First Innovation Expo: Opportunities Abound on Campus

A student wearing a virtual reality headset watches live drone footage from a pilot flying a drone outside the Student Union during the Innovation Expo on Oct. 29. (Nathan Oldham/UConn Photo)
A student wearing a virtual reality headset watches live drone footage from a pilot flying a drone outside the Student Union during the Innovation Expo on Oct. 29. (Nathan Oldham/UConn Photo)

Nursing students Jasmeen Mohammed and Katlin DiPietro couldn’t wait to tell visitors at the Fall Entrepreneurship & Innovation Expo about their project, which is designed to calm elderly patients when they’re in the hospital.

Through the School of Nursing Healthcare Innovation Program, they are working to install a tablet within the stomach of a teddy bear. Elderly patients could receive a customized bear, allowing them to view family pictures, play music that was popular in their youth, and read personalized messages from their loved ones.

Patients of any age can develop delirium in a hospital, but it is especially prevalent and long-lasting with the elderly, and has been a vexing issue for hospitals, the students said. They hope that by keeping patients calm, their device will help prevent them from slipping into delirium.

Mohammed and DiPietro were among some 150 volunteers, representing 40 different UConn programs, at the first Entrepreneurship Expo, held Monday at the Student Union Ballroom. The program was sponsored by the new Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and its members and programs.

Rose Lisi, a student in the Honors Program, discusses the opportunities available on campus during the Innovation Expo on Oct. 29. (Nathan Oldham/UConn Photo)
Rose Lisi, a student in the Honors Program, discusses the opportunities available on campus during the Innovation Expo on Oct. 29. (Nathan Oldham/UConn Photo)

The event, designed to let students know about the vast opportunities for innovation offered across campus, had already drawn more than 100 students in just the first hour.

Kathy Rocha, operations director at the Werth Institute, said the event went even better than expected. “The students are amazed at the breadth of offerings,” she said. “Many remarked that they were surprised they could do something entrepreneurial, that they could take part without having to be an engineering or business major. They liked that.”

Students were given a B-I-N-G-O style card and after visiting different displays, they could “win” ice cream.

The event was so popular that Rocha anticipates it becoming an annual event.

“I’d say it’s a breakthrough for the University,” she said. “We often have collaborative events between two schools or two disciplines, but this has a broad reach across the University. It is truly a cross-disciplinary event.”

The School of Business’ OPIM Innovate program was running a drone demonstration outside, and offering students a chance to experiment with mind-control sensors and virtual reality inside.

Jon Moore, instructor-in-residence, who heads OPIM Innovate, said he met many students who were unfamiliar with the program. “We’re definitely expanding our reach by being here,” he said. “The students are excited about what we’re offering; they realize we’re doing cool stuff.”

The OPIM Innovate program was in a section of the ballroom with UConn’s puppetry program and its Innovation Zone, offering students a diverse range of programs.

Chris Bruno, a graduate student, staffed a table promoting the School of Business’ Innovation Quest (iQ) program, which helps entrepreneurs turn great ideas into businesses. He was handing out stress balls that looked like lightbulbs. “A lot of people haven’t heard of our program,” he said. “We advertise it heavily in the spring, but this was a great chance to create exposure in the fall.”

Biology major Greta Johnson, a volunteer at the event, said the students she met were excited about the options for innovation.

“I never knew about all these opportunities on campus,” said Johnson, a junior. “The opportunities are unparalleled. We have such cool things going on on campus.” She said she learned about a large grant for new business ventures that she hopes to explore. “Even though I’m a bio major, there are so many opportunities for me to do new and creative things.”