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Students 'Hatch,' Test 21 Potential Business Ideas

The numbers help tell the story:

  • One summer
  • Five Nests
  • 12 weeks
  • 21 projects
  • 38 students
  • 2,754 cups of coffee
  • 5,892 Post-it notes

It was all part of the inaugural Hatchery program of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.

Over three hours Thursday (Aug. 9) at the Baker Institute’s Demo Day, Lehigh students who participated in the immersive, full-time program tested and showcased potential business ideas that they “hatched” or honed over the summer. Participants in Demo Day—held in the open, sixth-floor creativity space of the Fairchild-Martindale Library—also included students from the University of Illinois and Ashoka University of Haryana, India, which had entered a partnership with Lehigh last year.

“This is their culminating experience of the semester,” said Shannon Varcoe, innovation programs manager at Baker. “It’s an opportunity for them to put their best foot forward.”

By repeatedly pitching their projects to those attending Demo Day, she said, the students were able to get feedback on their ideas and insight into what they’ll need to do next to move their projects forward. She said many of the students intended to continue to develop their projects, including by entering the Joan F. and John Thalheimer ‘55 EUREKA! Competition in hopes of winning funding.

The Hatchery projects included Artema, an outdoor toy designed to inspire exploration and physical activity among middle-school girls; Preff, an app that helps users choose restaurants; Take Back the Trail, a crowd-sourced digital platform that aims to make running safer for women; and HomeBase, which would help those in crisis to find safe housing quickly and easily.

“Worry about your pace, not your space” was a message that team members Emma Kwasnoksi ‘21 and Cole Redfern ’19 promoted as they explained their “Take Back the Trail” app. Kwasnoksi, a runner, said she has been harassed while running, including being followed or facing catcalls. “Those experiences really made me want to do something about it,” she said.

The app would allow runners to pinpoint where, on a trail or other area, they might have been followed, flashed or subjected to catcalls on a specific date or time. That would alert other runners who might want to the avoid the problem areas. The students said the information could be shared with police.

The Preff team—Dominick Allen ’20, Jack Cunningham ’21, Cameron Cipriano ’21 and William Peracchio ’21—developed an app that helps users choose restaurants based on the recommendations of friends and family. It also allows restaurant owners to manage the customer relationship.

“Eating out is a social experience,” said Peracchio, who donned a penguin suit to pitch the app. (Penguins are picky eaters, he points out.) The app, he said, “puts everything into context—for good and for bad.”  For example, users can better judge a review since they know the reviewer and know if their tastes are similar or different.

The student projects were developed under one of the Hatchery’s five “Nests”: the nine-credit Venture Nest, which focuses on creating innovative solutions within topics of students’ choice; the Homelab Nest, which tackles homelessness, sustainable housing and community empowerment; the Edtech Nest, with a focus on leveraging peer-to-peer learning to improve the higher education experience; the Healthcare Nest, which addresses health, social care and wellness challenges; and the Civlab Nest, which addresses social issues in local and global communities. The Nests were led by faculty, staff and community experts who helped students develop problem-based ideas into entrepreneurial solutions.

A two-week Boot Camp gave students a crash course in design thinking, creativity techniques and the entrepreneurial mindset. Students spent the rest of the summer developing and refining their projects, and sometimes changing course.

“They really evolved in an interesting way over the summer,” Varcoe said.

Speakers and workshops focused on areas such as branding, social media and product development.

Photos by Christa Neu

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