UVI – SHAPING IDEAS THROUGH AN ECOSYSTEM OF INNOVATION – part 1

The University of the Virgin Islands UVIDEA Club is a place for creative collisions. Its mantra — “Innovation is the profitable implementation of ideas” guides the University of the Virgin Islands Innovation Design and Entrepreneurship Association (UVIDEA). Founded in 2013, the entrepreneurial spirit of this student-based club gave birth to an ecosystem of innovation.

Framed to create networks and resources that would stimulate forward-thinking students, UVIDEA’s habitat – UVI Innovation Centers on both the Albert A. Sheen Campus and St. Thomas Campus – are outfitted to stimulate students to indulge in and develop their ideas. 3D printers, computers and thinking spaces create the perfect setting for an environment of innovative pursuits. 

Photo of Dr. Tim Faley
Dr. Tim Faley

Utilizing its 3D printer, it has so far produced a host of items, most notably a prosthetic hand and a human skeleton, to be used for classroom demonstrations. Cube satellites were printed for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 

The Hackfest, Business Design Grant and 13D Competition stem from this frame of mind.  

“Our aim is to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem at UVI by offering a range of programs that allow students to develop the spectrum of entrepreneurial skills,” says Dr. Timothy Faley, Kirill Sokoloff Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship in the UVI School of Business. 

Hackfest 

Hackfest is a program that has been shaping and sharpening the mindsets of UVI students since its inception in 2015. 

Held annually, the event is an intensive two-day session filled with brainstorming and conceptualizing possible solutions to a specific issue. Over the past four years these ideas have ranged from apps to software designs to start ups. Some winners are able to actualize their ideas, using monetary prizes for start-up capital. 

The last competition, the 2018 marathon problem-solving event themed “Hack UVI” saw seven student teams recognizing and creating solution concepts to fix frustrations they identified around the campus. 

 A keenly contested competition with 15 students, nine on the St. Thomas Campus and six on the Sheen Campus, saw an impressive array of practical applications. 

“UVI Up,” an application that solves the problem of not being able to connect to Blackboard owing to internet inaccessibility, won the Best Hack title. This Sheen Campus team’s solution intended to create a Wide Area Network (WAN) across the University that will allow students to up-load and down-load information stored on UVI servers onto Blackboard. Once the internet is restored, these servers will re-sync with the cloud-based Blackboard application. 

2018 Hackfest participants on the St. Thomas Campus.
UVI students participate in Hackfest 2018 on the St. Thomas Campus

The “Best Hack” on the St. Thomas Campus was focused on readily providing information to students. Thus, the team dubbed their app Campus Connect. The app which shows the location of the shuttle bus using a GPS tracking system, also allows users to see which buildings have available and accessible Wi-Fi, a weekly cafeteria menu, and allows students to stay connected to their campus clubs through notifications. 

On April 15, 2019, the Hackfest inspired app became a reality at the University of the Virgin Islands. The two shuttles on St. Thomas Campus are outfitted with a tracking system so that riders can estimate their arrival time at the shuttle stops.  Managers of the app are also able to determine the speed of the shuttle and if it goes off route. Further improvement of the app will include a counter that will track the amount of passengers on the shuttle. 

Following the competition’s typical format, on the final day, the students present their app concepts before a panel of judges who also determine the winners of the Most Innovative and Most Impactful Hacks.   

Organizers of the 2019 Hackfest marathon expressed confidence that the Fall event will be equally competitive. The theme will be released during the summer. 

The NEARiX sponsored event unites student designers, developers, and entrepreneurs for a world class competition, to build networks, cross-pollinate ideas, and create new products and tools to innovate and improve the Virgin Islands community.  

Hackfest, a program unique to UVI, mirrors the renowned hackathon model, an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively during a marathon event to produce creative new phone apps and other software products.  

Business Design Grant 

The idea of “how you start is not exactly how you will finish” is what Jessica Taylor embodies. When Jessica entered the Business Design Grant Program in 2017, her plan was to establish a mobile pizza truck that she’d dubbed Twisted Toppings. However, after she advanced to the 13D Competition and was not successful in securing start-up capital, Jessica went back to the drawing table. Out of her renewed thinking, “Taylor Made” – her new business venture, was born. 

Jessica Tayloyr
Jessica Taylor

“While I have not given up on my initial business plan, I realized that in order to make Twisted Toppings a reality, it would require a great deal of start-up,” Taylor says.  

“As a second time BDGP participant and a former 13D Entrepreneurial Competition final round contestant, this time around, I learned that with every business, there are unique aspects one must take into consideration in order to be successful,” Taylor says. “Your knowledge expands further every time and you get paid for it.” 

This time around, Taylor is confident that she can bring her new business plan to fruition. “Taylor Made” is a laundry pick-up and delivery service that Taylor sees as a lucrative business in a fast-paced and busy society where persons are seeking ways to reduce time spent doing chores such as laundry. 

With a determination and zest to execute her business, Jessica reentered the Business Design Grant Program this year (2019).  

“Through the BDGP, I was able to thoughtfully work through the initial phase of establishing a business which has led me to registering my trade name, and I am currently in the process of starting an actual business,” she says. 

Taylor foresees a laundromat in the future as a viable means of expanding her business. 

“I would recommend that all students participate in the BDGP at least once. The knowledge you gain may help to spark an entrepreneurial flame that transforms the way you view starting a business.” 

“A business is a system that repeatedly and consistently solves a problem for a specific group of people in a financially sustainable manner,” says Dr. Faley. As an accomplished professor, author and entrepreneur, Dr. Faley, through his brainchild, the Business Design Grant program, has formulated the ideal method for a model successful business.  

The Business Design Grant Program (BDGP) is a “learn and earn” program that allows students to learn and practice the entrepreneurial skill of transforming an idea into the structure of a business and then assessing the potential viability of that business. 

At the core of the program is responding to four questions: what specific problem the business addresses; who is the specific group that has that specific problem; what will be done to solve that problem for them; and how the business will be operated. 

“Given that most ideas turn out not to be viable businesses, the program rewards students for completing the deliverables, regardless of the potential business viability,” says Dr. Faley. “It is business shaping and evaluation skill-development that is rewarded, not the result.” 

The 2018 cycle which began in November saw a record number of 14 students across both UVI campuses successfully completing the Business Design Grant Program training and rigorous deliverables to earn a $750 award by the conclusion of the program in December. 

Interviewing potential customers, researching the competition, detailing the proposed firm’s business model, and testing its viability form part of the program’s basic requirements. BDGP students are then able to transform their general business concepts into detailed blueprints for actual businesses. 

The BDGP winners typically represent a range of businesses from brick-and-mortar dining and entertainment establishments, to online app-oriented businesses that promote wellness or offer discount coupons, to mobile retail venues for coffee or pizza, to service-based firms that plan events, train athletes, or match au pairs with host families. 

While a blueprint ensures a structurally sound design for a new business, it does not provide construction or operating plans.  The development of those two steps are the focus of the highly anticipated student 13D Competition. 

See link to part two 2 – https://magazine.uvi.edu/uvi-shaping-ideas-through-an-ecosystem-of-innovation/

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