Great ideas come to light at Davis College BB&T Innovation Competition

More than 230 students from 15 majors entered the fourth annual Davis College of Business and Economics/BB&T Innovation Competition during the fall 2018 semester.
More than 230 students from 15 majors entered the fourth annual Davis College of Business and Economics/BB&T Innovation Competition during the fall 2018 semester.

Most parents can tell you that purchasing musical instruments for children can be an expensive endeavor.

Whether it be a tuba for middle school band or a drum set for a garage band, a lot of money can suddenly leak from a family’s bank account.

And don’t forget lessons. Those are expensive, too. It can be discouraging for parents and anyone who wants to learn to play an instrument.

“I have come up against this issue because I wanted to try to play the guitar a few years back, but they were so expensive I didn't pursue the idea,” Austin Nicholas said.

Nicholas is part of a team of Radford University students who have been working on a solution to combat those expenses.

The product is called Virtual Vibes, and it uses a virtual reality headset and a phone app to teach its users to play an instrument. There’s also a hardware component equiped with sensors to help users feel as if they are holding the instrument they are learning.

“This can solve the problem of travel and expensive costs of learning musical instruments by simply downloading our software and purchasing a virtual music lesson for certain instruments,” Nicholas said.

He, along with Radford students Javon Buchanan, Dylan Gammon, Ben Knuth and Joseph Lebling – they call themselves The Travelers – explored the problem in Assistant Professor Jane Machin’s Marketing 101 course and created the solution over the spring 2018 semester as an entry into the fourth annual Davis College of Business and Economics/BB&T Innovation Competition.

The group made their pitch to 15 industry experts serving as judges at the competition’s finale on Dec. 7 and were declared the overall winner.

The prize for this year’s top winner was $1,000, and there were additional cash prizes for winners of special categories. The category winners were:

  • Overall Winner – The Travelers with their solution to expensive musical instruments and lessons.
  • Runner up – LAMTK created a solution to prevent flat tires.
  • Judges’ Choice – Team Kudo, a group of underclassmen with a solution to reduce electronic cigarette smoking.
  • Best App – InterviewPro – a group of MBA students created an app to make job interviewing resources more accessible.
  • Best Underclassmen – NarcoClear developed a solution to prevent deaths from contaminated drugs.
  • Best Sharing Economy – Raddy Rabbits addressed the difficulty of finding parking at special events.
  • Best Social Innovation – TGIF presented an idea for a novel trashcan that helps make recycling easy.
  • Most Innovative – Cozy Treyway Bois created a solution to match left over meal plan swipes with students needing food.

Other innovative projects among the 22 finalists addressed such topics as alleviating back pain, home accessibility for disabled individuals, dying car batteries and organic dog treats.

The innovation competition is a fall semester-long project designed by Davis College faculty to spark creative and innovative thinking in the university student community. It ascribes to the university’ keen focus on teaching, research and service. Supported by BB&T and presented by Davis College’s Center for Innovation and Analytics, the contest gives students an opportunity to develop solutions to real-world problems.

In the beginning, more than 80 teams made up of 230 students from 15 majors participated in the competition.

It began early in the fall semester with teams developing their ideas. The first task for teams was to identify and research a problem and then present it at a poster session in late September. Students there discussed their findings with other students, faculty and passersby curious enough to ask questions during the open session in the second floor lobby of Kyle Hall.

The poster session was new to this years’ competition. It gave “people got a lot of exposure to each other’s projects,” Machin said. “Plus, they each gave and received feedback,” a valuable component that aided in the next task: finding a solution.

A second poster session in November allowed teams to present their findings toward a solution, “one that added value,” said Machin, who organized the competition along with Steve Childers, a management professor and director of innovation in the Davis College Center for Innovation and Analytics.

Teams also needed to focus on how their service or product would make money because “even if you’re a nonprofit, you need to be self-sustaining,” Machin added.

Three weeks later, after the competition had been whittled down to the final 22 teams, students fine-tuned their ideas for the live pitch to judges at the December finale. 

There, each team, armed with their posters, lined two walls in Kyle Hall 340. One by one, they sent representatives to a podium for two minutes with thought-provoking pitches they hoped would persuade judges that their product or service was one people should no longer live without.

Local community leaders served as competition judges. They evaluated pitches on these primary criteria:

  • Is the problem or need clearly defined? Is the customer pain-point clear?
  • Is the customer market clear?
  • Did they develop a clear prototype? Is the solution clear in how it works?
  • Is it clear how revenue will be created and driven over time?
  • Is the competitive landscape understood? Is it clear why their proposed solution is better?

With the competition behind them, Nicholas and The Travelers are beginning to work with Machin on expanding Virtual Vibes and exploring their idea’s marketability.

“Thanks to Dr. Machin’s help, we want to make this idea a reality and we look forward to continuing our process,” Nicholas said.

Jan 16, 2019
Chad Osborne