The intense, action-packed competition that is Philadelphia University’s Nexus Challenge, sponsored this fall by the global consumer products company Unilever, kicked off on Thursday, Oct. 18.
The competition is focused on sustainable solutions, challenging students to develop innovative new products and systems to conserve resources and make water supplies around the globe safer for millions of people. Teams of industrial design, business and sustainability students in the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce will work collaboratively on multidisciplinary teams to come up with viable solutions and create market-ready products in just one week.
The competition projects were designed by Unilever engineers to reflect challenges they are currently working to solve and which include real-world parameters like cost, materials restrictions and rigorous deadlines. At the end of the simulation, students will present their projects to a panel of Unilever judges, who will name a winner.
“The Philadelphia University Nexus Challenge with Unilever gives students the opportunity to work collaboratively and experience product development under real-world constraints, such as limited time and resources,” said Mike Leonard, academic dean of Kanbar College’s School of Design and Engineering, who coordinates many of the rapid-concept development projects at PhilaU. “The rapid burst of creative activity in response to a sponsor-defined area of need is an exciting educational experience.”
The partnership is part of an initiative from Unilever’s Open Innovation team, which seeks to bring about breakthrough advances through collaboration between Unilever’s world-class researchers and outside partners, such as universities, NGOs and suppliers. Of particular focus for the group are sustainable solutions to help Unilever meet the aggressive goals in the company’s Sustainable Living Plan, which include halving its environmental impact by 2020. Philadelphia University’s expertise in sustainability complements Unilever’s commitment to seeking sustainable solutions.
“Universities are a hotbed of talent and fresh thinking. Who better than top engineering students to collaborate on the biggest issue we’re facing as a business and a global society—sustainable development?” said Jonathan Hague, Unilever’s vice president of Open Innovation. “We are thrilled to be Philadelphia University’s partner for this Nexus Challenge and look forward to what this open collaboration will bring.”
Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of fast-moving consumer goods with operations in more than 100 countries and sales in 180 countries. The company’s products, including Ben & Jerry’s, Good Humor, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Popsicle, Q-Tips, Skippy, Slim-Fast, Suave and Vaseline, are used over two billion times a day around the world.
“We are excited that Unilever is partnering with Philadelphia University, which will allow us to apply our unique approach to innovation to furthering their business goals,” said D.R. Widder, executive director of innovation at Philadelphia University. “The unique perspectives and creative problem-solving skills our students and faculty bring to this project will help uncover new opportunities in sustainability and developing markets.”
Students will work in eight teams of four students each throughout the week. The Nexus Challenge will run from Thursday, Oct. 18 to Thursday, Oct. 25. Students began working after a kick-off meeting with the project’s sponsor, giving each team the project briefing and instructions, including real-world cost restraints and limited resources.
The Unilever design challenge is a Philadelphia University Nexus Innovation project, which draws on the University’s strategic approach to teaching and learning: active, collaborative, connected to the real world and infused with the liberal arts.