Recent graduate strives to develop better military compass

National Guard member wins Hatch — Menomonie business contest
Pam Powers | September 19, 2018

Nate Hitchcock saw a need for a more user-friendly military compass.

Hitchcock, of Eau Claire, who graduated in May from University of Wisconsin-Stout with a degree in business administration emphasizing financial services and military science, has been in the Wisconsin National Guard for seven years. 

​​Recent UW-Stout graduate Nate Hitchcock won the Hatch-Menomonie business contest with his idea for a more user-friendly military compass.

While in ROTC at UW-Stout, he was sent in May 2017 to a Mountain Planner School in Camp Ethan Allen, near Jericho, Vt. He realized the military needed a better compass for navigation that is easier to use, particularly at night, and has a built-in projector. 

That’s what his idea, the FastNav compass, does.

“It’s a very important skill to know where you’re going,” said Hitchcock, originally from Ashland. “In the battlefield it could be the difference between life and death.”

Global positioning satellites can be used, but intentional GPS jamming can impact navigation and throw off troops, Hitchcock said. “Using a compass is still a base skill used by the military to back up GPS,” he added.

With FastNav, Hitchcock can cut about a minute from plotting the points, getting a direction and dialing in the direction to the compass compared to other military compasses.

On Aug. 23, Hitchcock’s FastNav won the first-place prize of $2,000 in Hatch — Menomonie, a community-based competition to help develop ideas into early-stage companies. Presenters had five minutes to pitch in front of judges and a live audience. 

Hatch — Menomonie was created and produced by BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation along with NEWaukee.

“I thought it was a really good event to encourage a lot of different inventors in the area,” Hitchcock said. “It was a good networking opportunity. When you present an idea, you learn so much. It gives you experience answering questions and bringing back ideas to research and also gives you experience making a sales pitch.”

As a result of winning Hatch — Menomonie, FastNav is a semifinalist for the regional finale Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Pablo Center in Eau Claire. The winner will receive $5,000 plus business services.

In October, Hitchcock is headed to the Engineering Basic Officer Leadership Course as part of his ROTC program. He hopes to compete in the regional competition remotely.

Hitchcock is working with WiSys to create a design and get a provisional patent for FastNav. WiSys is an independent, supporting organization for the UW System that works with inventors, researchers and students to ensure innovative research is translated into marketable products and services for the benefit of the UW System and society as a whole. 

Having WiSys as a business partner will help guide him through the patent process, said Hitchcock, a Wisconsin National Guard platoon leader with the 273rd Sapper Company in Medford.

He plans to use the prize money from Hatch — Menomonie to help further his FastNav and work toward a prototype.

Hard work paying off

Perseverance has been a big part of his project. He first brought FastNav to a Three Day Start Up program at UW-Stout in November 2017, but it was not picked by student peers as a project to work on during the program.

He then brought the idea to an entrepreneurship class taught by Mary Spaeth, UW-Stout assistant professor of management, during the spring 2018 semester and created a business plan. In March he competed at the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament at UW-Stout and took second place, which is when WiSys approached him, Hitchcock said.

 “Part of the entrepreneurship course’s purpose is to support new inventors and innovators with as many campus resources as possible,” Spaeth said. “So, besides learning the how to research and write a business plan, Nate worked with the library and our business research liaison Ann Vogt; he met with Gus Myran and Mike Cropp in the fab lab to understand prototyping opportunities; he met a student in applied arts who helped him with drawings; and he met with Kristin Ruka at WiSys to explore ways to protect any intellectual property evolving from his project. All of these encounters represent the significance of what it means to develop entrepreneurs at UW-Stout.” 

When the opportunity arose to participate in Hatch, Spaeth said Hitchcock was a natural contender. “He had his material and his pitch ready to go from having prepared for his final assessment in the entrepreneurship course,” Spaeth said. “He delivered the same pitch presentation and he won.

“His commitment to his project and his ability to listen to his mentors and take their advice on board combined with his desire to find excellent resources to support him in meeting his goals has served him well. I have no doubt that he’ll take this product forward and see it succeed in the next few years,” Spaeth said.

Hitchcock also hopes FastNav will move forward. “I’d love it if this took off,” Hitchcock said. “I like finding a way to find a solution. I think I developed that through the military.”



Recent UW-Stout graduate Nate Hitchcock won the Hatch-Menomonie business contest with his idea for a more user-friendly military compass.

Mary Spaeth