July 16, 2014

Collaborate and Innovate

During the Weekly Innovation Challenge, students team up to network and solve problems.

Scott Hall
(From left) Camilo Rivera, Matthew Palka and Ted Stewart brainstorm product ideas. Their pitch, dubbed "My Little Canvas," won the weekly challenge. Photo by Michelle Peltier

By Danielle Lacey

“Guys, this is just a prototype. The pitch is what’s really important,” John Wood, a freshman computer engineering student, reminded his teammates, Madeleine Bresnahan, a freshman athletic training student, and Katie Polus, a freshman business student, as they attempted to make a new product out of Crayola markers, colored pencils and Play-Doh.

The three were one of more than a dozen teams taking part in the first Weekly Innovation Challenge of the 2014 spring semester, hosted in the rotunda of McDonnell Douglas Hall. The event takes place every Wednesday while classes are in session, all SLU students are welcome to participate, and teams have the opportunity to win $300 each week.

Dr. Sridhar Condoor, interim chair of the department of aerospace and mechanical engineering, helped to create the challenge as a way to offer students a unique learning experience that could be incorporated into their weekly schedules.

“The way we see it, we exercise every day to keep our bodies fit, so we must exercise our minds once a week to keep them fit,” Condoor said. “It allows us to think outside the box about really creative solutions, network with people and learn the skills to become good entrepreneurs.”

Since the Weekly Innovation Challenge was established in 2011, there have been more than 60 exercises — and no repeat challenges.

The Weekly Innovation Challenge program is a collaboration between the Center of Entrepreneurship at the John Cook School of Business and Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, and is funded by the Kern Entrepreneurial Education Network.

“We work wonderfully together,” said Tim Hayden, director of SLU’s Center for Entrepreneurship in the John Cook School of Business. “Parks College extended the idea, and we just help in any way we can.”

Past challenges have included building a bird feeder from trash; creating a wagon out of noodles that could transport weights for four feet; and designing a smart phone package appealing to senior citizens. This week, students had to find a marketable second life for dried up markers and other writing utensils geared toward kids. Participants pitched their product to an expert panel consisting of Hayden and Condoor’s daughters, Amisha, 11, and Trishna, 8.

“The connection between Parks and the business school is tremendous because it allows our business school students to see what the engineering function is,” Hayden said. “How do you build products? What goes into it? And from the engineering side, it’s great for them to experience the business side of it — what goes into the marketing, the management and the finances.”

After 45 minutes of brainstorming and building, students pitched their ideas in a closed-door session with the panel members. The teams’ concepts included decoy markers with the ability to hide secret messages, attachable wings and fins to turn markers into toy planes, and portable play sets and figurines with customizable backgrounds and accessories.

This challenge was won by a team of three sophomores — Ted Stewart, a student in the College for Public Health and Social Justice; Camilo Rivera, a Parks student majoring in electrical engineering; and Matthew Palka, a business student — who created “My Little Canvas,” a large art board that allows kids to make 3-D art.

“I think it’s a lot of fun to just let out your creativity,” Palka said. “And it’s just fun collaborating with the different engineers and the different people you can find around here. Everybody has different ideas, and when you come together, you can make something bigger and cooler.”

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