Kelly Van Ert wins IDEA Competition

Kelly Van Ert of Bemidji won the 2020-2021 IDEA Competition.

According to a release, Van Ert’s concept for the “Secure & Safe Shower Zone” was awarded a $7,500 cash prize and $10,000 in in-kind awards from LaValley Industries for engineering and tech writing and HSML Law in Minneapolis for patent and trademark legal services.

The concept uses magnets to allow users, such as the elderly or those with limited mobility, to easily place shower items anywhere on a magnetic board within convenient reach.

“They understand the idea and the meaning behind the invention and understand how it will be a useful product,” Van Ert said.

“It’s fun to see those people get excited about it, to see that it makes sense. I’ve been really thankful for (the IDEA Competition). It’s been an amazing experience.”

Van Ert works as an occupational therapist and has seen the need for safely equipped showers for those striving to live independently.

Four other IDEA competition participants were named runner-ups and were awarded a mix of cash and in-kind awards.

The runners-up, in no particular order, are:

  • Andy Olson of St. Hilaire received a $5,000 in-kind award for general consulting engineering firm. Olson developed a mobile wood processor that can be pulled behind an ATV, aimed at those who use wood-burning as primary or secondary heat sources and reduces physical strain from lifting logs and splitting wood.
  • Ron Turney received a $2,500 cash award to develop Indigenous Orange, a software platform for Indigenous artists, Native-owned small businesses, and tribal-owned businesses. The software would enable these groups to start an e-commerce store for free while joining a marketplace with truly authentic Indigenous arts, goods, and services.
  • Bobbie Davis of Bemidji won $1,000 in cash and a $2,500 in-kind award for her concept of Lost Lamb Loomery, a resource for beginners to the world of fiber arts.
  • John Repko of Bemidji was named the 2021 Minnesota Cup semifinalist for Northwest Minnesota, for his concept of Rvizion, a collaborative web search product that empowers users with the knowledge to build expertise. Repko will have the opportunity to compete for $400,000 in cash prizes while accelerating his business plan.

The IDEA Competition, according to a release, was designed “to grow the economy of Northwest Minnesota by outfitting the next generation of homegrown innovators for success in the global marketplace.”


Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University.


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