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Top Firms Select UC as 'Innovation Incubator'


On June 26, UC’s Board of Trustees approved an agreement that places UC as the linchpin institution in a new innovation consortium to include leading corporations like P&G, General Mills and CitiGroup.

Date: 6/26/2007 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Andrew Higley and Lisa Ventre

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The University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees today approved UC’s entrance into an unusual consortium agreement that will link faculty and students with corporations seeking new product and service innovations for those aged 50 and over. This new business-university model is called the Living Well Consortium.

Pioneering private-sector members joining UC in the consortium are

The model works quite simply. These firms will come to UC students regarding specific product concepts for responding to 50+ market segments and building brands. The UC students and faculty will conduct research and develop ideas within an interdisciplinary environment encompassing design, engineering, business, medicine and anthropology.

The objectives and benefits of the consortium are

This new consortium targets the 50+ segment for the simple reason that the world has never before seen such a powerful market in terms of sheer numbers, buying power and consumer expectations. For instance, by the year 2050, half the world will be over the age of 50, and the buying power of the 50+ market in the United States alone is $3 trillion.

Craig Vogel
Craig Vogel

Craig Vogel, director of the Center for Design Research and Innovation at UC, has been key in helping to form the consortium, and he pointed to himself as the typical 50+ consumer that the consortium will seek to serve.  He said, “I accept the challenge of being over 50 while still wanting to live very fully. I’m like a lot of the 50+ crowd in that I need invisible supports to help me stay at my best and achieve my individual goals. It’s about meaningfully improving my life. For instance, I wear special Z-Coil shoes because I have arthritis in my back, but these shoes don’t look ‘arthritic.’ In fact, people think their unique design is more about sports, how high can I jump in these things.”

Vogel's Z-Coil shoes
Craig Vogel's Z-Coil shoes

Larry Huston, former vice president for Innovation and Knowledge at P&G, also helped to form the consortium, and he explained that the “network effect” is key. He said, “The more connections any company or university has, the better. At P&G, we will reward innovations proudly found elsewhere. It’s not about ‘know-how’ anymore, it’s about ‘know-who.’ Many of us in corporations long ago turned to co-invention with our suppliers. It’s a logical next step to turn to universities in a co-creative model.”

In fact, this business-university model represented by the Living Well Consortium was “test driven” over spring quarter as part of a studio course within UC’s internationally ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning when students researched and then designed new concepts related to P&G’s Iams pet-food line to better meet the needs and wants of the 50+ market. And it worked, according to Cindy Panning, director of Research and Product Development for Iams Pet Care, who served as the client representative.

“The best part for us is that the students were naïve enough that they didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear,” she stated, adding, “Within ten weeks, they developed 12 to 15 concepts that were different and distinct from anything I’d seen before. Some focused on incremental improvements that we could implement right away while others were disruptive ideas for consideration upstream in five to ten years. No design agency or consultancy would have made some of these suggestions because they would have assumed we wouldn’t consider some of the ideas – like a challenge to our icon.”

But that’s just what’s needed to drive innovation – a challenge to existing procedures and norms in order to find the “sweet spot” between what the consumer needs and what’s technically possible.

The Living Well consortium will principally involve students and faculty from

In time, UC will seek to incorporate affiliated colleges and universities in Europe and Asia within the consortium.


 



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