Fellows program prepares students to cut an innovative path

March 25th, 2021

Owen Cline stands in front of some of the metal signs he has created for his business, Cline Design Creations.

Owen Cline, a senior in industrial technology, was a fellow who joined the Student Innovation Fellows Corps with a concrete agenda: grow Cline Design Creations, his metal sign-making business. He makes the signs in a machine shed at his parents' home in Brooklyn, Iowa, using a computer-controlled plasma table that cuts metal with superheated air.

Cline had been selling the signs since he was a teenager but expanded his business to online sales in fall 2019. He did about $200 per month in sales on Etsy, at first. Thanks to a boost in his marketing, business exploded in late 2020. He racked up $170,000 in sales for the year and had to hire his younger sister to keep up with holiday orders.  

"I'm not worried about tuition, I'll say that much. And my sister doesn't have to worry about it, either," he said.

His mentoring sessions with Karen Kerns, entrepreneur in residence who heads the fellows corps, guided him through the growth, keeping him focused on future considerations such as expanding into a new building and promoting the more profitable direct sales from his website. Working with her and others helped put him in a position to work full-time on building his business after he graduates in May.

"They ask the tough questions and really make you flesh out your value proposition," he said.

Read more about the Student Innovation Fellows Corps in this Inside Iowa State article.