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Lear Corp finds real solutions, more profits from unlikely source: undergraduate students

Thomas Hawk
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The Next Idea

When it comes to a company’s bottom line, diversity matters. Over the last couple of years on The Next Idea, we've talked with our partner Jeff DeGraff and others about the importance of diversity — in all its forms — when it comes to finding true innovations that change lives and grow businesses.

Today's guests on The Next Idea show this emphasis on diversity isn't just because it's politically correct, or some kumbaya message that we should all get along.

Last weekend, with DeGraff's guidance, the second Lear Open Innovation Challenge got into full swing with pitch competitions from teams of college students in Michigan vying for internships and prizes.

The reason Lear Corporation, a leading Tier One auto parts supplier, is holding a second Innovation Challenge is because the first one was such a surprising and resounding success.

Salim Marouf, an engineering student at Wayne State University, and Brandon Dix, an engineering student at UM-Dearborn, were members of last year’s winning team. They joined Stateside, along with Bob Humphrey, director of global innovation management at Lear Corporation, to discuss the Lear Open Innovation Challenge.

Read highlights below, or listen to the full conversation at the bottom of the post.

The importance of fresh perspectives

“Our teams, because we do the same thing on a daily basis, we get stuck in these paradigms, these constraints, that may or may not exist," Humphrey said. "By bringing in university students from multiple levels, they don’t see those same constraints. They don’t see what can’t be done."

The success of last year’s competition

Last year’s competition focused on the size and weight of vehicle electrical systems, Humphrey said. Based on the winning team’s findings, Lear walked away with “four invention disclosures,” which are the beginning of the patent process, he said.

Seeing a future in engineering

For Marouf, participating in the competition “was a big confidence booster.” “Having a big company like that come to me and ask me for my help really made me believe that I could go forward in engineering,” he said.

“It was beneficial for my education,” Dix said, because it pushed him to apply his classroom learning to real world problems.

The Next Ideais Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.


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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
Joey Horan is a production assistant at Stateside. He lives on the banks of the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio, where he also works as a freelance reporter.
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