LCCC faculty wins top prize in entrepreneurship contest

CHEYENNE, Wyoming – Laramie County Community College marketing and business instructor Minden Fox recently won the top prize of $50,000 at the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) conference in Boston for the pitch she designed to further an augmented and virtual reality effort for LCCC’s soon-to-be-opened Concept Forge. 

The Concept Forge is a fabrication lab included as part of the Advanced Manufacturing and Material Center (AMMC) designed to help entrepreneurs prototype product ideas. It will be a new addition to LCCC’s existing creative spaces, the Golden Eagle Wyrkshop in the Ludden Library and the Entrepreneurship Lab in the Andrikopoulos Business & Technology Building. The Concept Forge will be a step up from the existing facilities and will allow exploration of more ambitious initiatives. 

“If you have an idea, you can come (to the Concept Forge) and make it a reality,” Fox said. 

The Concept Forge will include 3D printers, sewing machines, laser cutters, Glowforge, a larger helix system, a sublimation printer, soldering stations, cutting tools and more. Funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and Wyoming Innovation Partnership will make this entrepreneurial space possible. 

The $50,000 will go toward the purchase of ZSpace equipment and software for student and community use in the Concept Forge. ZSpace, a tech company that has been around since 2007, developed augmented reality and virtual reality environments through the use of a laptop computer. The computer’s sensors track eye movement and the virtual-holographic image can be lifted from the screen and manipulated with an accompanying handheld stylus. 

Dave Curry, LCCC’s AMMC director, said the technology will allow entrepreneurs to explore how things work in a simulated environment before having to use expensive materials in trial and error processes. 

And the benefits of the ZSpace systems won’t end with manufacturing and robotics, Fox said. ZSpace has software for different applications, including in health care, agriculture, trades, STEM fields and more.

“It truly is a system that could go anywhere on campus and be used,” Fox said. 

The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit founded in 2002, started a competition called Pitch for the Trades that offered $150,000 in prizes made possible by the Philip and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation at NACCE’s 20th Anniversary competition. 

Overall, the AMMC will have big implications for southeast Wyoming. Ideally situated for distribution at the intersection of Interstate 25 and Interstate 80 and just north of the Colorado Front Range, Laramie County has long been an area of interest for business owners. However, many have passed on building a business in Laramie County because it could not meet their workforce needs. The AMMC could be a significant factor in making it possible for more enterprises to choose Laramie County. 

A result of $3.04 million in funding approved by the 6th penny election, as well as a generous $2.3 million equipment grant from the Economic Development Administration, the AMMC will focus on developing a skilled workforce for the advanced and additive manufacturing industries. LCCC is currently working to renovate 14,200 square feet of existing campus space into the new home of the AMMC. When the facility is completed, LCCC anticipates launching programming in the AMMC as early as the Spring of 2023. 

As technology continues to advance in what could be considered the fourth generation of the Industrial Revolution, Curry said LCCC will be positioned to help students and the community play an important role in the developing landscape of entrepreneurship. 

“If you can imagine it, we’ll find a way to make it possible,” he said. 

Visit lccc.wy.edu/manufacturing to find out the latest on the AMMC construction.