Innovation Challenge focuses on guiding Elon’s sustainable future

Students from a variety of majors came together March 1-2 for the 2019 Elon Innovation Challenge sponsored by the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

During the 2019 Elon Innovation Challenge, 115 students representing a variety of majors addressed how to reduce, repurpose and/or manage the amount of packaging waste on Elon’s campus. Driven by the application of design thinking, teams created products, services and campaigns to address this problem.

Sponsored by the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the challenge started with a kickoff event on March 1 in the Snow Family Grand Atrium. Challenge co-chairs Karl Sienerth, professor of chemistry; Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center; and Carlota Sanchez Guerrero Soler ‘19 offered welcoming remarks, shared videos on team building, sustainability and the importance of having an entrepreneurial mindset, and facilitated networking and icebreaker challenges.

On March 2, Blair Pollock, solid waste planner for Orange County, N.C., delivered a keynote address to help students understand the full scope of packaging waste and the nuances around the issue. 

Throughout the day, 19 teams worked in breakout rooms in Richard W. Sankey Hall to develop solutions addressing recycling waste and/or removal, packaging solutions, or environmental and wellbeing issues. Additionally, they created a digital or physical prototype of their solution.

Faculty and staff coaches provided guidance and delivered workshops on protecting intellectual property, spontaneous innovation, human-centered design thinking, value propositions, triple impact solutions and sustainability.

The event culminated with team presentations to a panel of judges in the LaRose Digital Theatre. Teams were evaluated on their framing, idea and presentation.

The team of Max Pivonka ’19 and Anna Cosentino ’19 won $1,000 for “Best Innovation.” They designed “Gsoogle,” a delivery packaging recycle and reuse center for Elon’s student mail room.

Winning teammates Max Pivonka ’19 and Anna Cosentino ’19 pose with EIC judge Bob Shea and EIC committee co-chair Karl Sienerth.

“Elon does such a great job of stressing the importance of being sustainable and disposing of materials in the right locations, so it was definitely a wake-up call to hear that we still have a ways to go in that area,” Cosentino said. “I learned so much from the coaches who advised on our project. It was a unique opportunity to get to interact with faculty from across campus. From design learning to prototyping to intellectual property, there is so much that comes with creating a successful and realistic solution to a problem.”

The second-place team of Sydney Hallisey ‘21, Alex Grillo ‘20, Mackenzie Hahn ‘20, Nan Yang ‘20 and Stefanie Milovic ‘19 created “The Green Team,” an alternative label for recycling packaging to make recyclable products easier to identify and place.

“This event gave us a chance to cultivate our cultural competence to appreciate different ideas coming from different majors, ages, genders and nationalities,” Yang said. “I enjoyed working with my team who provided tremendous patience for me, as an international student who is not a native speaker. It definitely strengthened my interpersonal skills in communication and especially leadership.”

The judges included:

  • Tammy Cobb, assistant director for community partnerships, Kernodle Center
  • John Flynn, Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, Elon Law School
  • Sirena Hargrove-Leak, associate professor and director, Elon engineering program
  • Joshua Powell, professional engineer, McKim & Creed
  • Eric Henry, owner, TS Designs
  • Carlota Sanchez Guerrero Soler ’19, international business major
  • Bob Shea, associate vice president for business, finance and technology, Elon University
  • Ryan Vet, co-founder of The Oak House, and vice president of marketing, Netsertive

“The Innovation Challenge was truly an experience of empowerment,” said participant Stefanie Milovic ’19. “Despite having different academic, professional and personal backgrounds, our team came together to form one cohesive unit that proposed a solution to the given challenge – waste management – less than 12 hours.”

The Elon Innovation Challenge is a campuswide initiative involving all six of Elon’s academic schools as well as nearly a dozen university departments and divisions. Students were encouraged to create interdisciplinary teams, showcasing Elon’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“It was remarkable to see Elon students, faculty and staff at all levels from across our campus come together to support this event,” Martina said. “Even members of the greater community joined us in celebrating innovation at Elon.”

More than 33 faculty and staff members and eight students were involved with the planning and execution of this event. Twenty alumni, professionals, retired executives and Doherty Center advisory board members volunteered as coaches and/or presented the workshops.

“I thought it was an amazing event,” Sienerth said. “It was incredible to watch the teams go from completely floundering at the beginning of the day to a set of really well-done presentations in a matter of hours.”

“Everyone was amazing and did such a great job,” Sanchez Guerrero Soler added. “I am sure that all the participants had a fantastic time and learned a lot from this experience.”