Smart brick inventor wins GVSU Lakeshore Innovator of the Year Award

Pete Hoffswell won the Lakeshore Innovator of the Year award.
Pete Hoffswell won the Lakeshore Innovator of the Year award for a "smart brick" he invented for the City of Holland's snowmelt system.
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski

The inventor of a "smart brick" temperature sensor that works in the City of Holland's downtown snowmelt system won the second annual Lakeshore Innovator of the Year Award, presented by Grand Valley State University's Muskegon Innovation Hub, at a ceremony on July 30.

Pete Hoffswell, who works at the Holland Board of Public Works, won for his work developing a low-cost wireless temperature sensor in a plastic brick that can be built into the sidewalk snowmelt system, which is the largest in North America. The brick data feeds back to the Board of Public Works to help plant managers optimize the cost of operating the snowmelt system without sending employees around the city gathering data. The brick also operates on an open-source Smart Cities software platform, which other smart city apps can use.

Hoffswell said his normal job at the Board of Public Works is running the city's fiber optic network, but as a self-described computer nerd, he said he enjoys making things and playing with technology. He asked employees who operate the snowmelt system how they know the system is working, and thought a sensor would be useful when he learned only visual reports were used.

Pete Hoffswell speaks after winning the Lakeshore Innovator of the Year award.
Pete Hoffswell speaks after winning the Lakeshore Innovator of the Year award.
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski

Hoffswell said innovation is often nothing more than small changes in a process.

"The innovation here is a small step. What is this thing? It's a thermometer. That's not a big deal. But it's the application, the idea that takes you to the next step that is innovation," Hoffswell said. "Even little ideas can make a big difference. I think this makes a difference to our community, and that's a really exciting thing.

"Remember as you are working on products or businesses, you won't get there tomorrow, it's a lot of little steps. So, have the vision for your idea and take little steps to get there."

Hoffswell said the Muskegon Innovation Hub, which is a business incubator, development center and co-working space, is a perfect place for innovators to grow ideas and take those small steps.

Craig Wieschhorster, associate vice president for business and finance, spoke about the importance of innovation.
Craig Wieschhorster, associate vice president for business and finance, spoke about the importance of innovation.
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski

Craig Wieschhorster, associate vice president for business and finance, spoke at the event and said that innovation takes courage and wisdom.

"The Hub is an important asset to the region and the lakeshore, and we're proud to be a foundational block of the success stories that come from this place," Wieschhorster said.

A photo of the five finalist groups in front of the Muskegon Innovation Hub building.
A photo of the five finalist groups in front of the Muskegon Innovation Hub building.
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski

Other finalists included:

— The City of Muskegon Heights was nominated for community and environmental stewardship through a city-wide solar energy deployment that reduces the city’s energy expenses and adds local jobs.

— Terry Geertman and Roger Draft, from Humane-aire, were nominated for developing a stunning system for processing of turkeys and chickens. While most processors use electrical stunning, which is less humane and damages the meat, Humane-aire stuns the birds using a gas system, which results in more humane processing and less damage to the final product.

— Pat Camp, president and founder of Med 5 LLC, was nominated for inventing the StomaCloak, which is a fabric cover for ostomy bags, which are medical devices that provide a means for collection of waste from a surgically diverted biological system. The StomaCloak is made of a fabric which has unique properties that significantly improve quality of life of ostomates by reducing odor, sound and dampness against the skin.

— Do More Good (Katie Appold and Bill McKendry), is a nonprofit marketing company that serves nonprofits across the country, tailoring solutions for the needs of the individual organization. They educate nonprofits on how to build their brand and market their services to enhance their impact.

The award is given annually to an individual or group of people from any business, nonprofit, organization or association in the Lakeshore area that has innovated to improve their business or organization to better achieve their mission.

For more information on the award, visit gvsu.edu/mihub