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Design students' vision to help grow European Web ventures

design hackathon
Recent grads and current students brainstorm on campus during a design "hackathon." Left to right: Carolina Acevedo Pardo '12, Design and Environmental Analysis (DEA) major; Gilad Meron '12, DEA major; Rachel Rosenbaum '14, DEA major; Laura Huacuja '12, DEA major; Kevin Chen '14, DEA major; and John Tauzel, MBA '12.

A concept devised this spring by Cornell students to provide a support network for budding online entrepreneurs is on its way to becoming a reality in Europe.

The students, Gilad Meron '12 and Rachel Rosenbaum '14, design and environmental analysis (DEA) majors in the College of Human Ecology, and John Tauzel, MBA '12, responded to a challenge issued jointly by the innovation website OpenIDEO and the European Commission to "support Web entrepreneurs in launching and growing sustainable global businesses."

The students' concept, "European Centers for Entrepreneurship," calls for physical and virtual locations for Web entrepreneurs to host discussions, build a social community, inspire each other into action and gain advice from mentors. It would also provide a library of business resources and increase entrepreneurs' access to markets by connecting them with other centers across Europe.

True to OpenIDEO's collaborative model, the Cornell students' concept was refined through online discussions and later expanded upon by another OpenIDEO participant. Ultimately, it was chosen as a top 10 finalist in the challenge and is being implemented this summer.

"The end goal [of the challenge] was to produce businesses," Tauzel said. "How do you spur business? What do you need to create successful entrepreneurs? We business students provided the answers. Then the designers built an environment around these concerns, while also challenging our assumptions."

The winning Cornell team was one of nine created this spring at four OpenIDEO "hackathons" facilitated by Tracy Brandenburg and Sirietta Simoncini, design educators at Wells College who offer innovation workshops at universities around the nation. Cornell's Department of Design and Environmental Analysis hired Brandenburg and Simoncini to conduct an innovation workshop on campus, seeking to bring together design, business, architecture and other Cornell students interested in design innovation and creative problem-solving. DEA lecturer Leah Scolere integrated the OpenIDEO challenge as a formal part of her senior design studio.

"There is a sharing of backgrounds. The students create a common language through which everyone can experience being a designer and putting together perspectives," said Simoncini.

The campus hackathons allowed the student teams to brainstorm their initial ideas and sharpen their concepts with peer and instructor feedback.

Through its concept, the winning Cornell team sought to address common roadblocks to starting a Web business in Europe: language barriers, differing regulations from nation to nation, and a fear of failure. So the centers they imagined are meant to offer emotional and social support as much as logistical and technical guidance.

Rosenbaum felt her DEA experience was of great importance in focusing on these psychological issues facing newbie entrepreneurs.

"Each one of my classes opened my eyes to the ideals of IDEO and made me more confident in my abilities to design solutions," she said.

Dani Corona '15 is a student communications assistant in the College of Human Ecology.


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