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March 26, 2008

Product competition sends Purdue student-entrepreneurs to nationals

Rafael Smith discusses details of his project
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Three student-led teams from Purdue University will compete with other universities at a national event April 5 to determine the best projects that link service-learning, the environment and entrepreneurship.

The 2008 National Idea-to-Product Competition for Social Entrepreneurship takes place at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

"These Purdue students are passionate about their causes and are positioned to do well at the national competition," said Nancy Clement, interim director of the university's Social Entrepreneurship Initiative. "They've put a great deal of work into their projects and presentations. Regardless of how they finish, they're already winners for advancing to this next level."

The three Purdue teams, which advanced by winning a March 1 competition sponsored by Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center for the Environment, are:

• Uber Shelter, designed by Rafael Smith, was the top Purdue presentation in the environmental design category. The concept for a portable housing unit would help meet immediate shelter needs created by a catastrophic event. The shelter, which can be reassembled with just a few tools, provides victims with personal living space and can be collapsed for ease in transportation. It's also made from recyclable and reusable materials.

• Brian Smith, Chris Parmley and Amy Hoffman, working with Greater Lafayette Area Special Services-Preschool, was the top Purdue finisher in the service-learning category. This project focused on a mouse workshop, which is an Internet-based suite of computer software games to help preschoolers learn computer skills even if they can't yet read. The programs also help youngsters improve their fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination. 

• Daniel Poynter, working with The Digital Information Literacy Contest, advanced from Purdue's competition in the general entrepreneurship category. This project involves an Internet-based tool created to improve student interest in using library resources and provide libraries with feedback on how students search the Internet for information.

Uber Shelter rendering
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Smith, a senior in industrial design at Purdue, said he's optimistic about his project heading into the national competition and has added civil engineering student Josh Messner to bolster the technical aspects of his team's presentation next month in Atlanta.

"Our goal is to create more than an emergency shelter," Smith said. "This concept is a shelter solution that meets the needs in the case of an emergency response but also provides victims with a personal place to live. I wanted to design a project that would impact people's lives."

Brent Ladd, program coordinator for learning and engagement at the Center for the Environment, said the regional I2P competitions are growing in popularity, boosting the quality of these projects and the understanding of how social entrepreneurship can impact college campuses.

"Entrepreneurship has become a key part of the education process at Purdue," Ladd said. "Social entrepreneurship takes that concept to the next level by encouraging student collaborations with nonprofit organizations and other groups to design viable, sustainable projects that may provide funding to meet the mission of these groups."

Others competing in the Purdue event included students Mike Raley, Lance Nelson, Eric Smith, Yuvraj Singh, Satkhozhina Aziz and Emily Wigley on a team working with the Speech Language Audiology Clinic; Vince PeGan and Derek Merek with their Recycle Knowledge project; and Rahul Bhutani, Ben Campbell, Aaron Conovaloff, Allison Conovaloff, Joshua Emory, Taylor Figg, Ebenezer Gnanamankickam, Josh Messner, Brad Milius, Jim Piersma and Aamod Samuel with their Sustainable Water Pump project.

In Purdue's 2007 Idea-to-Product Competition for Social Entrepreneurship, a team from the Lafayette Area Reading Academy took top honors. Greater Lafayette Area Special Services finished second last year and placed third nationally.

The national competition, which was last held at Purdue in 2005, returns to the West Lafayette, Ind., campus in 2009.

Purdue's Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, based in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, is a program that provides a pathway for commercialization of products created by students for non-profit organizations addressing social needs.

Writers: Phillip Fiorini, (765) 496-3133,

Maggie Morris, (765) 494-2096

Sources: Nancy Clement (765) 494-9884,

Brent Ladd, (765) 494-1949,

Rafael Smith,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Media representatives who want to arrange an interview with any of the Purdue students who will participate in the national competition April 5 at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta can contact Phillip Fiorini at (765) 496-3133, (765) 427-3009 (cell),

Industrial design student Rafael Smith discusses the details of his Uber Shelter project that's on display in the art gallery at Purdue's Yue-Kong Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts. Smith is preparing for the National Idea-to-Product Competition for Social Entrepreneurship next month in Atlanta after winning the environmental category at the Purdue event March 1. His design for a portable housing unit, which can be reassembled with just a few tools, would help meet immediate shelter needs created by a catastrophic event. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo of Rafael Smith discussing the Uber Shelter is available at:

This is a rendering of Rafael Smith's Uber Shelter, a portable housing unit for those affected by a catastrophic event. The shelter, which would be made from recyclable and reusable materials, is designed to provide victims with personal living space. The shelter measures 7-by-12 feet when set up and collapses into could be a two-foot high section for ease in transportation. (Image provided by Rafael Smith)

A publication-quality illustration of the Uber Shelter is available at:

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