SOLUTIONS SPIN IN STYLE
Photo by Wenbo Fan June 02, 2016
Students, entrepreneurs gain from innovative business partnerships
Not every idea works. It takes time, thought and know-how to test ideas, weed out the junk and find the gems that can solve real problems.
The Spin In project of the University of Delaware's Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) is designed to do that kind of thing, linking entrepreneurs who have a business challenge with students who have the skills to address it. Students get valuable experience and make helpful connections and business owners get fresh ideas and lots of extra brainpower.
Four teams presented their projects at the second annual Spin In Showcase this month, showing the broad reach of the program with marketing strategies for protein supplements, a study of QR codes and their potential, upgraded gear for motorcycles, and a device that supports newly planted trees.
For some of their business partners, they had promising strategies for design, social media, marketing. For others, they had a recommendation to redirect or reconsider the product or its design. But in every case, they offered new data-backed traction.
Michael Loveless, CEO of RAAD360, which delivers supply-chain and enterprise risk management software and consultation, was on hand to hear the presentations and said he plans to work with a future Spin In team.
"These are great kids," he said. Their work with his company won't be "mission-critical," he said, but it will add high value.
More than 100 students have participated in the program since its launch in 2012 and 16 companies have sent projects through the Spin In cycle. Eight graduating seniors were offered jobs with the companies they have been working with, according to David Weir, OEIP director, and four Delaware start-ups were either launched by or part of the Spin In program.
It's definitely a thing now.
"Enthusiasm and value for Spin In continues high within both the entrepreneurial community and the undergraduate student community," Weir said.
The Shrike Mounts team focused on ways to introduce an innovative motorcycle upgrade that helps riders carry gear efficiently and easily. The device is easily installed and eliminates the need for a backpack or other ways to haul cargo.
The name itself is an upgrade from "saddlebags," the old-school way to haul stuff on a bike or a horse. The Shrike Mount draws its name from an otherwise beautiful little African bird that impales its prey on sharp parts of tree branches, thorns or even barbed-wire fences. The prey is secure and conveniently accessible, which is the underlying message of the Shrike Mount's name.
"It's an interesting way to spike your stuff," said Matt Spicer of Lewes, Delaware, a computer science major with minors in business administration and cybersecurity.
Motorcycle sales have spiked in recent years, the team said, and the timing for such a device is excellent. Enthusiasts look for effective design, durability, and aesthetic appeal and the team already has connected with leaders in the online biking community to give them a chance to test the device.
James and Suzanne Mann, who designed and own the patent for Shrike Mount, were present for the team's presentation.
"This was good," said James Mann, a chemical engineer with 30 years' experience in industry. "These students will come out of school with more experience and more practice."
And his business comes away with fresh, innovative strategies and tools developed by a team with cross-functional skills including engineering, marketing and computer science.
"There is no way I could hit every aspect of what is required to launch this if I had to do it on my own," he said. "... And they are digital natives, bringing that capability. That really helped us. That is huge."
The team working on Pro+, a liquid protein supplement that can be added to other foods without changing the consistency or taste, had suggestions for building networks within the food industry, a logo design, a digital presence with recipes and videos to show customers the value of the product, and a target market.
Loveless, the CEO of RAAD360, suggested they cast a wider net.
"Why not go after the market for performance athletes?" he asked. "Runners? Weightlifters?"
That plan has room to grow.
The team exploring a new device called Tree Butler, which supports young saplings, examined its design, price point and opportunities for a share of the landscape and gardening market.
Though the device has several advantages over similar products, it looks like an uphill climb for Tree Butler. It is durable and easy to use, but the up-front cost seemed prohibitive.
The team determined the market is not ready to accept Tree Butler in its present form and price. It needs a new design, a lower cost and strategic partnerships. The team proposed a design change that would cut costs significantly.
"It is not ready for the market, but it does a good job of solving a real problem," said Katie Wall, a communications and political science major from Long Island, New York, who worked on two Spin In teams.
During a "lessons learned" segment, she said: "Just because the initial paths aren't working doesn't mean there is no path forward."
The QR Code team worked on a study of the graphic codes, which provide information to anyone with a smart phone that can scan and read the embedded information. Such codes are ubiquitous in Asia, team members said, but have not caught on in the United States.
The team developed an application called HenScan that read a specially designed UD code and provided quick access to real-time information about the University's shuttle bus service.
Team members measured awareness of the code by tracking application downloads and usage before and after they made its existence public. They tracked its engagement on Twitter and Instagram and encountered several unexpected obstacles.
Though HenScan didn't catch on too well with students, small businesses in the area expressed interest, according to Shannon Poulsen, an honors communication and political science major from Schaumberg, Illinois.
An alumna of the Spin In program spoke at the event to give an update on the success of a 2015 project. Amy Lalime, who graduated from UD with honors and a degree in marketing last year, was part of the mTrigger team in last year's Spin In Showcase. mTrigger is a biofeedback device that incorporates games, social connections and Bluetooth technology to make physical therapy and exercise more fun.
Five clinics will use the device in beta tests this summer, Lalime said, and the team expects to launch the product this fall.
As word of the Spin In program spreads, there is continued demand for growth, which is good but also complicated.
"The big challenge is increased funding to support growth," Weir said. "Some additional [National Science Foundation] funding was obtained but not enough to support the growth potential."
Plans for fall projects are underway, Weir said. A Spin In Hub, staffed by graduate students, will help manage program growth, he said, and an incubation space is being prepared at UD's Science Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.
"The students bring so much energy," said Will Johnson, business development specialist for OEIP. "They have really great insights, bring new thoughts and technologies and modern marketing – which is what the businesses need."