Thomas Edison invented a vote recorder when he was 21, which gave him his first patent. Michael Dell was a freshman at the University of Texas when he sold computers by using a direct marketing system. With his new marketing system, he founded Dell Computer and soon became a millionaire. Bill Gates was the same age as Dell when he devised a programming language for personal computers. They were young but their ideas surprised the world.
Likewise, the brilliant ideas of young university students are valued highly by businesses and civic organizations. Campusmon, Website posting information about business related contests lists 334 ongoing contests, waiting to receive suggestions and ideas, mostly from undergraduate or graduate students.
One example is the Greennanum Contest being held by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and POSCO for university students from September 8 to November 2. Students must team up with a social welfare organization to generate ideas for solving poverty in an environmental friendly way. “The top three teams will be provided with the necessary fund to carry out the project and get to participate in the UNEP General Assembly which will be held in Kenya next year. This will give a chance for students to actually execute their ideas,” said Suh Bey, a member of the communication team at UNEP.
“More and more companies are interested in holding contests to get fresh ideas from university students,” said Kim Woo-jun, a staff member of the Naeilshot, a magazine that includes contest information for university students. From large corporations like Samsung and LG to small-sized firms, companies sponsor contests and awards to get ideas from students. “Students’ ideas are creative and reflect the latest trends, thus companies benefit from the ideas and most of the times hold patents of them. The ideas are valuable assets for companies,” said Kim.
Another example is Bluetooth SIG, an association promoting the use of Bluetooth short- range wireless technology, is holding an idea contest for using Bluetooth technology in existing products. “Bluetooth technology has great potential and is already used in many products such as headsets, telephones and medical devices,” said one staff member of Bluetooth SIG. “We thought that the young minds of university students are best for thinking up new ways to use the technology.”
The same trend has hit government organizations. For example, the provincial government of Chungcheongbukdo is holding a conference titled Ideal Challenge 2008, or the Idea Olympics, from October 24 to 25 to present the result of several contests held between August 20 and October 9. One of the contests, called Big League gathered suggestions to help Chungcheongbukdo develop a specialized economy. The winning proposals will be submitted to the office of the provincial government to put the ideas in to practice. “The participation rate was high, so we are really expecting to see some breathtaking ideas,” said a staff member in the contest management office.
Government policies are no exception. “Brilliant ideas can be applied everywhere, even for government organizations,” said Joo Bora, who received the special prize for suggestions from the people, given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for proposing the idea of providing more internship opportunities in foreign embassies.
Ideas from contests are recognized worldwide too. Kim Sang-hoon (Hongik University, 4) started his relationship with Swatch Korea when he won a prize in the design contest held by the company in 2005. A year later, the Swatch headquarters contacted him and asked him to develop a new design. “As a student learning industrial design, it was nice to see my design selling in the stores,” said Kim in a interview with the Dong-A Ilbo. His watch design, Cafe Pause,’ which was based on the concept of people starting a busy day with coffee and donuts, was part of the 2007 Swatch spring collection and was sold internationally.
“Contests may start as a form of advertisement for companies at first. However, as companies are getting real help from student ideas, these contests have become an event that every company loves to sponsor. It is also a way for companies to find talent for their future recruitment. We hope that students do not hesitate to participate,” said Kim Woo-jun.
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