Newswise —

When Michael Lee and Kristian Buan enrolled in Engineering 101, they never imagined they would win Wichita State University’s first Koch Innovation Challenge.

The competition, sponsored by Koch Industries, was designed to support the College of Engineering in fostering a culture of creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and teamwork.

“We were challenged to come up with an idea of a product that would promote positive change,” said Lee. “I wasn’t expecting to win at all. There were a lot of cool things that were being designed and built within our course.”

Lee and Buan were on the team that created the Snail Shell Camper, a mobile shelter that can be pulled behind a bike.

They came up with the idea after a brainstorming session in which they created a list of community needs. They explored financial needs, building needs and several others, but decided to focus on the needs of the large homeless community in Wichita, much of which relies on bikes for transportation.

“I think homelessness in the U.S. is definitely a bigger concern than it’s made to be. It’s very easy to overlook,” says Lee. “You can drive home and not think about it the entire way home, but almost every bridge you pass has people under it.”

They hope to create a program that would allow them to donate the camper to homeless shelters, which could work with individuals to exchange nonprofit work for use of it. They want to be able to donate at least one for every five sold and are working to market it toward the right people to reach that goal.

“We kind of plan to market more toward long distance bikers instead of trying to market to an area that’s already underfunded and struggling,” says Lee. “It would be a little easier than attempting to make something that is super cheap for that market.”

Their design features a pop-up camper that is 37” by 27” when stored, and fits a 6’8” individual when unfolded. It’s high enough off the ground to sit above water and even has a motor to create power as it’s pulled behind the bike. The power is stored in a battery bank, accessible from inside the camper, which could charge a phone, a small heating pad or anything that needs a source of energy.

The two are working on a redesign for the camper to make it more stable and are taking advantage of the time and extra resources they have at their disposal. The first model was built in only 13 days.

The Koch Innovation Challenge awarded $1,200 in investment capital to all the winning teams, which Buan and Lee plan to use on a GoCreate membership and better materials and tools to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

Buan says this experience gave him a glimpse of what he wants to do in the future.

“It was a great hands-on experience and an opportunity to meet new people and learn new things,” he says.  

A photograph is available at

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Contact: Michael Lee, [email protected], or Kristian Buan, [email protected].