The second Innovation Hour competition wasn’t rigged, exactly, but to have a chance to beat Trent Stubbs ’20 you also had to have an idea that was literally one of the most innovative in Furman University history.
Let’s just say there was no shame in finishing second.
Following a series of student presentations, Stubbs was awarded first place and a grant of $2,000 for Aconabolics LLC, a company he co-founded and co-owns with Furman Professor of Chemistry Greg Springsteen. Aconabolics produces molecules critical to an emerging technology able to rapidly diagnose cancer and bacterial infections using a process the two discovered in the lab together and for which they expect to soon be granted two patents.
Innovation Hour gives Furman students an opportunity to pitch ideas to senior adults taking the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) class of the same name. Class facilitator David Johnson said the Aconabolics presentation was one of the first the class saw, but its members never forgot it when they voted on the top entry several weeks later.
“(Trent is) a very impressive young man, so everybody was kind of wowed,” Johnson said. “He was able to answer every question.”
That wasn’t as easy as it may have looked, however, for the 2019 Furman Fellow and Bell Tower Scholarship recipient.
“That was one of the parts I enjoyed the most. Every time in the past when I’ve given this presentation, it’s been to a group of scientists, and they are always heavily interested in the science,” Stubbs, a chemistry major, said. “When we’re talking to a different type of crowd it’s tough to adjust the pitch, and talking to this OLLI crowd was unique because everyone in that room had their own area of expertise that needed to be addressed, which I found challenging.”
Second place and $1,000 went to Leanne Joyce ’22 for “Positive Impact for Kids,” while third place and $500 was awarded to Queen Trapp ’22 for “Mother Nature’s Gift.”
Joyce, a recipient of the Townes Scholarship, founded the nonprofit Positive Impact for Kids in 2011, when she was only in the sixth grade. Positive Impact for Kids works to improve the hospital experience for children and teenagers and was inspired by Joyce’s own time in the hospital resulting from a heart condition called aortic valve stenosis she’s had since birth.
“I currently partner with 118 hospitals in the country, two in every state. I’ve raised over $150,000 so far, and my pitch was sort of about creating a larger impact at the hospitals that I partner with,” Joyce, a German major on a pre-med track, said. “I want to create teenage empowerment areas that would allow for teens to gather there and have a space where they can connect with other people and feel a sense of normalcy.”
Trapp, also a Bell Tower Scholarship recipient, started a personal project in high school giving middle school girls a week’s supply of menstrual supplies and informational materials in a handmade bag after observing peers who grew up in environments where menstruation wasn’t openly discussed. She hopes to use the money to expand the scope and perhaps launch a nonprofit.
“I had a friend … who had to sneak around to get pads, which I thought was weird,” she said. “I think it’s partly living the South and the culture around womanhood in general. Periods shouldn’t be shamed. Especially in middle school, everything is happening. That’s the last thing you want to be worried about.”
The Furman Creative Collaborative is a student group, and Amelia Davidson ’20 served as its OLLI coordinator responsible for Innovation Hour. One significant difference from the 2018 edition was the absence of faculty and staff from the competition.
“We made a conscious effort to have only students present this year … It made it a little harder to fill all the slots,” Johnson said. “Amelia did a great job trying to recruit speakers.”
Another change was funding for the prize winners. OLLI provided $3,000 in grant money, with the Furman Creative Collaborative pitching in another $500, in hopes of assuring Innovation Hour remains an annual part of the OLLI curriculum.
“OLLI gives money back to Furman every year, so instead of just a big check, a little portion of that we wanted directed for this program,” he said.