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Entrepreneurial latitude empowers and engages students

How 7 La Verne University students built and marketed a digital signage product in one semester
University Business, October 2016

La Verne University’s Wilson Library wanted to develop a digital display to make students aware of library resources, as well as post information on school clubs and community events. Because other universities have found digital signage as an effective medium for communicating with their respective university communities, Amy Jiang, Associate Professor and Librarian contacted other schools to see what had been purchased for similar purposes on other campuses.  

She learned not only that the range of costs were well beyond the Library’s budget, but also that most school libraries were using solutions that required content updates to be made from a fixed work station, instead of the ability to update content remotely via smartphone or tablet, which the Library strongly preferred.  

Professor Jiang, also the founder of the Maker club, an on-campus organization dedicated to bringing students together to engage in do-it-yourself creativity and design projects, naturally saw an opportunity for student leadership. So she spoke with Library student worker Christopher Ortiz, a sophomore who was also active in the Maker Club and passionate about technology, and challenged him to come up with a solution.  

Over the course of one weekend Chris developed a solution that cost hundreds instead of thousands of dollars using open-source software and a Raspberry Pi – which meant that the Wilson Library now had its digital display and wouldn’t break the bank implementing it.  

As news about the Library's low cost but high impact digital display started spreading across campus, the library team became interested in exploring the possibility of whether or not the installation could be commercially viable. The Dean and Associate Dean of the College of Business and Public Management were enthusiastic about creating the opportunity for students to take on a real world class project – one which would involve taking the product to market.  

With encouragement and support from the Business school, seven students from diverse majors were carefully selected to participate and Bus 494 Business Consulting was created to refine the product and take it to market in one semester.  This was assessed to be a challenging, but achievable project. 

Specifically, the project was to culminate in the presentation of a complete business plan to Intel Capital for the purpose of receiving a grade, which would qualify the group to be recognized as a company seeking institutional equity investors. 

The students pursued a methodical process that proved the need for a complete product redesign, re-considered the services and pricing models and developed the necessary support systems.  All elements were developed entirely by the students to support this endeavor. When the original PI-based design was determined to be inadequate for commercial use, the student team got generous professional support from Corporate Sponsors RiseVision, Intel and Ingram Micro, all of whom stepped in to help the class overcome this obstacle. 

To their credit the students worked tirelessly and overcame that and every subsequent challenge. They even determined to forgo school holidays rather than miss a class to meet the one-semester deadline. 

The University has now attached this program to their curriculum as part of their integrated business program because it provided students a broad educational opportunity by successfully bringing together skill sets from several disciplines ranging from technology to accounting.  Because the participating students had been selected from diverse majors, each had a chance to lead when their respective discipline was called upon. 

In my opinion it is that diversity which was key to the success of the student team. My advice to any other school that may wish to replicate this project would be to ensure that the make up of the student participants cover the variety of business disciplines. 

—Stephen Monteros is an adjunct faculty member at La Verne University and is VP Business Development for SIGMAnet Inc.

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