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Success Story: Purdue University Northwest Leverages EDA Innovation Grant to Help Entrepreneurs Manufacture and Bring Products to Market

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Michelle Pearson, of Merrillville, Indiana, is an entrepreneur who invented OSMORE, the automated communion server.

Michelle Pearson’s idea for an invention came to her in a dream, but the reality of bringing her product to market proved to be a bit more challenging.

Pearson’s invention is an automated communion server, which would automatically dispense the wafer and wine during the Eucharist for Christians in churches, hospitals, nursing homes, and correctional facilities. A 63-year-old retired teacher, Pearson spent thousands of dollars and drew on the expertise of her large family to build a prototype, but they were unable to bring the product to market.

It wasn’t until Pearson connected with Purdue University Northwest’s Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center (CMEC) in Hammond, Indiana that her idea came to life.

Ms. Pearson’s Communion servers – which will be called the OSMORE -- could start to appear in churches as soon as early 2021.

“I don’t know where we would be if we did not become connected with CMEC,” said Pearson, a member of the River of Life Ministries in Gary, Indiana.

In 2019, Purdue University Northwest received a $386,316 grant from EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program (now known as Build to Scale) to foster manufacturing-related entrepreneurship and workforce development for an innovation economy in the region.

The EDA grant, matched by $386,446 in local funds, helped cover the cost of a utility patent and a prototype for Pearson’s dispenser. Pearson’s company, MPB Essential Technology, has also received intellectual property legal aid, guidance on product viability, and training in customer discovery as part of CMEC’s six-step process.

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(Left) A protype rendering of OSMORE, the automated communion server. Photo Credit: Purdue University Northwest’s Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center. (Right) Priest offers communion in church. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

“The value of what they gave us propelled the value of our company and showed us what direction we needed to go in,” Pearson said. “We knew what the next level was, but we had no idea how we would get there.”

Since receiving the EDA grant last year, CMEC has supported nearly 30 Northwest Indiana entrepreneurs who sell products such as plant-based food or exercise equipment. One entrepreneur started a virtual platform for documentary filmmakers and recently secured a contract with Amazon.

Mont Handley, CMEC’s executive director and entrepreneur in resident, said Pearson is one of many entrepreneurs in Northwest Indiana who face challenges with finding resources in Northwest Indiana. He notes that the number of patents filed in northern Indiana are far fewer compared to southern Indiana.

“Does that mean that people don’t start business here? No, it doesn’t,” Handley said. “There is a need in Northwest Indiana.”

Purdue University faculty can also help in the final design process to assist inventors in becoming ready to manufacture their product. CMEC has a lab space where they can set up small-scale manufacturing to make products to sell until large-scale manufacturing occurs.

Pearson hopes to locally manufacture her communion devices, which will be battery operated and made of stainless steel. She and her family are currently looking at manufacturing options and would like to manufacture the product in Northwest Indiana.

“I think ultimately we want to give back and bring jobs to the community,” she said. “If we were able to do our own manufacturing, can you imagine what that would do for a community like Gary?”

Pearson’s idea came to her a year-and-a-half ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for her to timely advance her product since many churches are unable to congregate and facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes are restricting visitors.

“One church asked that we call them the moment this hits the market,” Pearson said. “If churches had this type of device for their communion services, it would make a huge difference.”

Click here to learn more about the Build to Scale program.

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