COBE’s third annual innovation contest offers a blend of apps, products and services

Radford University’s College of Business in Economics (COBE) held on Dec. 9 the finale to its popular business innovation competition. There, judges heard final pitches and awarded the collaborative creations of a select group of university students.
Mack Rockwell (left) and Allie Franks were part of Team Backpack, the first place winner in the third annual COBE/BB&T Business Innovation Competition.

Radford University’s College of Business in Economics (COBE) held on Dec. 9 the finale to its popular business innovation competition. There, judges heard final pitches and awarded the collaborative creations of a select group of university students.

The College of Business and Economics/BB&T Business Innovation Contest, now in its third year, is a fall semester-long project designed by COBE faculty to spark creative and innovative thinking in the university student community.

This year’s top prize was awarded to Team Backpackers for its innovative design of a toilet seat that changes its color to blue upon contact with urine.

The “Smart Seat,” as named by the team of students who created it, is a smart idea in a time when gender-neutral restrooms are more prevalent, said competition organizer and COBE faculty member Jonathan Preedom.

“It’s a real problem,” said Preedom, describing messy public toilet seats. “The team showed the competition judges how they can make money off of this, and they showed how this product can be a viable, realistic thing.”

Further impressing Preedom and the judges was Team Backpacker’s ability at the competition finale to demonstrate their next steps toward taking the product to market. “With research and development, this could turn into a really good product.”

Team Backpack member Mack Rockwell, a senior marketing major from Potomac Falls, said the group “wanted to introduce a product that would help consumers keep their restrooms cleaner. We essentially went on the embarrassment factor that if someone was to leave a mess on the seat they would see the color change on the seat and clean up after themselves.”

The competition began early in the fall semester with 65 teams creating and submitting a one-minute video and one-page description of their business idea, which was a near-even mix of apps, products and services, Preedom noted, a departure from the app-heavy competition last year.

Participating students were encouraged to view all submitted information from each team and were required to review and provide feedback for up to seven teams. When teams received feedback, members could “edit, adapt, change and do more research and pivot,” Preedom explained.

Next, teams were required to submit a five-minute video and a one-to-two-page business executive summary

Preedom stressed the importance of the COBE faculty’s role throughout the process.

“They spent countless hours with the students and did a massive amount of work to help prep students and mentor them for every stage of the competition,” he said. “Had it not been for those faculty, the number of students and teams would have been significantly lower.”

COBE faculty Brooklyn Cole, Jerry Kopf and Jane Machin integrated the competition into their courses. Kopf worked it into two of his management classes, one undergraduate and one graduate course.

“In addition to core competencies, the course allowed students to learn how to use design thinking to identify and develop innovative ideas,” Kopf said. “They then learned how to use the business canvas model to develop viable business models for commercializing their innovations.”

As the competition steered toward completion, Preedom and a handful of judges narrowed the field to the 14 teams that made final pitches to the deciding judges.

The winners were:

  • Winner/First Place: $1,000 - Team Backpackers with their innovation, the Smart Seat. The Smart Seat is a smart toilet seat that changes color when activated by urine.  
  • Second Place: $500 - Team Animal House with their ground breaking way to keep sunscreen safe from harmful temperatures. The team made this possible with a simple aluminum bag. 
  • Best Social/Non-Profit: $500 – Team EcoCase. EcoCase is a stylish way to protect the environment by providing a protective phone case made from everyday recyclables. 
  • Judges’ Choice: $300 – Team GTech. The team developed a climate-adjustable jacket that keeps its wearers cool in warm temperatures and gives off heat in cool temperatures. 
  • Best Analytics: $300 – Group 40 – House Call. The team saw a need for easier access to health care. “With the House Call app, access is easier and no longer requires time and money lost to be told over-the-counter remedies are the best course of action,” the team wrote in a summary.
  • Most Creative: $300 – The Herd – The teams’ innovation, DoubleCheck, is a cell phone case with a stylus attached that connects to an app to tell its user what is in food. “It can tell you if you there are ingredients in your food which you could be allergic to or an ingredient you just do not want to consume,” the team wrote.
  • Most Innovative: $300 – Sheet Music Windshield; a lightweight, portable folder that allows for musicians to perform outdoors without their music blowing away.

Of “critical importance,” too, Preedom said, was a few teams that did not win but made an impression on the judges, who expressed interest in working with or mentoring some of the students.

“I was really impressed by the quality of the entries and ideas,” Preedom said. “The students really took the time to put in the effort to create solid propositions and to also really look at the business side of the opportunity, whether it be the College of Business and Economics or any other college here at Radford University.”

Jan 24, 2018
Chad Osborne