When Kahn Louise Miller submitted her idea for a smartphone app that facilitates safe connections between erotic services providers and their clients to the 2013 Innovative Idea Competition at Temple University, she assumed she would be disqualified. Instead, she won two awards – the Stan Angelo Smart Bulb Award for Brightest Retail Idea and the People’s Choice Award.
Miller, an undergraduate public health major, was one of four students from a new Temple General Education course, Creativity & Organizational Innovation, who were named among 12 finalists in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute’s (IEI) idea competition, a university-wide challenge to think up new products, services and technologies that have potential to become businesses.
Miller’s location-based app, Hook, would allow street-based erotic services providers and clients to connect spontaneously, safely and discreetly. While the concept is inspired by Miller’s experience leading Philadelphia-based Project SAFE, an organization that serves the unmet health needs of women working in prostitution, the product is intended for countries where erotic services have been fully or partially decriminalized.
Ideas like Hook, those that push limits, are exactly the kind of concepts that the Creativity & Organizational Innovation course, offered through the Fox School of Business, is designed to foster. New this fall, the course is open to students across the university and teaches creative problem solving as a tool to come up with different organizational and business models.
“Companies today can’t be static the way they used to be,” said IEI Academic Director and course founder Robert McNamee. “Every organization and every employee has to be creative and be able to solve problems, to drive innovation and change in an organization.”
The course acknowledges that society, organizations and other factors often stifle individuals’ tendencies to consider offbeat ideas, break the rules or challenge the status quo, McNamee said. To fight that, the course creates a comfortable atmosphere to talk about all sorts of ideas. Then, students work to deconstruct each idea, determine why it is valuable and why it may or may not be feasible.
“The undergraduate curriculum has to keep evolving, staying ahead of the curve whenever possible, and providing our students with new ides, new perspectives and the opportunity to develop different skill sets,” said Peter Jones, Temple’s senior vice provost for undergraduate studies. “This course, SGM 827, is clearly doing that – and some.”
Had it not been for the course, Miller said, she would not have submitted her idea to the Innovative Idea Competition. Neither would the three other students in the course who also made it to the final round, McNamee said.
“People don’t realize the potential of their ideas,” he said. “The reality is you have to give ideas a chance. You have to get them out there and get them out of your head.”
That is one reason the course requires all students to enter the competition, where this year’s ideas ranged from grand-prize winning Genie Player, a smartphone app designed by the Fox School’s Zhewei Zhang that syncs a user’s movements with a unique algorithm-based music experience, to College of Science and Technology student Michael Ward’s GreenerGreens, a company that grows produce hydroponically and sells it to local, urban grocers, and CityBrella, an umbrella rental system thought up by Meng Hsuan Tsai, an undergraduate Fox student.
Next, Miller and some of the other finalists plan to submit their ideas to IEI’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl® (BYOBB), a business plan competition that helps Temple students, faculty, staff and alumni advance their ideas by assigning senior-executive mentors and hosting business plan workshops, open mentoring nights and more. Last year’s grand prize included $130,000 in cash, professional products and services, and incubation space – all intended to turn the winning idea into a thriving business. Other track and category prizes are also awarded.
This year’s Innovative Idea Competition finalists were Nicholas Scott Horn, Fox School; Kahn Louise Miller, College of Health Professions and Social Work; Alex Petyearak, School of Media and Communication; Zhewei Zhang, Fox School; Winifred Glover, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management; Mike Haley, Fox School; Brandon Bahr, Fox School; Meng Hsuan Tsai, Fox School; Viktoriya Tverskaya, Fox School; Joe Doyle, Fox School; Michael Ward, College of Science and Technology; and Todor Raykov, Fox School.