Inaugural Entrepreneurship & Innovation Expo Draws Many

A student experiments with virtual reality technology at the Fall Entrepreneurship & Innovation Expo. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)
A student experiments with virtual reality technology at the Fall Entrepreneurship & Innovation Expo. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)

Nursing students Jasmeen Mohammed and Katlin DiPietro couldn’t wait to tell visitors at the Fall Entrepreneurship & Innovation Expo about their project designed to calm elderly patients when they’re in the hospital.

Through the School of Nursing Healthcare Innovation Program they are working to install a tablet within the stomach of a teddy bear. Elderly patients could receive a customized bear, allowing them to view family pictures, play music that was popular in their youth, and read personalized messages from their loved ones.

Patients of any age can develop delirium in a hospital, but it is especially prevalent and long-lasting with the elderly and has been a vexing issue for hospitals, the students said.

Mohammed and DiPietro were among some 150 volunteers, representing 40 different UConn programs, at the first Entrepreneurship Expo, held Monday at the Student Union Ballroom. The program was sponsored by the new Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and its members and programs.

The event, designed to let students know about the vast opportunities for innovation offered across campus, had drawn more than 100 students in just the first hour.

“It has been fantastic, better than expected,” said Kathy Rocha, operations director at the Werth Institute. “The students are amazed at the breadth of offerings. Many remarked that they were surprised that they could do something entrepreneurial, that they could take part, without having to be an engineering or business major, and they liked that.”

Students were given a B-I-N-G-O style card and after visiting different displays, they could “win” ice cream. The event was so popular that Rocha anticipates it becoming an annual event.

“I’d say it’s a breakthrough for the university,” Rocha said. “We often have collaborative events between two schools or two disciplines, but this has a broad reach across the university. It is truly a cross-disciplinary event.”

The School of Business’ OPIM Innovate program was running a drone demonstration outside, and offering students a chance to experiment with mind-control sensors and virtual reality inside.

Jon Moore, instructor-in-residence, who heads up OPIM Innovate, said he met many students who were unfamiliar with the program. “We’re definitely expanding our reach by being here,” Moore said. “The students are excited about what we’re offering; they realize we’re doing cool stuff.” The OPIM Innovate program was in a section of the ballroom with UConn’s puppetry program and the Learning Community Innovation Zone (LCIZ), offering students a diverse range of programs.

Chris Bruno, a graduate student, was staffing a table promoting the School of Business’ Innovation Quest (iQ) program that helps entrepreneurs turn great ideas into businesses. He was handing out stress balls that looked like lightbulbs. “A lot of people haven’t heard of our program,” he said. “We advertise it heavily in the spring but this was a great chance to create exposure in the fall.”

Biology major and LCIZ Maker Specialist Greta Johnson was a volunteer at the event and said the students she met were excited about the options for innovation.

“I never knew about all these opportunities on campus,” said Johnson, a junior. “The opportunities are unparalleled. We have such cool things going on campus.” She said she learned about a large grant for new business ventures and thinks she will explore it. “Even though I’m a bio major, there are so many opportunities for me to do new and creative things.”