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Creative students create business based on student creativity

Posterized photo of student presentation

Some people really know how to sell their ideas. Anand Chhatpar and Nate Altfeather know how to sell other people's ideas … before the people even think of them.

Both Chhatpar and Altfeather started thinking a lot about ideas and bringing ideas to market after entering the Schoofs Prize for Creativity, a UW-Madison innovation competition. Altfeather's Check-meter won the $10,000 first-place award in the 2002 Schoofs competition. The device shows crew team members that the way they row can cause negative acceleration, or "check," to their rowing shell. The Check-meter provides evidence in the form of a clamp-mounted pendulum that pushes a needle along a gauge when under negative acceleration.

Chhatpar and Osman Ozcanli achieved some commercial success with their Schoofs entry, the OZ Pack — sort of a cross between a backpack and a binder.

About a year ago, Chhatpar and Altfeather were brainstorming together, searching for new ideas to bring to market when, they realized just how much they enjoyed the process of thinking of new ideas. And then they thought, "What if we gathered students from various disciplines and led them through a sort of strategic planning session for generating ideas?" The result is a new company called BrainReactions.

"We feel that college students are at a stage of life where they have complete creative freedom. They've never been told no and therefore they have the ability to dream and the creative imagination to believe that anything is possible," says Altfeather. "By combining this youthful enthusiasm with the expertise of those that implement ideas in the workforce, we feel we maximize innovative value."

Already the small start-up company has landed clients such as Bank of America, the Madison Fire Department and an innovation company called Inventables.

The process works like this:

BrainReactions works with the client to refine a problem statement. Based on the statement, BrainReactions puts together a team of student idea generators who will attack the problem statement. This "innovation generation team" executes the BrainReaction session. Chhatpar says the sessions are fast paced and competitive. The students work with a sketch artist to produce novel and trend-breaking ideas.

The entire BrainReaction session is captured on an interactive DVD. By viewing the DVD with employees in the client's company, the BrainReactions team says businesses experience heightened levels of innovation and discover new pathways to adding value to their companies.

"Technology and trends change every year. College students are in the last stage of life where they have the freedom from responsibility to indulge and participate in the latest market trends," says Chhatpar. "At the same time, they are being educated on the latest research and newest technological frontiers. This combination results in an ability to dream and discover that is unmatched at any other point in life.

"No matter how hard a company tries to keep their employees unconstrained, working in the real world teaches people what cannot be done, and unfortunately that leads to a narrowing of imagination and vision. We think we have the solution to that problem."