Motorsports student is first recipient of School of Engineering and Technology's Student Innovation Fund
February 12, 2013
When IUPUI alumnus Tom Ward and his wife, Peggy, made a $100,000 gift to the School of Engineering and Technology to create the new Student Innovation Fund last year, they hoped the initiative would reward enterprising students who come up with ideas to take into the marketplace, and provide the resources they need to help them realize their dreams.
Just one year later, Chicago native Earl Han has the honor of launching the Innovation Fund with the first of its grants as he bids to tweak rear-wing technology on vehicles, either the racing or street varieties.
“It’s a really cool program that’s giving students a chance to do something special,” said the 28-year-old car buff, who earned his bachelor’s degree in motorsports engineering in December and has used the grant to form a limited liability company to put things in motion. He is working with three partners, one of whom is another motorsports grad, Paul Lucas.
The Student Innovation Fund came along at just the right time for Han.
“You could call it coincidence or just blind luck,” he said with a grin, “but it was just right for me.” Han had an idea for a change in a rear wing structure and function, and the fund had found its man.
He’s a big believer in the long-range future of the Innovation Fund. “We’re all learning together,” he said. “I think there is so much merit to this fund, to give students a chance to pursue their dreams.”
Han has been told that the School of Engineering and Technology wants to grow the fund for the future, and he’s already using his own experiences to help the school plan for future distributions. He’s recommending that the school provide some legal, financial or other types of practical guidance to help students ease past those daunting early days.
Working in the motorsports field was a good fit for Han, who once was an English major until “I realized I really didn’t have anything new to say about Shakespeare, and figured I wanted to do something else with my life.”
Because Han has “always been into cars, ever since I could talk -- and all I’d talk about was cars, or so my parents say,” moving into the world of automobiles seemed natural. So Han went to work for Togue Factory, an Illinois-based automotive company, doing a little marketing, a little retail, some shipping and inventory work, all good background for his own company’s launch.
Before long, though, he began to imagine a bigger future in motorsports, and that future started with a motorsports degree.
“Then I heard about IUPUI,” he said. “I checked it out, and I knew it would work for me.” The IUPUI program proved to be even more than he had dreamed, challenging and exciting enough that Han is strongly considering pursuing a master’s degree in motorsports in England in the not-too-distant future.
For now, though, work on the company is easily enough to keep him busy. All of the partners have roles tailored to their individual skills, particularly Han and Lucas. “We work together pretty well,” Han said. “His strengths cover my weaknesses, and mine cover his. It’s a good fit.”
The influx of money from the Student Innovation Fund has been a good start for the group, but it can’t handle all the demands of a start-up venture. “There is so much paperwork,” Han said with a sigh, mentioning taxes, legal forms and fundraising demands as “just the start of what we have to do.”
The group is thinking about long-term possibilities, though. “Our 20-year goal, I suppose, is to become a small manufacturer of specialty or boutique cars,” Han said, though he isn’t sure whether that means creating racing machines or street vehicles.
“Street cars are more challenging,” Han added. “In racing, everything is about making a car fast enough to win. In street cars, it’s as much about the aesthetics of the cars,” and that appeals to the car lover in him.
Han’s new venture might be a bit of karma, he admits. “When I was working and had money to spend, I was working on a lot of cars. I think my parents thought I was wasting my money, but now I think they’re looking at it as a pretty good investment,” he said.
But his father, an entrepreneur in his own right, doesn’t mind teasing his son. “My father loves to plays devil’s advocate with me,” Han said. “He always questions me, to make sure that I really want what I say I want.” The motorsports graduate admits that “used to drive me nuts,” but he has come to an unexpected conclusion. “It turns out my Dad knew what he was talking about!” Han said.
Through a sometimes circuitous route, Han has found that immersing himself in a life built around cars, wheels, engines and speed feels right.
“The reason I love cars is that they are common denominators,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, or what you do -- people love cars, and love talking to each other about them. That’s what I’ve loved about the Motorsports Program here; it’s what we all love talking about, then doing.”