Students in architecture professor Rodney Hill’s creativity course this spring at Texas A&M University will be expected to continue the class’ history of producing dynamic innovations and sustainable businesses, with the most recent success stories from fall 2011 including one student who sold two of her ideas produced in the classroom to a consulting firm.
When challenged by Hill in his “Environmental Design 101 C: The Design Process” class to create multiple soft innovations — such innovations are defined as an original invention or an adaption to an existing idea — Alexandra Pruett reflected on problems she encountered in everyday life, many which involved animals. The junior biomedical sciences major from San Antonio fosters animals at the Brazos Animal Shelter and often encountered pet care issues, which prompted several of her ideas. As per the class requirements, Pruett conducted a patent and market search to see if any similar product to her potential innovations existed in the marketplace.
“It always surprised me when I couldn’t find a similar product to my invention,” she said. “I figured someone smarter or more creative than me had already done it. The funny thing was nobody has — at least not yet.”
Pruett discussed a few of her ideas with her grandfather, Joseph Pruett, who owns a consulting firm. He immediately was interested in two of her innovations — a motion-sensor cat bowl to keep wet food fresh and a dog crate with a keypad to input information about bowel movements. A seasoned businessman, Joseph thought that several manufacturers would be interested in creating the products.
“I had several ideas, but these were the two that I felt would be really useful,” she added. “These are common, everyday problems that pet owners face. I knew that I would never be able to actually create the product myself, but I wanted to see if someone could take the next step and be able to do that.”
After several conversations with her grandfather about her ideas and their potential to become actual products, she agreed to sell them to his firm, Pruett Solutions Inc.
“As a college student, I find myself too busy to cook, much less manage and market two inventions,” she explained. “By selling my soft innovation to Pruett Solutions Inc., I am able to still make decisions but am left out of the everyday emails and phone calls. Just setting up the contracts to sell the inventions took hundreds of emails and many late-night calls on Skype.”
Currently, Pruett said, the firm is talking with several manufacturing companies to strike a production deal. Even though Pruett has plans to go to veterinary school, she said she would welcome any opportunity to be involved with the products if they were to come to fruition.
“The whole process of selling my innovation was a great experience,” she added. “I learned so much about different intellectual property laws and business in general. I’m so happy to have taken this course. I never would have done this without the extra push.”
In addition to Pruett’s success, another team of Hill’s students will be competing in the Ascent Solar Competition, a contest sponsored by Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc. that challenges select teams from universities across the country to find unique ways to use the company’s flexible, thin-film photovoltaics. Teams will have until March 20 to design their working prototypes; the winners will be announced on April 1.
Hill’s course, which relies on discovery and innovation instead of traditional classroom materials like textbooks and tests, is project-driven and encourages students to become comfortable with their own creativity.
“Everybody has some creative abilities,” Hill says. “We’re just uncovering them. We peel back the layers, piece by piece, and anything goes.”
Many students who have completed Hill’s class have launched businesses and patented their product ideas based on class assignments.
Read more about Hill’s class and innovative teaching methods here (http://tamutimes.tamu.edu/2011/11/25/texas-am-design-class-runs-on-creativity/).