Simply the (2nd) best

It’s rare that we’re encouraged to bring our second-best idea to the table. But that was exactly the charge to students at the Weiss Tech House 2nd Best Idea Slam, held at the technology hub on Feb. 16.

In essence, the Idea Slam was billed as a less formal and faster innovation challenge than its older sibling, PennVention, the innovation competition that awards the grand prize winner $5,000 in cash, as well as complimentary legal services and six months of free office space. The Idea Slam is aimed at creative students who may not have the time or skills to devote to developing their ideas fully.

The goal is to bring students together under one roof and let them collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other.

“If you’ve got an idea, great. Pitch it and see where it goes from here. Taking it to the next step might take a little longer,” says Anne Stamer, director of Weiss Tech House. “[Idea Slam] is kind of a way to excite students around the innovation process.”

In January of this year, students across the University submitted their ideas via the Tech House web site. The ideas were then plugged into software known as the Darwinator—the creation of Karl Ulrich, Tech House faculty director and Wharton’s CIBC professor of operations and information management. Students registered to the site, then rated the innovation ideas. The Darwinator software worked its magic, and the top 10 ideas floated to the top.

On Feb. 16, the top 10 teams gave brief presentations in front of a Tech House crowd. Some ideas were immensely practical, such as Yi Li’s “Reverse Elevator Button” proposal, in which he suggested a modification of existing elevator buttons to “undo” the accidental pressing of floor buttons. Others focused on time management, like Sudha Meghan’s “Pod-icles: Podcast Articles on the Go”—which would allow people in a hurry to listen to magazine or newspaper articles using text-to-speech technology. Hassan Dashti’s Penn-centric “Laundry Online” innovation would enable students to track and reserve washing machines with their PennCard and pay for loads online with PennCash.

Winner of the judge’s award (and an iPod Shuffle) was Kevin Galloway, with his idea for “Traffic Safety Light in a Glove.” He explained to the audience that this glove would be lined with green and red light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that would enable police and safety officers to direct traffic in dark settings and increase their visibility to oncoming traffic.
Stamer foresees a handful of teams moving forward with ideas in some manner, but says the ultimate goal has been to get students connected with each other and talking about ideas.

SEAS junior Chrysta Irolla, winner of the audience award for her innovation, “Smart Sock,” says she’s “trying to figure out what kind of value this product has in the market.” She’s in the process of talking with doctors, insurers and others about her invention, which redistributes pressure on sockets from prosthetics throughout the rest of the body. Potentially, says Irolla, Smart Sock might end up as her senior design project and an entry in next year’s PennVention competition. That is, after she gets plenty of feedback on the design.

For information on all of the top 10 ideas, go to the Weiss Tech House website: www.tech-house.upenn.edu.

Originally published March 1, 2007.

Originally published on March 1, 2007