Villanova Students Put Imagination and Creativity in Overdrive

The team behind “Grumble” decides which idea to pursue.
The team behind “Grumble” decides which idea to pursue.

From noon on Saturday, November 16 until noon on Sunday, November 17, twenty-six Villanova University students found themselves pushed and prodded, questioned and judged, exhausted and exhilarated by the whirlwind of entrepreneurial activity known as 24 HR Imagination Quest. Now in its second year, this campus-wide competition challenges student teams to identify an opportunity, develop an idea, examine its technical and business feasibility, create a top-level design, produce a business pitch, create a simple prototype and take part in a judged tradeshow—all in just 24 hours. Combining aspects of The Amazing Race, Shark Tank, The Apprentice and Fear Factor television shows, students who accept the challenge put their imaginations to use and have fun while applying the concepts of brainstorming, marketing, prototype development and presentation skills. 

Waiting for the elevator to arrive to deliver the elevator pitch.
Waiting for the elevator to arrive to deliver the elevator pitch.

"During the event, the professors and staff act like personal trainers at the gym, pushing the students to perform at their highest level—except it is the student’s imagination that is being exercised to the limit," says Edmond Dougherty '69 EE, '86 MSCE, assistant professor in the College of Engineering and director of the Engineering Entrepreneurship Program. "You can see it on the faces of the students as they strain to handle the fast moving challenges, and yet they smile and laugh through the entire event. Most of the students don't know one another before the event and yet they form teams and produce solid results in only 24 hours. What I love most is that it gives students across the entire campus, regardless of their major, a chance to be creative and learn about the entrepreneurial mindset."

Members of team HealthyU present their idea to the judges.
Members of team HealthyU present their idea to the judges.

This year's Imagination Quest began with students from each of Villanova's colleges joining in teams of four to six people. Once formed, teams headed out to three different locations on campus where their observations would lead to ideas for potential new products or services. Teams were tasked with generating three ideas that were inspired by each location, for a total of nine opportunities per team. Each team presented their ideas to judges who offered feedback, and, based on that feedback, teams selected one opportunity to pursue for the remainder of the competition.

Over the next several hours, students worked feverishly to plan and develop a product concept, business model and strategies to market their idea. On Saturday evening, teams were judged on their “elevator pitch," which they delivered in an actual elevator to prospective investors. Sunday morning began with a product trade show and culminated in each team’s formal business pitch in the "Cat Cage," a boardroom with Apprentice/Shark Tank-style judges waiting to test the teams’ entrepreneurial skills with probing questions. "The most challenging part was definitely the final presentation to the judges because they were all trying to be as critical as possible, acting as if they were actually considering an investment depending on the quality of that presentation," says participant Lincoln Escobar '16 VSB.

Team members present a Bunkalow prototype at the Imagination Quest tradeshow.
Team presents a Bunkalow prototype at the tradeshow.

Lincoln was a member of the American Dream team, which placed first in the competition and took home Imagination Quest’s cash prize for its “Grumble” concept. With an idea born out of a limited selection of products in the Connolly Center’s Reel Divine store, the team proposed the use of social media to let retailers know what students really want. The team defined their mission as "Complaints for the greater good." In addition to Lincoln, team members included Hankyu 'Jack' Kim '15 LAS, Joanna Schaff '13 ME, Christina Tobin '17 EE and Kaitlin Waller '17 VSB. Other team concepts included "HealthyU," an affordable, customized fitness/health plan targeted to college students; and the "Bunkalow," a retractable piece of fabric that acts as a cover-up for the all-too-familiar messes that exist under a typical lofted dorm room bed.

"Our students are increasingly interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial career path, and programs like the 24 HR Imagination Quest provide an amazing opportunity for students in all academic programs to come together to spur creativity and innovation," says II Luscri, director of Villanova's Center for Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship (ICE Center), one of the event's sponsors. Also sponsoring Imagination Quest were the College of Engineering's Entrepreneurship Program, the University's Beyond Ideas working group and the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN).