Caution: award winning ideas ahead

What does a NKU advertising Viking ship, an automatic teller machine that dispenses e-books and a backpack that doubles as an umbrella have in common? Aside from sounding reminiscent of a bad joke, these items are indelibly linked by a common thread: NKUInnovates.

The project, which began March 26 and runs through April 22, is a campus-wide competition for inventions, and was created to evoke novel and inspiring ideas that can make NKU and the region a better place, says Bill Cunningham, director of NKU Entrepreneurship Institute.

“The need for the program was realized when students and myself attended a similar project called Cincinnati Innovates,” Cunningham said. “We noticed that Northern Kentucky, specifi cally NKU, had little to no submissions. I knew NKU was more innovative than that, but probably just lacked the platform to submit ideas.”

Realizing something had to be done, Cunningham turned to his class to act as a catalyst for change.

“I pitched the idea to my Entrepreneurship 394 class and they ran with it, sculpting it into what it is today,” Cunningham said.

The Innovates projects consists of seven categories, rang- ing from making the planet more green, to health and wellness, to ideas that directly af- fect the campus environment — all geared toward increasing awareness and fueling creativity.

“Our class started from square one and developed the rules for the project, as well as the ways we wanted to market it, in order to get the word out,” said Ben Fatherree, junior entrepreneurship major. As stipulated by the rules, anyone with an e- mail suffix can submit ideas, and can also vote in any of the categories. After the votes are tallied, an iPod will be awarded to the one idea that garnered the most votes, and an iPod will also be awarded to the “cool- est” ideas in each of the seven categories.

“Also, thanks to a donation from the Griggs Family Foundation, we will award an iPad to the best overall idea of the project,” Cunningham said. In order to win the iPad, the idea has to pass through a barrage of judges, up to a hundred of them, stemming from Cunningham’s alma mater, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, to a regional panel, comprised of businesspeople.

“Our long-term goal is to get these ideas to become some- thing,” Fatherree said. “The Innovates Web site allows anyone to view the ideas, and they might spin off a different idea that is better.”

So far, over 200 ideas have been submitted, most of which are campus focused, such as valet parking for each student — submitted by NKU President James Votruba — and an alert that immediately contacts you of a class cancellation.

But there are some ideas that address a broader spectrum, says Eric Wright, junior Entrepreneurship major and vice- president of Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO).

The submitted ideas include a communication device for T.A.N.K. buses that moni- tors the buses’ schedule and current location at each bus stop around the city, informing prospective passengers. Another submission addresses homelessness and poverty by accepting a dollar donation from every NKU student each semester in hopes of funneling funds into economically deprived areas.

“As part of awarding the ideas being submitted, we want to also couch the overall win- ner through the process of sub- mitting their idea to next years Cincinnati Innovates,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said ideas are a funny thing — once exposed, you never know where they’re going to lead. As an example, he offered up the story of Arch McGill, vice chair of marketing at AT&T in 1981, who predicted that 400,000 cell phones would be in use by the year 2000.

“Now, he was off by a factor of 1,000. But who would have had the foresight back then to realize how connected our lives are to a single device,” Cunningham said. “That is what innovation is all about: looking to the future and being creative in preparing for it.”

Story by Jeremy Jackson