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Archive for May, 2013

STUDY ABROAD

I’m not one who has a hard time shutting up shop and leaving my work behind me when on vacation. With the summer issue of Vermont Quarterly mostly in the can, my family headed off on a long-anticipated trip to visit our youngest daughter at the end of her study abroad time in Finland. At risk of contradicting the first sentence in this post, my work always comes with me to a certain extent, given that the main focus of my job is telling the stories of students, alumni, and faculty of the university—and my youngest daughter is a student, my oldest is an alumna, and my spouse is a faculty member.

UVM has popped up in ways random and not so random on this trip. There’s the main purpose of the trip, of course, reuniting with daughter Arline at the end of her semester of study at the University of Helsinki and getting a glimpse of what her world has been like in Finland from the beautiful library to the old cobbled streets downtown to her student dorm/apartment that could be and has been, a movie stand-in for grim Soviet housing developments of the 1970s. Most importantly, we got a chance to meet some of her friends, fellow international students from Germany and Italy and Greece.

Arline, right; German pal, center; Italian pal, right.

Arline, right; pal from Greece, center; pal from Italyl, left.

While in Helsinki, Arline shared that she’d heard a UVM alumnus worked at a place called the Brooklyn Coffeehouse favored by Helsinki hipsters. So began a mini-quest to find this guy. We learned he is named “Kyle.” We learned that he mostly works with baking stuff. But we never crossed paths with him.

Next stop on this sojourn was Amsterdam. On the last day in the city, I decided to gift a fellow tourists with the remains of one of those coupon/tickets books that saves you from waiting in line at museums. First guy I picked as looking like a likely English speaker and new to town was grateful to get our remaining windmill tickets. (Hey, three free canal boat rides is nothing to sneeze at.) As we chatted, it quickly led to the revelation that his wife and many in her family are UVM alumni. Last name is Falby. It rings a slight bell for me, perhaps a Vermont Quarterly class secretary. I’ll be checking that when I’m back in the office.

We never met alumnus Kyle, but we did get to know the Brooklyn Coffeehouse's dog.

We never met alumnus Kyle, but we did get to know the Brooklyn Coffeehouse’s dog.

Finally, I’ve taken on a small project during this trip to spread the art and business of alumni couple Torrey and Tessa Valyou, proprietors of New Duds. I brought along three of Torrey’s stickers depicting the Chief Graylock statue that stands in Battery Park in Burlington. One chief is now on a light pole along the Prinsengracht Canal in Amsterdam. Another is on Rue de Poissy on the Left Bank in Paris.

I’ve got one Chief Graylock sticker left in my bag; he’s destined to join some graffiti covered signpost in Rome. And who knows what other UVM paths we’ll cross before getting on the plane back to Burlington.

Chief Graylock in Amsterdam.

Chief Graylock in Amsterdam.

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It’s not like Mike Carpanzano ’03 doesn’t have enough to do. He’s the father of a three-year-old son; owns a small residential construction business, Sherman Building Designs, in Sherman, Connecticut; and is finishing up an MBA at Western Connecticut State. But as Carpanzano and I spoke on the phone recently as he drove to a job site, our focus wasn’t on any of the above, but on an invention that he’s hoping to develop into a marketable product.

It’s called “nuplug” and is, essentially, an extension plug equipped with a clamp to attach it to furniture, making it more convenient to plug in a smart device and keep on working. Carpanzano, who came up with the idea while talking with friends, isn’t under any illusion that nuplug rivals the light bulb as an inventor’s breakthrough, but cites the reality that consumers like convenience and are often willing to pay for it. He mentions the Snuggie, familiar from TV ads, and asks what’s the real difference between a Snuggie and a blanket? nuplug

He does have a point, and watching his video for a recently launched Kickstarter campaign, one does come to see how it would create a neater, safer  situation with all the smart devices, hungry for power, that we all use for hours each day.  In prototype form, Carpanzano’s invention has garnered several awards for innovation. Though he studied entrepreneurship at UVM, Carpanzano says, “I’ve never put something into the market and profited from it. It’s a steep, uphill and slippery slope, but this has gotten a little traction and momentum and I’ve been able to take it further.”

Just a few days into the Kickstarter effort, Carpanzano had built nearly five hundred backers and more than $16,000 toward his goal of $75,000 that will enable him to put the product into production. Asked to dream down the road and consider whether he’d prefer to be running a nuplug company someday or sell the idea and move on to his next notion, Carpanzano says his business model is built around an in-house operation producing nuplug. And he’d prefer to keep it that way. “A lot of my blood, sweat, and tears have gone into this,” he says.

Learn more about nuplug and the Kickstarter effort. 

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