28 UI students take home $4,200 in product project

CHAMPAIGN — Twenty-eight University of Illinois students received a total of $4,200 in scholarship awards for designing products to help meet basic needs of people throughout the world.

"The ideas spanned a variety of needs from food, health and sanitation to transportation, education, housing, energy and entrepreneurship," said Madhubalan Viswanathan, a UI professor of business administration.

The product ideas and business plans came as part of a "poster session" competition that was the capstone project for the Business 101: Introduction to Professional Responsibility course.

The course, required for first-year undergrads in the College of Business, had about 600 students in it this fall.

Among the ideas students came up with, Viswanathan said, were:

— A low-cost refrigerator to preserve food.

— A system to help shopkeepers with low literacy levels keep track of inventory.

— An inflatable floating disaster shelter for coastlines.

— A soccer ball that generates energy as it is kicked around, then stores the energy in rechargeable batteries to power small appliances.

First-, second- and third-place teams were chosen in two separate sessions held Dec. 7 at the Business Instructional Facility on campus.

One of the first-place teams, Dentofresh, created a powder-based mouthwash for the Indian marketplace. When mixed with water, the product would help users avoid serious dental-health problems.

Each member of that team — Stephen Murphy, Gregory O'Connor, Eric Tchon, Michelle Wojnarowski and Rebecca Zielke — received $200 awards.

The other first-place team, Do Your Duty, devised the "Duty Bag" as a way to improve sanitation in a densely populated slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

The team described the Duty Bag as "a sanitary, eco-friendly and affordable bag that people can use when defecating." Its use could decrease the presence of harmful waste and improve the environment, the team said.

Members of that team — John Casey, Nayeli Garcia, Nichole Johnson and Christopher Pastuovic — also received $200 each.

Members of second-place teams received $150 each, while members of third-place teams got $100 each. Money was provided by the College of Business.

Second-place team Back Nap came up with a blanket that could be folded into a backpack for homeless people.

The outer shell would be made from recycled plastic and polyester to provide protection from water and wind.

The inner shell would be a blend of recycled wool and cotton. The wool would wick away excess moisture and heat, while the cotton would allow for air circulation and be dust-mite resistant.

The other second-place team, Sustained by Grain, came up with SustainaBowl, "a completed dried, nutritiously balanced, pre-packaged food mixture ... to help alleviate malnutrition in infants."

Each serving would include an ounce of dehydrated goat milk, 2 ounces of nutritionally enhanced rice powder and an ounce of sweet potato powder enriched with vitamin A, lipids and minerals. The team proposed marketing it in Zambia.

A third-place team, Build Boards, suggested providing shelter for people in India through use of recycled billboard material.

Billboard vinyl would provide ultraviolet light protection and would be waterproof, mildew-resistant, flame-retardant and more durable than many lightweight tarpaulins, the team said.

Viswanathan said it was "amazing to see the range of ideas that (students) come up with for contexts that are very unfamiliar to most of them."

He said students in the course study subsistence living, with the goal of developing "informed empathy" so they can come up with products useful to the poor.

The products "can't be science fiction — they have to be realistic," he said. Viswanathan said it's not likely many of the ideas will actually go to market, given how much time it takes to develop and market a product.

But, he added, "we do see students looking into the area of social entrepreneurship."

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