Guest editorial: Ideas are good. Test them.

We all have ideas. We have big ideas, small ideas, ridiculous ideas and awesome ideas. We have ideas for new TV shows, ideas for new bestselling novels and ideas for new flavors of bubble gum.

You have at least half a shadow of an idea floating around in the back of your head right now.

Maybe you were in the shower sometime last week and you came up with something that seemed to be a “business idea.” Ten minutes later you forgot all about it because you decided you just were not the right person to pursue such a crazy idea.

Well, you may have been right, a lot of your ideas are probably crazy. Then again, a lot of your ideas are probably awesome. Who can tell the difference?

Glad you asked. The best way to validate an idea is to explain it to other people and gauge their reaction.

EPC 2015It just so happens that Seton Hill has an Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC) that is specifically designed for this sort of thing.

Students show up, pitch their random ideas they had while they were showering the week before, and gauge the audience’s reaction. These EPCs are not high stress affairs (this is not Shark Tank). No one is going to ask you hard questions or intentionally poke holes in your idea.

Most of the ideas pitched at these competitions are 100 percent crazy and at least 50 percent ridiculous, but that is just the nature of ideas. The whole point of an EPC is to gather students together and to provide them with a safe space for sharing their crazy ideas. And because Seton Hill has a budget for things like this, the most awesome ideas will win money.

When I was 10 years old, I had a crazy invention of my own. It was a robotic light switch that controlled the lights in my room and turned them off when I left the room.

Of course, I did not realize that robotic light switches like mine already existed in thousands of office buildings across the world. I would discover that several years later.

What is important is that I entered an invention competition and won some money. I learned as a 10-year-old that I could create things using robotics to solve problems. Fourteen years later, I’m still inventing things using robotics and solving problems.

Some of the students involved in last year's EPC pose with faculty members. Photo courtesy by M.Vawter/Setonian

Some of the students involved in last year’s EPC pose with faculty members.
Photo courtesy by M.Vawter/Setonian

I’ve created a company to teach robotics to kids, and in the process I’ve given lots of elevator pitches. It all starts with an idea, and you will never know whether or not your idea has potential if you never share it.

At Seton Hill’s annual (EPC), students gather to celebrate entrepreneurship and innovation. Some students are there for the cash prizes, but others are there to make a difference in their community.

One such student who has made a difference in her community is Paula Flórez. Flórez happens to be last year’s EPC grand prizewinner, so she left last year’s Elevator Pitch with $1000 (which must have been fun).

Paula Flórez won last year's Elevator Pitch Competition. Photo courtesy by M.Vawter/Setonian

Paula Flórez won last year’s Elevator Pitch Competition. Photo courtesy by M.Vawter/Setonian

More importantly, however, she is a Seton Hill student who had an idea for a business and also the bravery to pitch that idea in front of her peers. It paid off big time! I asked her a few questions about her experience, and here are her answers.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Paula Flórez, I was born and raised in Colombia, a country in South America. I am a senior chemistry major here at Seton Hill University.

What was your idea?

I had the idea to use a 3D printer to produce prosthetics limbs for people in Colombia.

What was the inspiration for you idea?

Colombia, my country, is the second country with the highest number of landmine victims in the world. Every year in my country, around 5,200 people are left without arms and legs. This statistic surprised me and I thought it was necessary to find solutions for this issue. I was talking one day to my best friend about this issue and we both agreed to join the elevator pitch to present our idea.

How did you prepare for the EPC?

I joined the EPC as a team with Laura, my best friend. Laura was a communications major here at Seton Hill and she was in charge of writing the pitch. Once we had the script we talked to Dr. Jones, the oral communications professor here at Seton Hill. She helped Laura improve the pitch and she helped me with the oral portion. It took a lot of practice and confidence to participate.

Laura Fontana poses with Dr. Jones and Dr. Garcia-Quismon-do. Photo courtesy by M.Vawter/Setonian

Laura Fontana poses with Dr. Jones and Dr. Garcia-Quismon-do. Photo courtesy by M.Vawter/Setonian

What did you use the money for?

Laura and I split the price half and half. We decided to give half of it to an organization, Halo Trust, that works to get mines out of the ground.

Do you have any future plans with your idea?

As a scientist I will not turn my back to this issue. I had the opportunity to talk to researchers in ChemImage, a company that develops instruments to identify explosives in different surfaces and asked them about possible ways to solve this issue and there are multiple options. As a chemist I will love to work with ChemImage or any other chemical industry to develop a spectrometer that will help to detect landmines.

Advice for this year’s entrants?

Enjoy the competition. It is a crazy and unique experience. You don’t need to have a business background you just need a good idea. Practice and be confident!

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