Austin Friedrich and Rose Garrett talk Wednesday about a prototype self-tightening sneaker they are working on with a team of other students for the inaugural South Coast Innovation Challenge at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

COOS BAY — For the first time, students at Southwestern Oregon Community College are competing against other inventors to bring a new product to market.

On Saturday, April 6 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at SWOCC’s Eden Hall Room 1, a team will introduce its prototype at the South Coast Innovation Challenge innovation panel. From there, they will go on to the Lab2Market competition in Portland next month, then to the InventOR finals in late June.

Pieces of a prototype self-tightening sneaker Wednesday made by students at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

Dr. Aaron Coyner, associate professor of physics at SWOCC, first heard of InventOR last summer after Portland State University emailed colleges to invite students to attend.

“I thought it was interesting and I like encouraging my students to think creatively,” he said.

Intrigued, he went to a training in Portland where he got the basics for how the contest works and then opened it up for students to apply during the fall term in October.

One team applied, comprised of students Rose Garrett, Tyrone Stagner, Korina Shipstad, Geneva Varga, and Austin Friedrich.

Together, they invented an easy access, self-tightening shoe.

“When you put it on, you don’t have the bend down or tie it,” said Friedrich.

Garrett said the idea was inspired from the movies Back to the Future and Iron Man, both that have shoes or boots that self-tighten or fold up around you.

“We decided to do the competition because most of us are engineering students and it sounded like fun,” Garrett said.

During the April 6 event at SWOCC, Dr. Coyner said there will be a panel with a guest from Portland State University and some sponsors, while Rick Stillwagon from Stillwagon Distilleries will speak for a few minutes on innovation and invention.

“Then the students will present their final prototype and pitch it as a product and have a demonstration,” he said. “We have a panel of judges from the community that will score them and give feedback on what they need going forward to progress to the next round, which is a three-day intensive seminar in May that will help them get from the prototype stage to a marketing product.”

Right now, Nike has a product available but is being sold for $350, having dropped its price back in December. According to Friedrich, the team’s invention will present a cheaper, more available self-tightening shoe to the public.

“The goal is to have it be more accessible for the elderly or patients who need assistance putting on their shoes,” he said. “But we want a product not only available for them but one that is also available for the athlete, the runner, to put it on and they’re good to go.”

As for how it works, Friedrich explained that there is a motor in the heel of the shoe contained in a plastic cup. The motor takes the shoelaces from the sides and straightens them while the heel compresses and the shoe tightens around it.

“We’re still playing with ideas on whether this will be pressure or heat sensitive and an app on a Smart Phone,” he said.

Garrett added that coming together as a team to decide which product would be best and then testing the idea has been fun.

“You could hear the individual ideas, but seeing it gel together has been nice,” Dr. Coyner said. “Part of the goal is to foster teamwork. They told us in the training that the best teams are those who come from different and diverse backgrounds because it comes together in one fluid product. I think this product is good and coming together well.”

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Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.