Concept to Marketplace: Inno/Vention Competitors Near Submission Deadline

Traveling for the upcoming spring break? Pack as heavy as you like. If Shang Ni, a student in Polytechnic Institute of NYU’s management of technology master’s program, has her way, you won’t have to lug heavy bags from the airport to the subway or cab and then to your residence. Her invention — an aerial delivery system for goods — will take your luggage (or anything else you’d like) straight to your door.

Or maybe the rash of bedbug outbreaks has you worried about the creepy-crawlies. High school student Brandon Carter has the answer: a bracelet that repels bedbugs. His product and Ni’s are just two among 40 that represent the semifinalists for NYU-Poly’s Time Warner Cable Inno/Vention competition, a prime example of the Institute's i-squared-e philosophy (invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship).

Now in its fourth year, the competition invites NYU-Poly students to submit inventions or innovations to existing products for cash prizes between $1,000 and $5,000. In a first for Inno/Vention, high school students from New York and New Jersey could also participate this year, giving them the opportunity to win between $500 and $1,200.

But Inno/Vention asks more of students than just a good idea; they also have to demonstrate how it works in the real world. To realize that goal, the competition has been offering workshops to semifinalists, who receive tips and training on how to prepare a business plan for investors. The process, says Bruce Niswander, who directs the Office of Innovation, Technology Transfer, and Entrepreneurship at NYU-Poly and who oversees the competition, “builds awareness about the environments small businesses work in.” That means participants learn how to conduct a gap analysis, identify value proposition, and figure out operations’ budgets, among other lessons.

If those sound like traditional features of business administration, that’s because they are, but Mr. Niswander stresses, “We’re not looking for comprehensive business strategies as much as we are an understanding of the full impact of ideas and invention.”

As Bala Mulloth, senior manager at the BEST (Brooklyn Enterprise on Science and Technology) Center, told semifinalists at a workshop, “You should aim to solve a significant problem for which someone will pay a premium.” With entries that address food shortages and earthquake safety to bedbug infestations, semifinalists seem naturally predisposed to generating inventions and innovations for the greater good. Says Joy Colleli, dean of admissions and new student services who has also been overseeing the involvement of high school students in the competition, “A large number of the submissions are the kind that could help people. It’s not just ‘I have a money-making idea.’”

That trend reassures her about the future. “I know that when I retire the world is going to be in good hands with these kids,” she says.

The semifinalists have the chance to prove her right on March 6, when they move on to the next stage of the competition: submitting a business plan that identifies the need their product or improvement will meet and the steps semifinalists will follow to fill that need. Finalists will be announced on March 18.