Is there a better way for people in developing countries to transport water supplies long distance from a well to their homes? How about an innovation that could help food and drink street vendors in Africa earn more money in a working day to better support themselves? And back in the UK, can we improve communications between the hearing and deaf communities?
Three undergraduate teams (mixed teams including engineering students) at Nottingham University Business School (NUBS) have won a prestigious Engineers in Business Award for developing innovative product concepts that could solve these problems. The winning teams share a £3,000 a prize pot, plus mentoring for the first-prize winner.
Sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship (awards MBA scholarships to young engineers), the competition is run in conjunction with NUBS’ Entrepreneurship & Business module. Chris Mahon, Director, MSc Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Management at NUBS said, “The E&B module and the Engineers in Business competition take students through the ‘ingenuity process’ – from identifying a problem that needs a novel solution and brainstorming ideas, to selecting a viable concept, research, intellectual property considerations, product development and marketing processes. This methodology develops entrepreneurial thinking.”
The Water Porter team took first prize for a new multi-purpose barrel that would, as its primary function, transport large quantities of water more efficiently than current methods. The Water Porter team won £1,500 prize money and each person will be assigned a career mentor by Engineers in Business Fellowship.
Second prize was awarded to the SpeakEasy team for its tablet that converts speech to text and vice versa to assist communication between the hearing and the deaf. The SpeakEasy team won £1,000.
The Sol-Ice team took the third prize for a concept that will help food and drink street vendors in Africa beat the intense heat by making their goods less perishable, prolonging their trading hours and thus increasing their daily earnings. Sol-Ice won £500.
WINNING PROJECTS IN MORE DETAILS
First Prize: Water Porter – freeing people in developing countries from hours of arduous water collection
Imagine travelling 10-15 kilometres each day to collect water and carrying up to 15 kilos per trip. According to Water Porter’s research, in parts of Africa, women and children spend up to 8 hours per day travelling to wells to collect fresh water for the family. Not only is this arduous work that can cause physical damage to the head and spine over the long term, but the time involved in this pursuit lessens women’s ability to participate in economic activity to earn wages and prevents children from attending school.
The Water Porter is a lightweight indented barrel that is designed to transport large volumes of water over long distances without the need to carry a heavy load on the head; instead, the barrel is pushed using a removable, extendable handle. As well as reducing the physical burden, the ability to collect a larger volume of water per visit reduces the frequency of journeys to collect water, freeing up women to work outside the home and children to go to school.
Furthermore, Water Porter is multi-purpose – the indented cushioned side acts as a portable bed for a young child or a seat for resting during long journeys. The cushioned area provides for comfort but can be removed at the user’s discretion. Water Porter is fitted with a tap that delivers controlled water release, as well as a lid to dispense larger amounts of water as needed.
Speaking on behalf of the Water Porter team Fatin Zabidi Azhar said, “The barrel is a sustainable product that could have a life-changing impact in developing countries. The product would be made from strong plastic so that it can sustain rough terrains, and the plastic can be recycled when ‘wear and tear’ occurs from long-term use. We envisage the product being made locally to keep the cost low and to provide jobs.”
Second Prize: SpeakEasy – improving communication between the deaf and hearing
The SpeakEasy team set out to create an affordable tablet that translates text into speech and vice versa, to enhance communication between deaf and hearing people.
The SpeakEasy tablet would act as a personal assistant, converting the user’s voice messages into text via voice recognition software and a finely tuned microphone, as well as converting text to audio so that people without a voice can be heard. It could also be used by people with a speech condition to communicate more easily.
SpeakEasy incorporates a personal phrasebook and dictionary, as well as multi-lingual dictionary capability. SpeakEasy is intended to work seamlessly offline as all the data would be stored internally and any new content would be updated over the internet.
Speaking about the competition and the ingenuity process, Freddy Heppell from the SpeakEasy team said, “We learned a range of new skills, in particular, the experience taught us the importance of working as a cohesive team in order to develop an idea, as well as communication skills to present our concept with conviction.”
Third Prize: Sol-Ice – top secret idea could keep street food cool
We have all seen images of enterprising street vendors in Africa selling their wares to passers-by in sweltering heat – often without a way of keeping their stock chilled. This means vendors are forced to cut their working day short as demand tapers off as the goods are affected by the intense heat.
The Sol-Ice team has come up with a sustainable solution to the ‘overheated’ food and drink problem, one that they believe also has the potential to create local jobs and improve people’s quality of life. The Sol-Ice team is convinced that it has hit upon something big so the product concept cannot be revealed until it is patent-protected!
Speaking for the team, Philip Cohen said, “We’re very excited by the potential of our innovation, it could make a big difference to people in Africa. This means that the concept is under wraps for now. Our team found the E&B experience extremely useful – the ingenuity process provides a guide to clear thinking. We learned that in order to have good ideas, you must generate a huge amount and then sift down to the best. Rather than a ‘light bulb moment’ or an innate skill, creativity is a long, thought out process that anyone can learn.”
David Falzani, Engineers in Business President and Honorary Professor in Sustainable Wealth Creation at NUBS said: “It’s exciting to see the winning teams aiming to solve social problems at home and abroad. Some of the most important global challenges we face today are not just technical ones but require the ability to link technologies to an understanding of the market mechanism, business skills, and entrepreneurial commercial thinking. These challenges include delivering and growing secure and affordable supplies of clean water and of energy, to meet the needs and expectations of a fast-growing global population. The competition inspires students to think about big issues and to create potential solutions.”
Engineers in Business Fellowship is currently inviting invitations from other universities to run the Engineers in Business Competition. For more information contact the SMF Office.