Young alum seeks to inspire others with success story

September 6, 2012

As a former student at Arizona State University, Jeff Kunowski knows how it feels to be a young entrepreneur looking to desperately get your first big break.

It is these fond memories that have led him on a mission to share the tips for success he used to create Ilumin8 Outdoor Media, one of the most endorsed signage platforms. Jeff Kunowski Download Full Image

So how did he do it?

While a student at ASU’s West campus, Kunowski majored in integrative studies, a hybrid degree that allows students to design a curriculum based on a selected concentration that is unique to their career aspirations. Kunowski chose to purse a concentration in business, while simultaneously obtaining an international business certificate.

To further gain the business sense he needed to succeed, Kunowski simply began cold-calling local companies and asking if they had internships available. Taking the skills that he learned from one company and putting them to use in another, he was quickly making connections and gaining hands-on experience.

He went on to complete 12 internships, including those with Omni Real Estate Solutions, Clear Channel Communications, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, and the Phoenix Suns.

“You can learn a lot in the classroom about the foundations of business, but in order to know how it works you have to be placed in that situation. If you see internships as a learning experience they can open your eyes as to how things really work within a company,” he said.

By having the broad spectrum of internships that he did, Kunowski says it also helped him identify his business strengths and what he was passionate about.

“They showed me what I enjoyed doing and I was able to hone in on what I wanted to do with my career,” he said.

Driving home from work one night in 2010, Kunowski unexpectedly found the inspiration he needed to create his very own business.

To advertise, companies will often hire individuals to hold up signs on streets corners to draw in customers. As the sun starts to go down, it becomes harder to make out what exactly these signs are advertising though. While sitting in commuter traffic, Kunowski realized that illuminating these signs would be the best way to extend the promotional hours and attract key audiences.

After countless hours of research and trying out different light sources, Illumin8 Outdoor Media was born.

“I also came up with a lazy-susan type device using a ball bearing with a handle mounted to the sign that would allow a regular store employee to spin the sign easily instead of paying an outside contractor who can do special tricks with it,” he said.


Jeff’s tips for success:

1. Write short autobiographies to help map out your goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them.

2. Get to know your professors. Even upon graduating, they can still give you advice and even help you network professionally.

3. You can never have too many internships. Internships mean experience and it’s even better if they are willing to pay you.

4. Network! It is all about who you know and being a student should be used to your advantage.

5. Don’t be afraid to give your business venture a try. Find what you’re passionate about and get investors excited in it.


Armed with a prototype, Kunowski turned to the ASU Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative for help with funding. He put together a business plan, renderings, market research and gave a compelling presentation to the judges about why his business would succeed in today’s market. Illumin8 was selected for a $10,000 grant, plus office space at ASU SkySong and access to university mentors.

“I really took advantage of the resources available at SkySong, specifically the venture capitalists who helped look into my markets and see where it might fit, where it won’t, the numbers, etc. I was also able to use the Sandra Day O’Connor ad clinic and had graduate students working on my patents to cut back on costs.”

After graduating from ASU in 2011, Kunowski went on to showcase his product at the International Sign Expo in Las Vegas. He also contacted his former internship bosses at the Phoenix Suns who were eager to jump on board and order his product. Kunowski is currently working with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Coamerica Theater, the Phoenix Coyotes and Panasonic as well.

“Illumin8 is now in a partnership with Panasonic, which is one of the biggest technology companies there is. It is really cool to be able to learn from them and share my product. This is what you dream about when you start a business,” Kunowski said.

The long hours and hectic schedule that come hand-in-hand with a successful business are just proof that the former Sun Devil is accomplishing his dreams. 

“It’s a lot of time management but this is what I live for. I enjoy growing the business and creating something from nothing. Being so young has allowed be to enjoy the success while it’s happening,” he said.

For more information on Illumin8 Outdoor Media or to learn about applying for an internship, please email

Human-dog communication aid earns accolades for young scientist

September 6, 2012

An invention enabling a dog to alert its owner when it’s “time to go” has resulted in national recognition for a student at ASU’s Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy.

Nicholas Planidin, 13, is Arizona’s sole Merit Winner in the 2012 National Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Planidin attends the Herberger Academy, a school for gifted students that is an initiative of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Nicholas Planidin Download Full Image

In January, students nationwide were asked to create a short video describing a new innovation or solution that could solve or impact an everyday problem related to the way we move, keep ourselves healthy or make a difference. Only one student per state was selected as state Merit Winners in this year’s competition and will each receive a 3M Innovation Prize Package.

Planidin’s video describes his invention, the Doggie Detector, which enables a dog to alert its master that its bladder is full, even when the owner is out of hearing or sight range.

“My innovation was inspired by my own dog, Odie,” Planidin said. “I used technology and engineering to create a transmitting device which will make me aware when my dog needs to go outside. Once Odie steps on the device, a message is sent directly to me with an alert that he needs to go outside.”

The Doggie Detector can have a significant positive impact on the health of dogs, Planidin said.

“Scientific studies show that when dogs have to wait to urinate, the risk of a urinary tract infection or acute cystitis can occur,” he said. “Cystitis is inflammation in the bladder, and sometimes stones can form in the urinary tract. Bacteria begin to overwhelm a dog’s immune system and that may lead to kidney disease, which can be fatal for dogs.”

Planidin is working to obtain a patent for the Doggie Detector.

“My favorite subject in school has always been science,” Planidin said. “Science is creative and challenging at the same time. Science is fun, interactive and really stretches your imagination.”

The Herberger Academy, located on ASU’s West campus, is now in its second academic year and has attracted gifted students from across metropolitan Phoenix. The academy is Arizona’s first university-based school specifically designed to meet the unique educational, social and emotional needs of gifted young adolescents.

“Our curriculum breaks down barriers between subject areas to make learning more meaningful for students,” said Kimberly Lansdowne, executive director of the Herberger Academy. “We also have more flexibility than a traditional school in terms of enabling students to spend additional time pursuing specific interests they are passionate about.”

Planidin said he is exploring the idea of obtaining a doctorate in marine biology or physics as a career path. “The teaching staff at the Herberger Academy has been instrumental in my determination and academic achievement,” he said. “The students are encouraged to excel above and beyond the ‘norm’ which provides a positive and challenging learning environment.

“I believe too there are no boundaries in technology and robotics; combined with my science acumen, innovation, curiosity and communication skills I have great expectations of myself and what I will be able to give back to society. If you can think it, then you can create it.”

“This year’s Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge finalists embody the innovative spirit that will drive them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, and thrive in a competitive global workforce,” said Bill Goodwyn, CEO of Discovery Education. “This unique challenge allows our country's next generation of leaders to interact and build relationships with real-world scientists to truly inspire curiosity and see STEM as a potential career path.”

For more information about ASU’s Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy, call (602) 543-8274 or visit