Valparaiso University invents competition for innovation

Susan O’Leary | Times correspondent

Creators of a new innovators competition at Valparaiso University hope it will grow in years to come.

The inaugural edition of Valpo Innovates, held at the university last weekend, was co-sponsored by the colleges of engineering and business. Eric Johnson, of the College of Engineering, said the organizers plan to make it an annual event.

The competition, organized by VU’s new entrepreneurial fraternity, Epsilon Nu Tau, was open to any student with any major, but each team could contain no more than two students from any one college to promote collaboration across disciplines.

“We think that better ideas bubble up if you have diversity of thought,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to limit the big ideas they come up with.”

A total of 25 students on six teams with majors in nursing, business, engineering, economics, computer science, Japanese and sociology competed for a possible $1,000 in prize money.

Johnson said the competition is modeled after a similar one at Texas A&M. After consulting with faculty and students, the group focused on the task of generating ideas to eliminate pollution in Northwest Indiana.

The winning idea was a bicycle taxi service, summoned with an app, created by juniors Rachel Silcox, Casey Main, Colleen Curry, Michele Pointdexter and Claire Ehr. The group won $1,000 for creating the idea, designed for downtown Valparaiso, that could easily be “translated” to other cities in the Region, Johnson said.

“It’s a popular thing in other big cities in other countries,” said Silcox, a mechanical engineering major from North Royalton, Ohio. “Bikes are huge in Amsterdam, and in Cambodia, it’s the main way to transport around the city. It would bring an exotic element to Valpo, and cool and hip ideas like this would make people want to stay here.”

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