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Arctic Innovation Competition: Home-repair tool takes top prize

A multipurpose caulking tool that doubles as a tape dispenser won this year’s Arctic Innovation Competition, a business contest held by the School of Business Management at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Mickey Renkert of Colorado designed the $10,000 grand prize-winning "Tape Boss," one of 27 finalists from the competition's open and junior categories that were showcased Friday night at the UAF Wood Center Ballroom. Judges were impressed by the versatility of the Tape Boss, which can tape-off areas, cut precisely and apply caulk while operating in various spaces, said UAF business student and committee member Rebecca Leivdal. It eliminates the need for multiple tools and “cuts down on a lot of the frustrations,” she said.

Second place and $5,000 in prize money went to “Alumaski for Alaskan Rivers,” a high-powered jet ski designed by Anchorage businessman Brian McKinno that's able to skim the surface of shallow waters and travel in areas otherwise inaccessible to normal jet skis. 

Third place, worth $2,000, went to the “Spot On Bow Sight”, an aim-assisting device for archers that was invented by Mark Gunkel, a teacher at Thorne Bay School on Prince of Wales Island in the Southeast Island School District. The Panhandle's 100-student-strong school district delivered no less than four inventions to the competition's final round and swept the contest's three top prizes in the junior category:

  • Nathaniel Cook won the $500 top prize for his heart-monitoring shooting glass.

  • Garrick Oberndorfer won the $300 second-place prize for his adjustable keel leveler.

  • Luther Jenson won the third place and $200 for his removable felt shoes.

Entrepreneurs from Indonesia to Egypt submitted inventions to the UAF competition, now in its sixth year since professor Ping Lan established the contest in 2008

And it's growing more popular: Levidal said this year's entries were up from 210 in 2012 to 325 and included one submission by this reporter that was inspired to assist runners on Alaska's trails and in mountain races, but that, alas, didn't impress judges. 

As in years past, outdoorsy or cold-weather-related inventions dominated the contest. Finalists included:

  • Retractable wheelchair studs.

  • A GPS-equipped hat.

  • Firewood-chopping table.

  • Design idea for strengthening North Slope ice roads by incorporating the sawdust or wood-pulp composite pykrete

  • A "Food Smoke Adapter," which took fourth place and $1,000 in prize money. It offers campers a portable food smoker that runs from a variety of heat sources including grills, stoves or campfires, Leivdal said.

Last year’s grand-prize winner – “Airlite Snowshoes” invented by Rick Stafford of Anchorage -- appears well on its way to business success, Leivdal said. He is working on obtaining a government contract for his lightweight, inflatable snowshoes, she said.

Competition organizers hope in the future to help innovators turn ideas into money-making realities, as Stafford is doing, Leivdal said. The plan is to boost prize money with in-kind donations to take products or services to markets, she said. UAF business students would use Arctic Innovation Competition entries as real-life case studies, she said.

Contact Yereth Rosen at yereth(at)alaskadispatch.com