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Innovation Hour brings good ideas to life

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Creative people find outlets for their gifts through paint and canvas, a camera lens, ink and paper, clay on a potter’s wheel, or maybe a well-worn stage. But where’s the conduit for a great idea, such as a web application or nonprofit?

The Furman Creative Collaborative’s Innovation Hour is one avenue for students to pitch those ideas to a group of professionals.

In partnership with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Innovation Hour has wrapped its third installment of the class. Since mid-September, presenters have offered their ideas to OLLI members on Zoom. On November 12, winners were announced, and $6,000 in prize money was divvied up to help student innovators develop their work.

Selected from a cohort of 11, the winning projects are:

From left: Ian McPherson ’23, Andrew McHorse ’23, Eli Thitherington ’22

1st place: Hobby, an online platform that builds community through sharing new experiences, skills, and projects. Leveraging an increasingly virtual world, the creators say the platform focuses on social connection, building fellowship between users, and allowing for unique relationships between content creators and consumers.

Winners fetching a share of the $3,500 include biology major Ian McPherson ’23, sustainability science major Andrew McHorse ’23 and Eli Titherington ’22, a public health major.

“The win is a huge confirmation that this idea has potential,” Titherington said, speaking on behalf of the three honorees. “Over the next several months, our team will be working to build out our idea – creating concept marketing, presentation materials and a model of our platform. The Innovation Hour funding allows us to move from concept to concrete – a huge progression in making Hobby a reality.”

Kelly Hornberger
Kelly Hornberger ’23.

2nd place: Surgery on Sunday – East Tennessee, a nonprofit organization originally launched in Kentucky that provides medically necessary outpatient surgeries at no cost to income-eligible, uninsured or underinsured individuals who do not qualify for federal or state assistance.

Kelly Hornberger ’23, a  public health major with a minor in medicine, health and culture, aims to implement the initiative in her hometown region. “SOS – East Tennessee is investigating how to continue building our organization in light of COVID-19, which has reinforced the need for accessible health care,” she said.

Hornberger said the announcement of the $1,500 grant money moved her to tears. “I’m so grateful because this money is going to save someone’s life.”

Chase Pittman
Chase Pittman ’21.

3rd place: ScrubSome, an application that makes social media posts squeaky clean by scouring posts and removing offensive words. ScrubSome, a.k.a. “social media soap,” is the brainchild of senior economics major Chase Pittman. Winner of $1,000 toward the application, which is already in use in the market, Pittman rushed to notify his team of the award. “We plan on using the money to jumpstart our marketing campaign. I couldn’t be happier about the opportunity,” he said. “I look forward to making the most of it.”

All winners are invited back the following year to report on how they are using the funds and where they are in developing their ideas. And while the money is nice, students participate in Innovation Hour “to perfect their ideas,” says JohnPaul Sleiman ’21, Innovation Hour student director. “The money is just an added bonus,” said the physics and earth, environmental and sustainability sciences double major.

johnpaul sleiman '21
JohnPaul Sleiman ’21. Photo/Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian

David Johnson, OLLI president, says he couldn’t pull off the class year after year without the support of so many, including super-driven student facilitators like Sleiman and faculty advisor Brandon Inabinet, founder of Innovation Hour and associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies. “Dr. Inabinet has been very supportive since the beginning,” said Johnson.

With a strong base of support, the class continues to provide value to innovators and OLLI members alike.

OLLI members, who traditionally support Furman through athletics, programs from The Riley Institute and the arts, find satisfaction in hearing about students’ ideas for nonprofits or inventions, said Johnson.

“They enjoy providing feedback and making suggestions: ‘Have you thought of this?’ or ‘I know someone you can talk to that might help your project,’” said Johnson.

David Johnson
David Johnson.

While enrollment is down overall for OLLI due to COVID-19, Johnson doesn’t see Innovation Hour going away. One indicator of the course’s popularity is the rise in monetary support for innovators over the years thanks to OLLI’s considerable infusion of cash and FCC’s generous contribution.

Last year, Furman’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship contributed funds, as well. Not to be confused with Innovation Hour, the institute’s Paladin Pitch competition leans more toward for-profit, entrepreneurial work. “They also have more money to give away,” Johnson laughed.

“We’ve had good support from Anthony Herrera (executive director of FU I&E),” said Johnson. “Anthony has been working with JohnPaul, and he helps beat the bushes to find student presenters. We work well together.” In fact, some Innovation Hour presenters go on to showcase their concepts at the Paladin Pitch competition, which takes place in spring semester.

Johnson hopes to draw more students to Innovation Hour, many of whom bring ideas for promoting social good. “Students have some great ideas,” he said. “They want to give back to society and their communities.”

Learn more about Furman Creative Collaborative, the umbrella organization for Innovation Hour and TEDxFurmanU, at FCC on Instagram. To enter the fray in fall 2021, contact Brandon Inabinet at brandon.inabinet@furman.edu, and 864-294-3058.

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