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NUvention: Analytics

NUvention: AnalyticsMatch the taste of wine drinkers with different types of wine. Create an online marketplace from the inventory of small local businesses. Turn the search for the perfect skin cream into an algorithm. Those were just some of the ideas formulated in NUvention: Analytics, a course for building businesses around analytics technologies. The course was offered for the first time this past spring.

Twenty-two students enrolled and others audited the inaugural course, which was years in the making. It was originally designed by a master of engineering management student Patricio Cofre, who graduated in 2013.

“He was strong in analytics and also an entrepreneur, and he wanted to have a NUvention specific to analytics,” says Mark Werwath, NUvention: Analytics professor and the associate director of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Werwath later discovered a huge demand for the course’s proposed material in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. After failed attempts at obtaining funding from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, The Farley Center decided to fund the course on its own and pilot the class in Spring 2014.

“We had an interesting crop of businesses,” Werwath says. One of the surprising ideas that came out of the class was Glocal. The students behind the business were trying to create an infrastructure for small businesses to post their inventory and make it accessible on the Internet to place orders on equipment. “If you’re looking for a special dress or special equipment and you can’t wait overnight or you don’t wanna go to Amazon, you can go to Glocal, see who’s got it in what store, see if it’s in stock and see what the price is,” Werwath says.

The business idea may seem like a stretch from data-mining and number-crunching typically associated with analytics, but Werwath says “people just need to use their imaginations a little bit more.”

“The city of Chicago gets 311 phone calls all the time, taxi cabs that were rude or inappropriate, broken water mains, down power lines, things like that,” Werwath says. “Imagine how you can use that data to help that system or provide a service to people.”  Werwath says one can easily write an app from 311 data because it’s free and readily available. “In fact, [the city wants] entrepreneurs to write a business and write a product around their data,” he says.

But then there are areas where the data isn’t so readily available. This an issue that some students, such as those working on the skin cream solution, faced. Werwath says that even creating a data set to begin with can be a business:

“How can you visualize the data and make it simple so that people intuitively understand it and it’s useful to them? That’s also a business. To take an existing data set that is pretty complex and organizing it and simplifying it and presenting it, that’s half the battle.”

Some of the students in the course started with a problem and realized the data wasn’t there for a solution. Others had data, but the problem wasn’t big enough to support a business.

“So, there are challenges in this space and the students figured it out,” Werwath says. “That’s what makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur. It’s not that we’re the smartest people in the bunch. It’s just that we’re the most tenacious and we’re the most adaptive to the reality.”

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