A Celebration of Innovation in the Year Made for It 


Designers, creatives, and innovators throughout the world have been called to action this year to rethink every part of life. In our region alone, professionals and students alike have worked to develop products that will be essential not only now, but in the future. To celebrate our region’s creatives and check out what’s new on the scene, MIX, powered by Southwest Michigan First, hosted its annual Innovation Celebration & Creative Crash in a virtual format.

“[I am] so glad to be together to celebrate what this group does best—innovation and design,” said Petey Stephanak, partner at Southwest Michigan First. “Our community has an incredible legacy of innovative companies. We want to continue that and grow those companies.”

The celebration kicked off with presentations from the top three student projects that participated in Western Michigan University (WMU)’s 2020 Innovation Expo, a part of the Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering 3010: Product and Service Design course in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“One of the unique elements of this course is it’s a required course for three different majors which creates a really nice mix,” said Professor and Program Chief Tycho Fredericks. “This year, we had 61 students in our class, 45 percent were engineering students, 45 percent were product design and innovation students, and 10 percent were entrepreneurship minor students.”

The students were divided into 12 groups, and each partnered with a professional from the community who served as the group mentor. Each of the three featured groups’ products focused on easing our new way of life during COVID-19. The winning project “Clean Case” was developed by an all-woman team called “Safe Masks” and featured a travel-size carrying and UV light sanitizing case for face masks. 

In addition to the student presentations, local companies also shared new projects they have developed throughout this year. Updates from Landscape Forms, Stryker, Newell Brands, and Tekna featured a behind-the-scenes look into products like the Stryker ProCuity Bed Series and Tekna’s AvaUV.

“It’s no secret the pandemic has driven a lot of changes globally for us,” said Bryce Porter, Industrial Design manager at Tekna. “[This pandemic] was really a call to action to develop what ended up being a full portfolio of products to try and address the needs of what a lot of people are calling the new normal.”

Tekna partnered with local hospitals and WMU’s Facilities Management to try out their new products in real-life situations. Peter Strazdas, vice president of WMU Facilities Management, was pleased to try out the new safety measures. “A big problem is how do you handle items that people bring into buildings that are frequently touched?” said Peter. “We were looking at every facility application to make our campus safe, and the AvaUV product was unique.”

While it may come as a surprise, the state of Michigan and our area, in particular, are fortunate to be home to a vast community of designers. Based on 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan continues to lead with the highest employment of commercial and industrial designers boasting nearly 4,500 positions, with California in second with about 4,000.

As the world continues to adapt to whatever comes next, our region’s designers and the MIX creative community will support and celebrate every innovation. 

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