Design Fair Showcases Student Innovation


The 40 students in Darden School of Business Professor Raul Chao’s popular course “Developing New Products & Services” had just seven weeks to form teams and prototype 10 entrepreneurial ideas.

“There are no boundaries in the class, and it’s 100 percents hands-on,” said Chao, who specializes in innovation and product development. “The class is a collection of students who either want to experience the product development process from start to finish, or who are aspiring entrepreneurs who come to make their ideas a reality.”

On Wednesday, December 2, the students displayed their final projects at the Product and Service Design Fair in Saunders Hall. “There were a lot of iPhone applications this year,” said Chao, “just as in recent years past, there were a lot of social networking ideas.”

The iPhone concepts included an app for paperless coupons and one called Life Connect, which offers a full suite of services for tomorrow’s seniors, including big, easy-to-read buttons labeled health, e-mail and news, as well as access to an operator who serves as a round-the-clock concierge.

Second Year students Chris Branin, Austin Collins, Mark Taylor and Parker Garrett banded together behind Garrett’s creation to aid the U.S. wholesale nursery business.

“I have been working in the nursery industry at least part-time over the last three years and have visited around 250 nurseries,” said Garrett. “In my visits, I would commonly ask nurserymen what issues they were facing. Most of the time, they focused on labor and sales. Sometimes, though, they would talk about the plant health issues they faced and a problem called root wrap.”

Instead of potting plants in plastic containers — which allow the roots to continue growing, eventually suffocating the plant — the team’s invention, The Parker Pot, features a fabric or coconut liner which prevents root growth and yields a healthier plant.

Another team prototyped a new medical device called Spine Finder, which is the brainchild of biomedical engineering student Will Mauldin from the University of Virginia. “For the first time this year, we included a student from another School at the University of Virginia,” said Chao. “Next year, we hope to include more students from across Grounds. It was extremely valuable for the business students to apply business principles to a biomedical engineering concept – and vice versa.”

Many of the ideas presented at this year’s Product and Service Design Fair will be tested at business plan competitions in the spring.

Founded in 1955, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is a professional school that improves society by developing principled leaders for the world of practical affairs.

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