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Real-world problems are (most often) cross-disciplinary in nature. They’re not about technology, design, or business—they are about technology, design, and business. The best solutions are often created by the fresh perspectives of multi-disciplinary teams. From a university perspective, the process of multi-disciplinary innovation is simply too applied and holistic to fit into most curricula, and, as a result, most university projects are skewed toward one discipline. The RIT IdeaLab mixes multi-disciplinary student teams, coaches, and industry sponsors to identify and solve real problems. It orchestrates an array of activities, including problem definition, brainstorming, problem solving, ideation, design processes, testing, prototyping, market evaluations, etc.
The structure of the program includes:
Problem Selection. The Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship staff work with client businesses and organizations to identify unique problems they face within their operations. The problems must not be too large or too small, as they must fit within the capabilities of the program.
Team Formation. The Simone Center then works with individual colleges and departments to create an appropriate/effective team to solve these problems. The team typically includes students trained in problem-solving, design, technology, and marketing. Discipline-specific students are engaged as required.
Weekend IdeaLab Seminar. The IdeaLab seminar then brings student teams, RIT coaches, and organizational sponsors together for an intensive problem-solving weekend. Sponsors explain the details of their problem(s) and may provide onsite tours of its facilities. With these insights, the teams, advised by RIT coaches, identify and propose solutions to these problems.
IdeaMake Semester or Coop. If the sponsor and student team are pleased with the IdeaLab outcomes, they begin the IdeaMake semester. During the semester, work involves refining the solutions and frequently creating a testable prototype. Depending on the complexity of the product, the IdeaMake phase may extend beyond one semester.
At the end of the semester, sponsoring organizations often have a solution to their problem. However, some projects move beyond their initial company specific objective—their solutions provide external commercial applications.
Potential Commercial Applications. During the IdeaMake semester, each team includes a business student who explores the commercial potential of the solution being designed. If the solution is applicable to a robust market and value proposition, the project may spawn a business startup.
The IdeaLab program provides win-win solutions for students and sponsors. Students gain real-world experience serving the needs of clients, while learning and applying problem-solving techniques, and working in multi-functional teams. Client organizations interact with, and may be in a position to ultimately hire talented students who represent the best and brightest of the new workforce.