Are Campuses Producing the Best Millennial Ideas?

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As modern technology accelerates competition, leading advertisers and agencies must surround themselves with fresh and disruptive ideas to continue the growth and prosperity of their businesses. They also must find authentic ways to connect with the ever-evolving millennial consumer. Since ideas aren’t always found in executive boardrooms, advertisers from Southwest Airlines to Amazon to OMD are turning to college dorm rooms for inspiration.

Recess, a media and events company specializing in on-campus experiences, recently concluded its nationwide pitch competition celebrating the top collegiate entrepreneurs from a sea of over 500 applicants. The competition is a March Madness-style bracket tournament which crisscrosses the country with live pitches on 18 campuses and 6 regional competitions before the top 10 entrepreneur teams take flight to Los Angeles to pitch a who’s who of the venture capital world for the grand finale. Along the way, students pitch to their professors, fellow students, and elite judges as well as celebrating with large concerts at the end of each stage of the journey – engaging the entire campus through ideas and music.

“We started this when we were college entrepreneurs more than six years ago and realized that the new rock star was the entrepreneur, and our friends all wanted to be the next Zuckerberg,” said Deuce Thevenow, Co-Founder of Recess. “After seeing so many students with the lack of resources to turn their dreams into a reality, we wanted to create a platform to help. Forward-thinking brands have recognized that there is a tremendous opportunity to work with these brilliant college students and help incubate their ideas.”

Southwest Airlines, a headline sponsors for the second year in a row, went beyond financial support and branding as they created a special travel category for students. The company also participated as judges and mentors both on-campus and at the finals. “Students bring a tremendous amount of passion, energy, and intelligence to anything they put their mind to,” said Randy Sloan, SVP and CIO of Southwest Airlines, “We’re inspired by these young innovators and what their ideas can hold for the future of the Southwest Airlines’ travel experience, as well as the world. We’re excited to support their journey.”

The mentorship piece of the program allows these students to have one-on-one sessions with successful entrepreneurs, business leaders, and various executives such as Greg Castronuovo, President of OMD West. “At OMD, our role is to bring clients ideas and strategies that drive demand and desire for their brands and services,” he said. “These young entrepreneurs have such a fresh, disruptive and optimistic approach that inspire us in so many ways to think differently and to see opportunities that perhaps we might miss in our day-to-day roles.”

The Ideas

With over one-third of the business incubators in the United States located on universities – many of the next generation of great innovations are likely to spring forth from campuses, as they have with the Dells and the Facebooks of the world before them. Here are three of the ideas from Recess’ most recent tour that advertisers might be interested in:

NativX: Harvard

NativX is a free platform that integrates cognitive learning technology to create a complete, personalized travel itinerary in seconds based on a traveler’s specific personality and needs. The itinerary is compiled using unique recommendations from locals and Internet data. NativX won the Southwest Travel Category.

GiftAMeal: – Washington University

GiftAMeal donates a meal to someone in need each time a user dines at a partner restaurant and shares photos of their food or experience on social media. GiftAMeal drives traffic to restaurants and improves their branding through feel good, word-of-mouth advertising. GiftAMeal was the Audience Choice winner last week.

Penn & Hunt: – University of Pennsylvania

Penn & Hunt is a direct-to-consumer sofa business that will maximize convenience, quality, and price for young professionals – think Casper for sofas. Customers order online, and within one week, four lightweight boxes arrive at their doorstep. Assembly takes less than five minutes with no tools. Penn & Hunt has already received funding from Y Combinator.

None of these companies are ad tech innovations, though all have potential advertising opportunities and each of them speak volumes about consumer expectations – they are frictionless, immediate, and benefit those less fortunate. Advertisers must engage and embrace disruption, or risk being disrupted. Supporting college entrepreneurs – like these – is one way to help your business take flight.

Fred Schonenberg is the Founder of VentureFuel.

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