Ohio State students

What started out as a project during Christian Lampasso’s time as an industrial and systems engineering student at Ohio State has quickly — and not so quietly — turned into a full-time endeavor.

Lampasso (BS '18) is the creator and director of OnRamp, a program that connects Ohio State students with companies to explore ways to turn the firms’ early stage ideas into startups and spinoffs. The 10-week program draws students from multiple disciplines across the university and is part of the Center for Innovation Strategies (CIS).

“The one skill I want students to develop as they go through OnRamp is to learn how to have an innovative mindset,” Lampasso said. “The whole point of OnRamp is to teach that problem solving isn’t following a rubric. In the OnRamp program, there are no right answers. And that’s how the real world works — you have to do your due diligence to come up with the right data to prove that your direction is the right direction.”

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Christian Lampasso (BS '18)

OnRamp was born out of Lampasso’s internship with Ohio State’s Center for Innovation Strategies (formerly the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship), an opportunity made possible by the Huntington Bucks Go Pro program. The Bucks Go Pro program provides summer internships to Ohio State student-athletes. Lampasso was a four-year member of the men’s hockey team. Realizing how large an impact his internship had on his future plan, Lampasso created the framework for what would become OnRamp and pitched it to Paul Reeder, executive director of CIS.

“When I was a student, I realized there were plenty of other students who wanted to work on an idea but didn’t know where to find one; or they had an idea but didn’t want to waste the time and money to build it out,” Lampasso said. “The same holds true for companies. Many of them don’t have any drivers to see early stage innovations move forward because they don’t have the bandwidth.”

“So I thought why don’t we have students run those ideas through the Lean Startup methodology and build startups and innovation initiatives out of it.”

The idea gained traction and eventually got the attention of a number of CIS’ founding members and partners, with Honda R&D Americas showing initial interest. The company provided funding to operate OnRamp for two semesters.

“Our shared goals for OnRamp are for the student teams to verify some key questions regarding their digital product concepts by testing their hypotheses with the customers,” said Duane Detwiler, director of the Strategic Research Operations division of Honda R&D Americas. “These questions include: am I solving a big problem that impacts a large number of people where the current solution isn’t working? Am I solving this problem in the best way? And do I have a viable strategy and methods for getting customers to buy my product or service?”

Oliver Menges was looking for a unique way to marry his finance education with his interest in entrepreneurship when he saw a flyer promoting OnRamp. The third-year student at Fisher signed up and spent his summer working with two other Ohio State students on a Honda project called CarPort. The team is exploring the market opportunities within micro-communities.

“OnRamp is not only a great way to get some great professional experience, but I’m working with students who are super driven by the same things I am,” Menges said. “It makes coming to work every day fun.”

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Fisher student Oliver Menges works as part of the CarPort team within the OnRamp program.

As word of OnRamp spread after its launch, participation in the program — by students and companies — has grown. The initial summer 2018 cohort numbered 24 students, all of whom worked on projects for Honda R&D. Currently, there are 37 students working on projects sourced from CIS partners Honda R&D and the J.M. Smucker Company. A third company, National Church Residences, worked with a team as part of the spring 2019 cohort. The OnRamp program has also led to 11 students securing internships and one full-time job.

“We want OnRamp to become a sustainable co-innovation program between Honda, Ohio State and other industry and technology partners,” Detwiler said. “Honda has already hired eight talented OnRamp students as interns and one as a full-time associate. We look forward to hiring more of these innovative, engaged students in the future.”

Read more about OnRamp

Lampasso is excited by the popularity of the program, and CIS has begun plans to continue to scale it. The growth of OnRamp is apparent — OnRamp teams occupy much of the space at the new 99P Labs on Kinnear Road. The space, which will hold its grand opening on Sept. 26, is a hive of activity from OnRamp participants.

“The value of OnRamp is that innovation happens outside of a company,” Lampasso said. “We don’t give the students data the company may have gathered on the project, because we don’t want to influence or skew any potential ideas. The companies want the students to do their own research to see what they find.”

“Through this program, there are no antibodies, no managers saying ‘No, we tried that and it didn’t work.’”