At Innovation Expo, Howe Seniors Showcase Value of Technology-Minded Business Studies

Business students at Stevens learn early on that an important component of innovation is keeping the customer concerns at the forefront, to ensure they pursue the right solution for the market.

Sometimes, that’s easy. At the Innovation Expo — the annual parade of game-changing senior projects — presentation teams usually are limited to students, sometimes their advisers. At Slash DB’s table, their customer was on hand and eager to discuss the “enormous impact” the team had on his business.

Victor Olex, founder and CEO of Slash DB, had a team of students work as consultants on a project to better market his business, which creates APIs for small companies. APIs, or application programming interfaces, are the software allowing websites to communicate with each other; for instance, how Travelocity gets flight times and ticket pricing from United.

“I’m pleased with what we learned,” Olex said. “Now, I think it may be time to talk internships.”

MORE: A tour of the floor as Howe students exhibit their projects 

Here’s a summary of some of the Howe School successes at Innovation Day.

Slash DB

The team built the company’s marketing efforts, including a homepage and Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages, as well as a user manual. Students got thousands of impressions with a limited budget to help the company determine the best engagement strategy to interact with businesses and consumers.

It started with studying the ins and outs of APIs, then focusing on how to communicate what the team learned on the way, said student Jerrin Chesnut. “At Stevens, we really focus a lot on presentations and group work, and I think that really contributed to our group’s success,” he said. 

The results speak for themselves, Olex said: “A lot of our online presence would not have been as successful if it wasn’t for these guys and their hard work on these efforts.”

Stevens Consulting Group

Nicholas Guarriello, an Emerson native, was recruited to Stevens to wrestle. But when he told friends and classmates at his high school he’d chosen Stevens, he got a lot of blank looks, even though the campus is so close to his home.

“But since then, two or three kids come here a year,” he said. “It’s started to be the kind of school our guidance counselors would recommend, whereas in the past, maybe they didn’t know about us or didn’t know enough about us.”

That gave this team the idea to build inroads to guidance offices through the athletic fields, particularly through social media. 

Senior R. Julian Gallo used the example of Foothill Ranch, Calif., student Jayson Yano, who was placed among the top 30 pitchers of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The Stevens Consulting Group crafted a press release that could be sent to his alma mater, to raise awareness of Stevens.

“We’d also encourage him to put something on Facebook, maybe call his high school coach once in a while, and talk about himself, about Stevens,” Gallo said. “The challenge is, sometimes they find it uncomfortable posting about themselves.”

Athletes in Division 3 schools like Stevens have a lot of recruiting power, Gallo said: “They’re approachable, they have good grades, they go to challenging schools, so they make good ambassadors.” 

Yo, Money Matters

The team behind this online quiz could have simply called it Money Matters. But that “yo” is an important part of their their strategy: Their platform uses slang to teach and advise high school students on personal finance through a series of videos, quizzes and narratives.

“Our competitors don’t use it, don’t know it, so we thought it might be a way for us to stand out,” said Sarah Sheikh, a Business & Technology major. “Investopedia has this kind of information, but we’re presenting it in a more playful way, to have a stronger impact.” That is reflected not just in the language, but the design. The presentation of the site is simple and intuitive, with a younger, yet technologically sophisticated, audience in mind.

The result is a website, built by the team, that treats weighty topics seriously, but from the perspective of a youngster wanting to learn more. It’s not hard to imagine the colorful, informative videos and quizzes becoming part of a high school curriculum.

“We were able to draw on so much of what we learned in our other classes,” Sheikh said. “But not everyone has that kind of benefit. If you don’t have a parent who knows about finance, or take a class, you’ll never learn it, never be comfortable with it. It’s such a taboo subject at home, so you can graduate high school and know nothing about it until the damage is already done.”

Monmouth Medical Center

Monmouth Medical Center has been going through a number of seismic changes in response to new federal healthcare regulations, and the importance of having staffers on board with the dizzying array of requirements is more important than ever. 

So when this team of seniors was coming up with ways to ensure employees responded to their survey of management and employee engagement, the three fluent Spanish speakers on this team created a Spanish version of the survey for the hospital. That innovative idea is credited with the survey’s high return rate.

“A lot of the survey is thought and perception of things,” said team member Jennifer Camisa. “If you’re reading something and translating it in your head, you might not get the same approach to really capturing their input.”

MORE: How a survey helped Monmouth Medical gauge its mission

The survey included some telling information for the hospital’s executive team. Most notable: The lowest score was in how the hospital deals with disengaged “nonplayers” on the staff.

The hospital is trying to address that issue, said Diann Johnston, vice president of patient care at the hospital, which is part of the Barnabas Health system.

“Some of the things you’ve pointed out here are spot on,” she told the team members during their presentation at the hospital. “For instance, getting rid of the nonplayers … we have been frustrated by that, so now, there’s a brand-new policy with zero tolerance per patient complaint.”

The results will be shared with the entire executive team, Johnston added.

Mid-Atlantic Resource Group LLC

This team was challenged to create an online presence and strategy for Mid-Atlantic. Members researched who was coming to the site, their occupations and their interests, and then narrowed their focus on retirement planning. 

But the challenge is the subject matter. People may interact with companies on Twitter to get a discount at a favorite retailer, but “that kind of engagement doesn’t work” with financial planning, senior Andrew Meszaros said. “This is personal stuff. People need to feel comfortable.”

So the team built a blog offering advice about choosing a retirement strategy and incorporating Mid-Atlantic information. Students wrote posts offering advice on retirement planning, and used the blog to capture reader information while improving traffic to the main site. The result was a huge spike in search ranking. Google had Mid-Atlantic seven pages down in searches for retirement planning; as a result of the blog, it’s now on the second page.

Pitching their plans

Another part of the Innovation Expo is the project plan pitch and elevator pitch competitions, where engineering students present their concepts for businesses or projects to potential investors. The pitches are crisp, informative and demonstrate to the audience that there's a solid business plan behind each idea. 

Part of that is the Howe School professors who help them along. Dr. Thomas Lechler is hands-on with the students in his class, and offers guidance that helps engineering students get a solid handle on the fundamentals of what investors and other interested stakeholders want to hear. 

For more on this program, visit stevens.edu/news/iepitches.