First M-Prize Challenge sparks innovation with Marquette students

Marquette students not only learn about innovation through lectures, but also with a front-row seat through the long-term partnership with Kohler Co. Recently, Kohler and Marquette joined forces to offer entrepreneurial-minded students a chance to develop their own innovative ideas and compete in the first-ever M-Prize (Marquette Prize) Challenge.  

A spin-off of Kohler’s internal Innovation for Good I-Prize Challenge, which invites Kohler associates to propose new products and business solutions with a social purpose, M-Prize gave students a chance to innovate on a specific topic. This year’s theme, Designing for Inclusivity, encouraged students to consider aging populations as they worked in teams to develop unique ideas in the Kitchen & Bath (K&B) arena.  

“It was an absolute joy to help students from Marquette experience a dose of real-world innovation and social advocacy. As both a professional in the innovation space and a Kohler Business Resource Group leader, I knew part of what makes Kohler a great place to work was on full display in this experience,” said Kathryn Clouse, senior manager of innovation.

About the M-Prize Challenge 

The six-week M-Prize Challenge included a diverse group of 25 Marquette undergraduate students from six colleges of study including Business, Engineering, Communications, Health Sciences, Arts and Sciences and Nursing. As these multidisciplinary teams did not have preconceived ideas about what is, or what is not, possible in inclusive kitchen and bath design, M-Prize provided an ideal environment for creative ideas to be ignited. 

Efforts kicked off with an innovation session at Kohler’s headquarters to learn more about this year’s theme and why designing for inclusivity is important. Students then received coaching and worked in teams to gain a first-hand understanding of physical challenges the aging population faces, plus how to brainstorm and pitch innovative solutions. With support from Kohler’s K&B Advanced Development team, as well as experts in marketing, finance, innovation coaching, corporate engagement, and Marquette’s Office of University Relations, each team competed to win the coveted M-Prize.

Final presentations took place on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at Marquette’s 707 Hub, which is powered by the Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Initiative, in front of a panel of executive judges which included Laura Kohler, senior vice president of HR, stewardship, and sustainability, and Manolo Caballer, vice president of engineering and advanced development in kitchen and bath, from Kohler; Dr. Michael R. Lovell, president of Marquette; Dr. Kris Ropella, Opus Dean of Marquette’s Opus College of Engineering; and Dr. Jill Guttormson, dean of Marquette’s College of Nursing.

Winning students from two teams were:

  • Neha Kurpad, cognitive sciences
  • Nicole Anderson, corporate communications and advertising
  • Marian Fronseca, engineering
  • Isabelle Holmes, innovation and entrepreneurship and peace studies
  • Andrea Nkansah, accounting and information system
  • Katherine Randsen, biochemistry
  • Karen Ayala-Hernandez, biomedical engineering

The M-Prize Impact

The M-Prize Challenge gave students an opportunity to not only innovate, but also to build relationships and engage with academic and industry leaders. Both Marquette and Kohler strongly value the importance of social purpose and working together for the greater good. The M-Prize Challenge gave students a chance to build on those values while applying their creativity to a real-world situation. 

“The M-Prize challenge provided an exceptional cocurricular opportunity for our students to develop skills sought by employers, to apply their passion for inclusive product development, and to join a community of innovators – peers and mentors – driven to be the difference. Marquette believes in nurturing and cultivating collaborative, holistic, and mutually beneficial and sustainable partnerships with companies – our mission-aligned relationship with Kohler is a prime example. We look forward to next year’s M-Prize challenge,” said Dr. Kalpa Vithalani, executive director of technology transfer at Marquette.

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