In the end, Merchut and his teammates earned a $10,000 investment that kick starts the development of this enterprise.  But for Merchut, he’s already noticed the return on his investment. “The class is more than an exercise because of the incentive. We were trained to think in a totally different way about the world, about business, and about the products we will develop in our lives. As an engineer, if you don’t take this course, you are missing out on a skill-set dimension that not only benefits you in the real-world, but that I now understand the real-world needs from us.”

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