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Nicholas Powley '04

Inventor hangs out his shingle.
March 12, 2007

Nicholas Powley ‘04 is in the business of finding better ways to do things. His condo in St. Paul, MN. is a model of efficiency. He’s converted his bedroom into a work space and sleeps on a Murphy bed in the living room. And he’s simplified maintenance. To haul logs to his second-floor fireplace, he ties one piece of firewood every few feet to a 60-foot rope suspended from a window. When Powley takes out the trash and recycling, he lowers it out through the window.

Nicholas Powley ’04 founded his own invention firm, Open Forum Design.

Although he gets an occasional chuckle from neighbors on trash day, they value his contributions to the community. “I help people fix stuff around the neighborhood,” he says. He also works with about 60 students at nearby Johnson High School, where he’s helping them invent and design a product for a real-world business–in this case, a bakery chain. His goal, he says, is “to improve the climate for invention in the U.S.” Through a new fellowship, Powley is helping the Minnesota Museum of Science build innovation into its educational programs. Recently he has been invited to teach engineering graphics at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

Powley runs his own invention consulting business, Open Forum Design, developing medical and other products and helping other inventors take their ideas from conception to marketplace. For client Rockler Hardware, he works with the chain’s more enthusiastic customers, who want to create new tools. Another client is a high-powered company working to combat kidney disease.

At MIT, Powley didn’t always do exactly what was expected. In his sophomore engineering class, he wrote his own assignments and kept his work logs instead of turning them in. Yet by graduation he had won a mechanical-engineering award for ingenuity and creativity and an International Design Competition Award in the 2.007 robotics contest.

During Powley’s freshman year, Professor Woodie Flowers told him MIT could be either “a steamroller or a candy store.” Powley chose to think of it as a sweet opportunity, so he dove in–collaborating on projects with professors and friends, attending Enterprise Forum gatherings, and having fun.

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