"Innovation Challenges:" Do They Matter?
The challenge was to craft a strategy to get more young people to consume news. Our idea of a news alarm clock app – millennials would wake up to news tailored to their interests – earned first place.
Scripps Innovation Challenge, United States
Colleges, corporations, and foundations are pumping serious money into "innovation challenges," enlisting the very young to discover the next big thing.
Here's how it works. Teams tackle a challenge, write a business proposal, and present their innovation to older, accomplished judges. Final rounds typically are “shark tanks.” Judges can drill down on budgets, contradictions, and practicality.
In some cases, college innovations have evolved beyond hypothetical PowerPoint pitches. Conor White Sullivan competed in the UMass innovation challenge several years ago, pitching Localocracy (an online platform to learn about local issues). In 2011, it was acquired by The Huffington Post Media Group.
In a broader sense, the exercise itself is paying an important dividend to young people willing to plan and pitch ideas: leverage in the job market.
In 2013, my innovation team at Ohio University won $10,000 in the Scripps Innovation Challenge (Scripps College of Communication). The challenge was to craft a strategy to get more young people to consume news. Our idea of a news alarm clock app – millennials would wake up to news tailored to their interests – earned first place.
The cash prize was great, especially upon graduation. However, the biggest payout came when I began interviewing for jobs. I leveraged my experience from the Scripps Innovation Challenge to bolster my résumé to feature skills I learned outside of my journalism degree.
Attributes of innovation challenges are golden in today’s job market:
• I had to come up with an idea (entrepreneurial ideation)
• I learned business management like budget allocation and proposals, which weren’t part of my journalism education
• I worked on a close-knit team (collaboration)
• I had to present, sell, explain, and defend an idea (and answer tough questions!)
When a change of heart kept me from pursing a career in broadcast journalism, I relied heavily on the experience and skills I gained in the Scripps Innovation Challenge to propel my career. In a tough job market, I landed in New York City at a fast-growing start-up, Crowdtap, which is on Forbes’ list of America’s Most Promising Companies. Crowdtap partners with brands to translate their marketing objectives into member actions that build authentic relationships with customers. I provide extensive program management for a roster of top brands, at times surpassing millions of our business’ revenue.
My college innovation challenge helped me get here.
Leah Petrovich, 24, is program manager at Crowdtap. In 2013, her team won first place in the Scripps Innovation Challenge at Ohio University. From Pittsburgh, Petrovich played Division-I volleyball, and earned a journalism degree from Ohio University in 2013.
A sampling of innovation challenges:
• Boise State’s Challenge Competition awarded $10,000 in cash prizes
• At Portland State, each member of the winning team got a $4,000 scholarship to its engineering college
• Backed by GE, the innovation challenge at North Carolina A&T gave iPad Minis to first place winners
• In 2014, the National Science Foundation launched a community college innovation challenge. Top teams go to innovation boot camp; members of the first place team win $3,000.
• FedEx’s innovation prizes (robotics and tech) topped $50,000 this year
• UMass has awarded more than $500,000 to student-led teams since the 2005/06 school year
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