Yesterday I took a break from my work at Fuentek to be a judge at the 2011 Prometheus Group eGames, presented by the Entrepreneurship Initiative at North Carolina State University. Specifically, I was a judge for the Design and Prototype Challenge. And what a fascinating time it was!
As explained on their Web site, the challenge “allows NC State graduate and undergraduate students, working in teams or individually, the opportunity to showcase their creative talents and ingenuity in the creation of potential new products.” A bit like speed dating, the event gave each team of NCSU students 6 minutes to give their pitch and answer judges’ questions.
The prototypes we judged ranged from low-tech, such as a jack stand, to complex high-tech items, such as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). There was the electric booster kit for motorcycles, which I found particularly interesting. The most entertaining one was “The Book of Bob,” a collection of stick-figure characters in several books and the beginnings of a Web site. (We urged that inventor to start selling the avatars for Bob now!)
Another interesting entry was a bedbug detector, which used a Department of Defense–developed sensor to detect the chemical compound emitted by the bugs. This team’s process that led to the product was a great example of the analysis that goes into innovation. They wanted to detect bed-bugs, so they began to think about what could be sensed with the technology. After experimenting with carbon dioxide, they realized that another compound would be more prevalent and was unique to bedbugs. So they developed it and it worked.
From an engineering perspective, the requirement that competitors have prototyped their ideas made this competition a very good educational tool. Business plan competitions are all paper, and whether the product idea can be executed is a purely academic exercise. Put simply: They don’t know if it will work.
But these students had to build it. I believe they learned so much more by marrying real engineering and product development to the business case. Sure, they might have not done as thorough a job fully understanding the business case and what competing products are out there. But IMHO, that type of research and analysis is pretty straightforward. There are lots of people out there who can help the engineers with market research and developing the business plan.
But to be able to innovate and make it a reality, that is something special.
–By Laura A. Schoppe