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Innovation Awardees Meet Real-World Challenges

The sixth annual DePaul University Student Innovation Awards were held Feb. 11 to reward students for proposing creative solutions to challenges that are facing companies today. The event, sponsored in collaboration with DePaul's Center for Innovation and the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, invited undergraduate and graduate students from across the university to submit solutions to real scenarios provided by company partners SAP, UI Labs and Nervana. Representatives from each of these companies selected the winners.

Innovation Awardees

"We have students that are coming up with new ideas for business ventures, careers, industries and nonprofits, so the Innovation Awards gives them an opportunity to showcase their talents," says Lisa Gundry, director of the Center for Creativity and Innovation at DePaul's Driehaus College of Business. "By giving the students a challenge posed by an organization that is confronted by a problem, it gives them a chance to turn their creative abilities to making an impact in the real world."

UI Labs, the Chicago-based research and commercialization collaborative, proposed two challenges. The first was to create a smart tool that assists in the reduction of energy usage. Justin Gaczorek, a senior majoring in accountancy, won the award by presenting his idea, Energy Track Zapp, an app and device combo that allows users to track energy usage on a daily basis by plugging in an apparatus to any outlet.

"This idea resonated with me because living alone as a college student, I have become aware of my own energy consumption and wanted to find a way to track my usage," says Gaczorek. "Innovation is important because it provides new ideas and takes old concepts and reinvents ways to apply them to current concepts."

UI Lab's second challenge was for students to propose a transportation management demand technology platform. Management major Morgan Schulhof won for her idea of developing an app that provides the most convenient route to take public transportation in Chicago. The proposed app utilizes data sets from multiple sources that are sharing information. "The key to success is harnessing the power of digital technology," competition judge Katie Olson, associate director of operations at UI Labs, observed about the idea.

Evan Bennett, a senior majoring in finance, won the Innovation Award for Nervana's challenge, which was to propose an idea for a collaborative creation addressing one of the world's biggest challenges identified by the World Economic Forum 2015. Bennet decided to tackle the idea of sustainable food for everyone by proposing an app that connected community-supported agriculture with technology.

Competition judge Rhon Daguro, the founder and CEO of Nervana, an artificial intelligence technology company, said of the students's ideas, "When you commit to doing a startup, you are committing to be a better person — you learn, succeed and fail."

SAP's challenge was to develop a new solution to improve the dissemination of ideas and information among the software solution company's field sales team and customers. Gerardo Garza, Jr., a senior majoring in finance, came up with the idea for an easy-to-use app that would allow SAP to share its newest products and services in real time.

"Innovation is important because it can create positive changes," says Garza. "If I am able to incorporate innovation into my career, then I can lead the company that I work for into a more successful future and add value to the firm."

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