Innovation and problem-solving are synonymous. Successful new products and services simply solve real problems for real people. The most successful innovations solve those problems at scale.
Earlier this month, problem-solving was on full display when Purdue University Northwest and the Society of Innovators at PNW hosted the Region 6 (Northwest Indiana) Finals for Innovate Within, a statewide business pitch competition for Indiana’s aspiring high school innovators and entrepreneurs.
When we think of high school-led businesses, we may think of lemonade stands, carwashes, or maybe even a t-shirt business. The businesses pitched at this year’s Innovate WithIN were not lemonade stands. Students presented everything from Tracklet, a smart bracelet device to help consumers track the progress of everyday short term tasks, to Station 0, an autonomous drone system to help first responders prepare for a fire emergency before they arrive on scene.
Alli Bradford, a senior at Hobart High School, won the Region 6 competition with her business, Cramps Revamped. Through stylish and versatile leggings, Ms. Bradford’s Ovar-Ease is the first pair of leggings designed to eliminate painful cramps using a comfortable high-rise compression waistband with heat technology.
There are a few key lessons any aspiring entrepreneur (or seasoned innovator) can learn from these student innovators about using problems to drive their innovation solutions:
- Start with your own problem
- Alli Bradford shared about her own experiences with dysmenorrhea, the medical term for pain with your period or menstrual cramps. After speaking with friends and family she realized that other women experienced similar issues. Ovar-ease were developed for a problem of her own, but one she discovered scales across a lot more people. What unsolved problem are you facing that others may be as well?
- Focus on people
- Most of the teams that presented shared some form of observational and/or immersive research they conducted when developing solutions to their problem. Human-centered design is an approach to problem-solving that has gained in popularity in recent years. It is a creative approach to problem-solving that is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for. These student innovators may not have called what they were doing human-centered design, but they were actively learning from other people through interviews and product trials. How will you learn directly from the people you are solving a problem for?
- Anyone can be an innovator
- There were likely some people that didn’t expect a group of high school students to pitch businesses like Cramps Revamped or My Gov, a new website to engage and encourage youth to participate in local politics. But why not them? Why not you? We are all capable of paying attention to the problems in our own lives and the problems shared by others around us. And many of you have already started building solutions to those problems. We sometimes call those hacks or workarounds, but what if you chose to build a business around that solution instead?
The Innovate WithIN 2021 State Finals are scheduled for Saturday, June 19 in Indianapolis, IN. You can learn more about the Region 6 winner, and Northwest Indiana representative, at www.crampsrevamped.com. To learn more about InnovateWithIN, please visit www.innovatewithin.org.
Note: Jason Williams is managing director at the Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest. Described as a can opener for innovation, he has spent years organizing programs and initiatives that provided a front row seat to some of the most common challenges and popular solutions in corporate innovation.
The Society of Innovators at Purdue University Northwest
Office: (219) 989-2805