Dan Panozzo came to Western Michigan University with a clear career path in mind—earn an engineering degree focused on innovation and use it to become an entrepreneur. Today, he‛s on track to earn his degree in 2013, but his entrepreneurial career has already begun.
Panozzo and two of his fellow students recently took their design for an original product to a statewide competition called Accelerate Michigan Innovation. Competing against 297 other student teams, they captured third place and a $10,000 check. Today, they‛re using that money to form a company, secure a patent and plan the launch of their product.
They will market a product called Quick Hitch, a simplified trailering hitch Panozzo conceived after watching his family members struggle with the occasional boat and snowmobile hauling tasks that go with owning a lake home. The hitch telescopes and rotates 180 degrees, making it a much less challenging task to connect to a vehicle. The team‛s design does this without losing any of the strength of a regular hitch.
The WMU team—Panozzo, Joe Fodo and Evan Maltas—began working together in an entrepreneurial engineering class in 2011. In addition to getting a great grade—4.0—for their design project, they also got the feedback and support they needed from faculty in WMU‛s engineering and business colleges to realize they had developed a marketable project.
Panozzo, a Downers Grove, Ill., native, selected WMU‛s Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering major after he visited WMU and fell in love with both the campus and the feeling of individual attention he found in talking with faculty. He also liked knowing the program he chose was on the cutting edge and was the first and only such engineering program in the nation accredited by ABET—the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
“This program is the reason I came to Western,” Panozzo says. “I‛m excited to be here at the beginning of this.”