WMU entrepreneur wins Brian Patrick Thomas Award

Contact: Stacey Markin
| WMU News
Photo of Amber Delgado.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The student entrepreneur behind a device that provides a portable workspace when working with blueprints and other large documents is the recipient of the third annual Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award.

Amber Delgado, an industrial and entrepreneurial engineering major from Allegan, received the $10,000 award for her invention, BlueBoards, which creates a work surface that allows architects and others to work with large prints in the field.


Delgado's invention was born out of her own experience while she was interning at Perrigo and needed to write on blueprints and other plans when she was working on projects in the plants. Without a work surface, the prints were awkward to hold and difficult to write on, resulting in crumpled plans and sloppy writing. When Delgado went to research a solution that kept plans organized and provided a hard-writing surface, she found that there were no good, affordable options on the market. Surprised, she began doing further research and decided that this was a problem she could tackle.

"I became inspired by the idea that I could create something that would be useful to others," says Delgado. To date, her major accomplishments have included:

  • Interviewing 50 potential customers regarding consumer needs local to Kalamazoo.
  • Creating several prototype iterations.
  • Gaining mentorship through Kzoo Makers.
  • Developing a business canvas and plan.
  • Filing for a provisional patent.

Delgado's immediate plans are to use half of the award monies to produce 50 prototypes and get these out to her customer test list. She will also purchase a Kzoo Makers membership.

"The Starting Gate program has given me so many opportunities, and now with this financial backing, I can move my business even further down the path to success," says Delgado. "Starting Gate has already taught me the art of business planning, connected me with several local entrepreneurs, and helped me gain the confidence to pitch my idea to any investor or customer. This award gives me the power to make financial decisions for my business while also finding opportunities to choose transactions that will benefit the Kalamazoo community. I am so grateful for Starting Gate and to Brian Thomas for his support of WMU entrepreneurs.

Brian Patrick Thomas

Thomas is an alumnus of WMU who earned his degree in industrial marketing in 1996. He began his professional career at Forkardt Inc. in Portage and later became an account executive manager for Honda Manufacturing at global automotive giant Magna International. He joined OtterBox in 2003 and was eventually named CEO where he was responsible for leading global expansion efforts and was the chief visionary in positioning OtterBox as an innovation technology company.

During his tenure, Thomas grew the company from $2 million in revenue to over a $1 billion multinational industry powerhouse. OtterBox achieved several milestones and was consistently named one of the fastest growing and most innovative companies in the U.S. by several business organizations. Thomas received the Mid-Market CEO of the Year in 2014 by CEO Connection and was named one of the Top 100 CEOs in the country by Chief Executive Magazine. 

Thomas' passion for entrepreneurial thinking and social entrepreneurship sparked his desire to establish this award to support student entrepreneurs in their efforts to create enterprises that operate harmoniously with employees, communities and non-profit organizations, creating a strong synergistic benefit for all stakeholders 

Thomas is currently on the board of directors for Jemez Technology. Jemez Technology is a software company focusing on real-time perimeter detection and security for the country's critical infrastructure, monuments and national security assets. Thomas is currently an angel investor, mentor, and growth strategist for more than 14 startups.

About the award

The Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award is awarded annually to a company in Starting Gate, WMU's student business accelerator, which seeks to move teams of people to a common cause with a higher social purpose.

About Starting Gate

Starting Gate is a student business accelerator that gives students rich and valuable resources to develop their startup companies. It is located in downtown Kalamazoo and operated by the Haworth College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The accelerator is open to all WMU students through a competitive application process in which students must demonstrate a promising idea for a product or service, which can be launched within a short period of time. Starting Gate provides a fast track to business launch.

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