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Innovation Challenge gives students tools to make impact

October 11, 2010

What kind of positive impact could you make if you had $10,000 to fund an idea? Teams of ASU students will be finding out this year through the Innovation Challenge, a universitywide funding competition that rewards ASU undergraduate and graduate students who have the creativity and determination to make a difference.

Students who have an innovative idea for a project, prototype, venture or community partnership or who are simply looking for ways to learn about entrepreneurship and innovation are encouraged to participate. Forty thousand dollars, up to $10,000 per team, will be awarded through the challenge this year.

“The Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for students to take ideas they have to the next step, to turn them into reality,” said Raphael Hyde, a senior design major at ASU’s School of Design Innovation and a team member of Aura Light, a project that was awarded a $5,000 grant in last year’s Innovation Challenge.

This year’s application process involves submitting a five-page proposal for review by the Friday, Nov. 19 submission deadline. Finalists will be notified in January and invited to present before a panel of judges. Winners will be announced in late February.

“Last year there were 98 applications submitted,” said Kristen Nielsen, assistant dean of Barrett, The Honors College, and member of the Innovation Challenge Team, a group of individuals responsible for the competition. “This will be the second year ASU has had an Innovation Challenge, and we expect to receive even more applications as a greater number of students become aware of the opportunity.”

The competition is judged according to criteria that urge students to consider how their ideas can create positive change. “We’re interested in innovation, impact and implementation,” Nielsen said.

Hyde’s proposal for Aura Light impressed last year’s judges on all three criteria. “Aura Light uses the embers from fires and transforms the waste heat into electricity that powers a light,” Hyde said. Although the device will provide the immediate benefit of lighting, it will also create impact over the long term. “Students living in rural areas will be able to perform better in school as the result of having safe and affordable access to lighting for completing homework in the evenings,” Hyde added.

Last year’s competition funded 16 ideas ranging from developing a local bakery that empowers people with disabilities to creating a device that improves the process of inserting an IV into a patient’s arm. Teams that were awarded with funds are implementing their projects, prototypes, ventures, and community partnerships during the 2010-2011 academic year.

Tim Huffman, a doctorate student in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, was awarded funds to partner with Stand Up For Kids (SUFK), a national organization that provides outreach to homeless children and young adults. Huffman’s project will enable SUFK to recruit more volunteers and serve more youths.

“Maricopa County had over 4,000 homeless youths under the age of 21 in 2009” Huffman said. Huffman’s project would nearly double the number of SUFK volunteers that can support this population. Over the long term, Huffman believes that his partnership with SUFK would lead to increased educational attainment rates and enhanced health and well-being among homeless youth, as well as decreased crime rates in the Phoenix area. To make this sort of change happen, Huffman is relying on his expertise in the field of communication.

“Competitions like this give you an immediate opportunity to apply your skills,” Huffman said.

In addition to allowing students to apply what they learn in the classroom, the challenge also provides professional development opportunities. Hyde describes the challenge as being particularly important for building skills in leadership, networking and project development.

Innovation Challenge participants are also better prepared to enter into additional competitions for business plans and innovative projects, such as the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative – an opportunity to win up to $20,000, as well as office space, training and mentoring.

“Very simple ideas can change the world, but you have to take the risk and try,” Hyde said. “Here, you’ve got the tools to do it.”

To apply for this year’s Innovation Challenge and see what change you can create, visit the ASU Innovation Challenge online, or e-mail for more information.

Audrey Iffert
Office of University Initiatives