The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. (middle), DePaul University president, with Student Innovation Award winners (L-R) Adam H. Grossman, David Allen, Sue Nicole Susenburger, Monica Grygorowiz, Jenny Fuerte, Morgan Schulhof and Elaine Ackerman. 

The fifth annual Student Innovation Awards were handed out to deserving DePaul students on Feb. 12, at TechNexusone of Chicago’s premier collaborative working spaces and innovation hubs. Co-hosted by DePaul University’s Center for Creativity and Innovation and the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center in conjunction with the Chicago Innovation Awards, the event featured the presentation of $7,500 in scholarships to students in recognition of their innovative ideas for inventing or improving a new product, service, process or technology.

“We created the Student Innovation Awards because students were generating so many amazing ideas,” says Lisa Gundry, director of the Center of Creativity and Innovation. “We wanted to encourage students by supporting them through scholarships. The act of articulating an idea to develop and implement takes a lot of creativity and persistence—and it’s important to recognize their efforts in support of innovation.”

The event began with a reception where DePaul students were able to mingle and share ideas with innovators across the Chicago business community. The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., DePaul’s president, welcomed students, innovators and attendees to the event before the awards were presented. The field of winners was whittled down from a record 80 submissions. First place recipients at both the undergraduate and graduate level each received a $2,000 scholarship, second place earned a $1,000 scholarships and third place brought a $500 scholarship. Three Honorable Mention winners also were recognized at the event for their great ideas and were awarded cash prizes donated by Snap-On Tools, Inc.

“We are continually inspired by the creativity that springs from our students, and each year the competition seems to be stronger and attract a wider audience,” says Terri Lonier, executive director of The Coleman Entrepreneurship Center. “This competition was a perfect example of that. There was so much energy and enthusiasm in the room. It was a great night to showcase our student talent.

While the contest primarily receives submissions from business school students, it is open to any DePaul student with an innovative idea. To enter, students were required to submit their ideas online with the following criteria; a description of the idea, a needs statement; what value is being created; the target audience; potential competitors; and what makes the idea unique. The expert panel of judges who selected the winners came from a wide range of fields within the innovation community. They rated each submission and provided helpful feedback.

The awards ceremony was followed by a panel discussion organized by the Chicago Innovation Awards that explored innovation and new trends in the Chicago business landscape.

Ideas Emerged from Students' Experiences

Cassie Bungert, an MBA student, was the gold winner (graduate division) for her innovation “Weather Box.” Her idea came out of necessity. While late for class and in a rush to get to a presentation, Cassie found herself in the middle of a downpour. She was without an umbrella and by the time she made it to the classroom, she was late and soaking wet. Cassie decided to come up with a solution that would address similar situations since weather is often unpredictable. Weather Box is a smart vending machine that uses technology to equip commuters, travelers and students with any weather-related convenience items. The smart machine will allow customers to use their smartphones to check inventories, reserve items and make cashless payments. She envisions Weather Boxes being placed in train stations, tourist areas, university campuses, airports and other highly travelled areas.

“To me, innovation is coming up with a useful solution to an existing problem that benefits a large group of people, says Bungert. “Everyone I spoke with has a story on how my idea can help them and it is nice to share ideas with other innovators.”

Cassie is going to continue exploring her ideas. She says she found the positive feedback from peers, teachers and the judges invaluable.

For a full list of student award winners, click here.

Students Encouraged to Pursue Ideas After Competition

There have been some truly unique ideas that have stemmed from the competition over the years. The innovation that won the first year of the competition was submitted by a graduate student who proposed a microbusiness venture. It was a hotel in South America where people could stay and perform community service. The following year a duo of students won by coming up with an idea to avoid gaper’s block delays—traffic caused by motorists slowing down to look at a car accident on the opposite lanes of a highway. The idea was for partitions to be inflated so that the opposing traffic would not be slowed by the commotion.

“The mission of the Center for Creativity and Innovation is about fostering innovation and helping students turn ideas into reality and make them successful,” says Gundry. “I always try to encourage students to continue on with their ideas and by holding this event at TechNexus. It shows the students what it is like to be in a real-world, collaborative environment.”

This is where the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center proves to be a vital partner—to help inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. Both Gundry and Lonier would like to see more students bring their ideas to fruition. They would also like to see the Student Innovation Awards have an immediate impact on the community.

“We are continually looking for ways to make this a more meaningful experience for the students,” Lonier says. “There is an underlying social element to many of the innovations that perfectly aligns with Vincentian philosophy. It is great for students to come up with ideas that can have a positive impact on the world.”

The center directors are discussing the introduction of new challenges to the competition by having students work on real issues that can have an impact locally. Whether the Student Innovation Awards returns next year in its traditional format or adds new challenges, it will remain a great night to bring together DePaul’s best and brightest with the innovative Chicago business community.

“The fact that we are recognizing creative talents of students and giving them support to go out and change the business community or society helps us make an impact on the community,” says Gundry. “Whether it is an individual need that is being met or a communal or societal need, we are about making change happen.”