Entrepreneur students share innovative ideas as part of Research Day

Easy-to-use trailer hitch, food freshness band and bicycle with virtual reality pitched as potential new products
May 20, 2020

A new type of trailer hitch, electronic tags to make sure food is eaten while it is still fresh and a virtual reality workout bicycle were some of the student research ideas at University of Wisconsin-Stout’s virtual Research Day held May 5-12.

UW-Stout graduate Weston Knutson with a prototype of the Hitch N’ Go.The students were part of an entrepreneurship class taught by Mary Spaeth, assistant professor of international business and entrepreneurship in the School of Management.

During the research event, about 50 presentations were available online. Research Day went online this year for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic and UW-Stout classes moving to alternative instruction methods.

Hitch N’ Go eliminates the need to have to continue to readjust a truck while trying to line up a trailer to the hitch. Hitch N’ Go has a hitch that can move within a frame and more easily align to a trailer.  

If a driver misaligns the trailer with the hitch, as the truck pulls away the ball hitch aligns and secures into place. Weston Knutson, of Madison; Andrew Millis, of Menomonie; and Billy Curnow, of Durand, all business administration majors, came up with the idea.

“In class, we were brainstorming problems that there are in people’s everyday lives,” said Knutson, who graduated May 9. “Our group thought about how we enjoy going out on the boat, camping or doing other recreational activities that involve hooking up a trailer. We then thought how annoying it is to constantly have to get out of your truck and check to see if your hitch is properly lined up or not. We thought there has to be something that can fix this problem. That is how we came up with Hitch N’ Go. This would be a great addition to the marketplace, as it saves people their valuable time.”

They estimate the hitch would cost about $200 to produce.

Knutson, who eventually wants to run his own business, said he enjoyed Spaeth’s class and applying everything he learned in four years at UW-Stout to a project he was passionate about.

“I think that all students really enhanced their market research skills. A project like this heavily relies on numbers and demand,” he said. “Overall, this project was a great experience, and I am very happy with how our project turned out. I was very excited to learn about the opportunity of Research Day. I thought it would be very exciting to share this idea with others. With all of the hard work and time we have put into this project, we like the fact that we can show it off a little bit, as we take great pride in what we have put together throughout the semester.”


Entrepreneur students and business administration majors senior Jake Bloomstrand, of Albertville, Minn.; senior Philip Schmit, of Chaska, Minn.; and junior Dylan Pass, Shakopee, Minn., came up with Best-By-Band, an elastic band device with an electronic timer that counts down how long a food item is fresh.

The device connects to a phone app so owners could check the freshness of their food as well as have recommended recipes and tricks to increase the shelf life of food. The bands would change color: green for fresh, yellow for when food needs to be eaten within three days and red when it is past date.Best-By-Band concept photo

The average American spends $9,000 a year on food and wastes nearly 40% of that food, or about $3,500. A five-pack of the bands would sell for about $50.

“Best-By-Bands would add not only to your health but to your wealth,” Bloomstrand said.

Bicycle VR

A team of senior students including Dillon Keller, of Cazenovia; Jenny Malchow, of Black River Falls; and Alexander Pelke, of Menomonie, developed the idea for Bicycle VR that places a bike on a multiaxial simulation table. The table simulates the movement of a bicycle on terrain, and 360-degree virtual reality gives the visual and physical sensation of riding a bicycle.

“I thought about how my family doesn’t enjoy working out or taking the time to work out in our basement,” Keller said, who graduated May 9 in business administration. “I was trying to think of something that would make exercise fun and something that everyone would be able to do regardless of social status, floor space or access to a gym.”

The idea is that virtual reality riders could travel to different parts of the globe and ride different terrain. The video would be synced with the bicycle movements to provide the total experience.

“The faster you pedal, the video speeds up,” Keller said. “Our added feature is the motion. It’s a little bit more of a classier way to work out.”

Keller, who will work at Seats Inc., Reedsburg, in indoor sales and new product development starting June 15, said virtual Research Day let people easily find projects and look at them at their leisure. He did miss the in-person event and fielding questions to help visitors better understand the concept.

MSpaeth’s class prepares students to become entrepreneurs.

“When these teams began to really visualize the products, they were no longer just ideas but potentially commercial products,” Spaeth said. “That is what we want to see. At UW-Stout, we have many talented students and faculty across campus who can also team with our business students so that the cross-disciplinary mentoring serves to drive better innovation and product development. That is the beauty of a polytechnic campus.”

In the fall the business department is launching two minors that will support the start-up environment at UW-Stout, Spaeth noted. They are entrepreneurship and innovation and investment and finance.




UW-Stout graduate Weston Knutson with a prototype of the Hitch N’ Go.

Best-By-Band concept photo

Mary Spaeth


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