Entrepreneurship course boasts legacy of student achievement

Jorge Vanegas

Jorge Vanegas

A stream of new products, business concepts and patentable inventions, many praised by national publications or recognized with top finishes in various innovation competitions, are regularly created by students and alumni of the Texas A&M College of Architecture's Design Process class.

One of the university’s most popular courses, The Design Process, or ENDS 101, introduces students from all majors to creative problem solving, entrepreneurship and future studies. The entrepreneurial spirit incubated in the class has led to student-developed iPhone accessories, toys, software and award-winning ideas for fitness tools, sustainable development practices and more.

The myriad successes of Design Process students have provided impetus for the creation of a student-centered business accelerator, Startup Aggieland, which provides free on-campus entrepreneurship resources for Texas A&M students.

"ENDS 101 introduces students from multiple disciplines to a wide range of complex challenges and accelerating technological developments that demand new, alternative problem solving approaches based on creativity and innovation and fueled by curiosity and imagination," said Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture and one of two ENDS 101 instructors. "The course is designed to unlock students' creative potential, enabling them to dream, envision and create new products, services and business models."

The class provides an alternative to traditional career seeking and job placement at existing companies, he said, by teaching students how to create their own businesses. Since opened to all majors in 2005, the course has amassed an indelible legacy of student entrepreneurial accomplishments.

The Glif and the Cosmonaut

Design Process alumni Dan Provost ‘07 and Thomas Gerhardt ‘07, former Bachelor of Environmental Design students and founders of New York design firm Studio Neat, addressed consumers’ need for a stand and tripod mount to better view their iPhone’s content and steady it for better photo and video results.

The duo designed and brought to market the Glif, which is “awesome … you just can’t find a better iPhone accessory,” said Darrell Etherington in a review posted on the New York Times website.

“It was easy to get on and off the tripod mounts, and it keeps a firm grip on the iPhone while you’re manipulating the angle of your shot or switching from portrait to landscape,” said Etherington. “In a world of increasingly complex and complicated iOS device accessories, the Glif is a breath of fresh air.”

Provost and Gerhardt raised funds for the Glif through Kickstarter, a website that entrepreneurs can appeal for funds for creative startup products. They needed $10,000 in setup costs, but people recognizing the value in the concept and sent in more than $137,000.

The two went on to develop an iPad stylus called the Cosmonaut, and published “It Will Be Exhilirating,” an e-book about their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Eco-friendly dollhouses

Children will soon be creating their own play worlds with eco-friendly dollhouses designed by Alyson Beaton ’97, who is also bringing her idea to market with Kickstarter funding.

Her idea, Lille Huset, a Norwegian phrase that means “little house,” includes six unique dollhouse designs with durable but highly portable birch plywood front facades and paperboard walls.

When Beaton, an assistant professor of graphic design at Chicago’s Columbia College, produced the first run of dollhouses with $8000 from a Kickstarter campaign, she started taking them to trade shows to explore distribution possibilities.

Drifting Creatives

After graduating with Bachelor of Environmental Design degrees in May 2009, Martin Hooper and Gavin Braman founded Drifting Creatives, a graphic and Web design business. They looked for work by hitting the road, living out of a car and wherever they could find places to stay, finding graphic and web design work by cold calling businesses.

Their trip took them to Arkansas, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida.

“We've had some hard times with the car too,” Braman told The Battalion during the 2009 trip. “Sometimes it just won't start. And we'll be on the east coast somewhere with no money."

Since the five-month trip, Hooper and Braman have established Dallas and College Station locations and worked with a variety of clients, including Sonic, The Salvation Army, The Texas Film Festival and Weatherby-Eisenrich Insurance.

“We’ve designed and engineered strategy for brands and various print campaigns that have been nationally successful,” stated the pair on their website.


Brandon Vento, a third-year environmental design student, designed an iOS photography app, FlashPics, with his brother Coulton, a Kingwood High School student, that drew rave reviews upon its released in 2011.

“This app is fantastic,” said reviewer Mark Hudson on the iTunes store site. “I find myself uploading more photos to Facebook and Twitter because this app makes it so easy.”

iPhone repairs

Alex Raducanu turned one of his weekly Design Process assignments into a business, CS iPhone Repair, that continues to draw raves for its quick turnaround of repaired iPhones.

A website testimonial from one satisfied customer who's iPhone screen was shattered, says “they repaired my phone within minutes and now it looks perfectly new. Awesome job!”

Office desk exercise wheel

Many concepts developed in the Design Process class have placed at the top of national entrepreneurship and invention contests.

An exercise wheel providing a workout outlet for deskbound office workers, developed by animal science major Jenny Bohac, won an invention competition sponsored by the National Museum of Education.

“People who have sedentary jobs can burn some calories while they sit around all day,” said Bohac. “With the exercise wheel, you can pedal as if you’re on a stationary bicycle right under your desk at work.”

Solar-powered umbrella

A beachgoer, whose smartphone or tablet (or both) is running low on power, might soon turn to an innovation developed by four Design Process students — a beach umbrella that can charge devices through a USB connection on the umbrella’s supporting pole from energy collected by solar panels on the umbrella — an idea that captured third-place honors in a national design competition.

The team’s four student members shared a $3,000 prize from Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc., the 2012 contest’s sponsor. Ascent asked the students to develop innovative applications for its lightweight, flexible and glass-free solar panels.

Tax kiosk

Filing one’s income taxes could become as simple as a trip to a kiosk installed in a retail store, an idea generated by business major Kyle Klansek.

The idea could “serve a sizeable consumer market and is innovative, creative and different," said Alex Doumani, vice-president of engineering at Coinstar, which awarded Klansek $10,000 for the idea’s first-place finish in Coinstar’s “Next Big Idea” contest in 2010.

Coinstar sponsors the annual contest, which solicits innovative business ideas with a self-service concept.


An eco-park concept aimed at teaching people about the systems that bring food to their dinner tables was developed by Team Giving Tree, an interdisciplinary group of Design Process students who netted first place in a worldwide contest seeking solutions to the world’s most pressing food issues.

The winning group, which included undergraduate landscape architecture students Beau Barnette and Aaron Kotwal, developed the concept for the 2012 Thought for Food Global Challenge. The park proposal included demonstration gardens, info-graphic boards, space for farmers’ markets and a speaker’s corner for open discussion, while also providing a park’s typical aesthetic and recreational functions.

And many more...

Other entrepreneurial ideas emerging from the Design Process class in recent years include:

  •  A bicycle that charges an iPhone from the current generated by pedaling;
  •  A coffee mug that heats coffee just by shaking the mug;
  •  A chip in a car’s steering wheel that jams incoming and outgoing texts from riders in the front seats of a vehicle;
  •  A small projector on the back of a laptop to share images at presentations or with friends;
  • Paper made of algae, which is cheaper, “greener” and will require new jobs to produce;
  • Capsule beds, so employees with looming project deadlines can spend the night at the office instead of late-night travels home,
  •  A classroom desk/touch-screen tablet for digital note taking and screen swapping between student and professor lecture notes,
  •  A vending machine for renting fold-up bicycles, and
  •  A mobile phone application for weight watchers.
posted January 15, 2013