Innovators of the Month, May 2017

Innovators of the Month, May 2017
By: Contributor Last Updated: April 29, 2017

During May, NWI Innovators of the Month shines the spotlight on new Society Members – Sheena Marrell; Mark Mabrito, Ph.D.; Pam Wheelock; and Kathy Sipple. Highlighted below is Sheena Marrell and her son Richard, the first mother and son team in The Society. Also featured is Dr. Mark Mabrito, Ph.D., Purdue University Northwest. All are being celebrated as part of the 2016 – 2017 Class of Innovators, the largest group inducted into The Society of Innovators. The Society is part of Ivy Tech’s Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center for Excellence. For information, contact O’Merrial Butchee, Director, Lamkin Center at (219) 981-4942, or John Davies, Managing Director, Society of Innovators at (219) 981-1111, 2292.

Innovators-of-the-Month-May-2017_02Sewist* comes up with new product for ‘Tissue Bankers’
Named after the original golden age “jungle girl” and first female comic book character, Sheena Marrell has had adventures of her own as an innovator. First, she and her son Richard Marrell are the first mother and son team among the 1685 innovators recognized in The Society from Northwest Indiana. Richard invented wooden prosthetics that revolutionized the tissue transplant industry that resulted in a shift away from vinyl prosthetics to a more crematory friendly product. Sheena’s contribution came in the early 2000’s when Richard visited the family home to brainstorm about new products for RLM Tissue Bank Prosthetics in Valparaiso. Looking for an absorbent material, Sheena asked an obvious question: Why not use the sawdust that is everywhere in the shop from the manufacturer of wooden legs, arms and other prosthetics. The sawdust is to be used in cadavers whose bodies have been harvested of bone and tissue destined for the living by tissue banks across the country. She was still fulltime at Centier Bank, but she helped out by sewing the little cotton bags for the sawdust. Her suggestion was the launch of contour bags of various sizes. Today, RLM ships over 4,000 bags a month, supplementing its use of sawdust from Hoosier Bat Company. Sheena introduced a successful new product at RLM Prosthetics, where she continues to work part-time as a sewist today while enjoying her seven grandchildren.

*Sewist is a person who creates sewn works of art

Innovators-of-the-Month-May-2017_03PNW Professor Introduces ‘Groundbreaking’ Interactive Certificate
Nearly a decade ahead of his time, Mark Mabrito, Ph.D. introduced a groundbreaking Online Certificate in Writing for Interactive Media for students at Purdue University Northwest. Students learn the basics of writing and editing online content, thinking and designing interactively, and how users navigate interactive and online content in the digital world. New this fall is the latest iteration that teaches students about games for teaching and learning. “Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions is the view that serious gaming isn’t important to business and industry,” he explained. Called “Gamification,” game use has grown tenfold in the last few years for use in training and education. As an example, he noted that game mechanics and systems are being applied to nongame environments such as a cancer ward in a Cincinnati hospital. There children are encouraged to participate as part of their treatment. Created in the spring of 2009, the certificate was launched to make students more employable for the modern workplace. Students are also motivated when he reminds them that…”99% of what I do now simply did not exist when I was in school.” Already he is visioning incorporating the latest trend in digital media – virtual reality! “Dr. Mabrito stays at the cutting edge in providing effective and socially responsible practices to meet the demands of the 21st century workplace,” said Karen Bishop Morris, nominator.

Highlighted below is new Society Member Pam Wheelock, President and Founder of Purrfectplay, a firm she launched eight years ago with three designs; now she has perhaps 40 all-natural toys for cats and dogs in Chesterton. Among her legendary toys are little dust bunnies, producing 10,000 last year alone! Also featured below is new Society Member Kathy Sipple, who launched Co-Thrive Timebank, the first in the region in which she has enrolled 85 participants. Innovators are from Jasper, Lake, La Porte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski and Starke Counties. The mission of The Society of Innovators is to cultivate creativity and innovation as a growth strategy by discovering and encouraging, celebrating and honoring our most innovative people across the 7 counties of Northwest Indiana. Click on for details.

Innovators-of-the-Month-May-2017_04All-Natural Pet Toys Create Niche for Woman Entrepreneur
Pam Wheelock is a hybrid entrepreneur with a social conscience selling back to the future products made in the USA. Why hybrid? She’s taken a cottage industry model and moved it to the next level via the internet. She and her team are producing handmade cat and dog toys in an Indiana workshop next to her home in Chesterton. Since she first started making and selling pet toys, she’s set aside 5% of each sale to no-kill animal rescues and shelters. While toys typically contain plastics and other toxic materials made overseas that are sold by big box stores, hers meet a rigorous standard of all-natural products. She’s also an innovator, carving out a niche by creating, producing and distributing the first organic and dye free pet toys. Meet Purrfectplay, a firm she launched eight years ago with three designs. Today, she offers perhaps 40 products, produced by two part-time workers, plus four sewers. Inspired by the power of her idea, she didn’t a take a paycheck until two years ago, and launched her company without taking out a loan. Typical of startups, it was a situation of all hands on deck, and even husband Greg Munger helped with web design. Among her legendary toys are little dust bunnies, producing 10,000 last year alone! Her overall sales are modest but growing. “I want to protect our pets and planet while making great toys for my customers,” she said.

Innovators-of-the-Month-May-2017_05How ‘Edible Hike’ led to Adventure in Timebank Experience
Last summer, Kathy Sipple, was approached by the Dunes Learning Center and asked to donate a “wild edible hike” in a fundraising effort. Kathy agreed, and during mid-April, she fulfilled that duty somewhere in the outlying areas of Michigan City by taking Julia and her grandchildren morel mushroom hunting. Julia had made a contribution in return for the hike. Now in return for Kathy’s donated hike with Julia, the Dunes Learning Center allowed Kathy to host a CoThrive Timebank member meeting at their lodge. Unlike bartering, which places a cash value on goods and services (and is taxed accordingly), timebank services are considered charitable acts informally traded among members of a group. Kathy was inducted into The Society for launching Northwest Indiana’s first timebank. A serial innovator who founded My Social Media Coach and 219 GreenConnect (an award-winning podcast about green living in Northwest Indiana), Kathy has enrolled over 85 people in the CoThrive Timebank. Each member pays a nominal fee of $25 that includes volunteer insurance. References are also required. Kathy uses software to track hours that members exchange. For example, one member allows her cabin in the woods to be used by members, and in return she gets services that they or other members provide. “This makes NWI a richer community where people are connected by sharing their gifts.” For details, contact Kathy at