Bright and brilliant minds gathered at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on Saturday, March 26th, for Open Minds 2011, the student exhibition organized by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) in conjunction with the organization’s 15th Annual Conference, Open: Catalyzing Innovation. The conference was attended by more than 380 faculty and students throughout the country who share NCIIA’s vision and benefit each year from its mission: “to support technology innovation and entrepreneurship in universities and colleges to create experiential learning opportunities for students, and successful, socially beneficial businesses.”
NCIIA was established in 1995 with the support of The Lemelson Foundation, legacy of prolific inventor Jerome Lemelson. NCIIA provides student start-ups with early stage funding, business strategy development training, mentoring, and investment, as well as provides staff and faculty with funding for courses and programs, opportunities for recognition, and entrepreneurship education training and networking. Since its founding, NCIIA has funded 325 experiential courses and new programs throughout hundreds of universities around the country and has leveraged more than 140 million dollars in additional funding, helping propel projects that have resulted in more than 100 new businesses.
The Safe Agua “Ducha Halo” team, Jessica Yeh (ENV) and Narbeh Dereghishian (PROD) were selected among the innovator teams of the Open Minds exhibition and were one of 3 teams whose video of their social innovation was chosen as a top finalist by public vote as part of the 2011 Open Minds video competition.
The weekend also served as a valuable opportunity for students to network and seek out potential investors and collaborators who can help advance their ideas. “I can’t believe we had the opportunity to meet these wonderful people that are just as passionate about their projects as much as we are about ours. I have never met so many social impact innovators and bright minds in one setting. I learned so much and gained a different perspective about the whole business side of the project. I am still in the process of trying to soak all of it in! It was a really great experience and we did get some business cards and good questions that definitely challenge us to push the Ducha Halo forward,” reflects Yeh.
For the Art Center faculty engaged in 2 distinct NCIIA -funded projects through Designmatters, NCIIA was an important opportunity to be part of panel discussions and paper presentations. Safe Agua lead faculty Dan Gottlieb, Penny Herschovitch (ENV) and Liliana Becerra (PROD) attended as well Steve Montgomery (GRAD ID), who along with Becerra (PROD) taught the Creating Social Value through Design TDS in 2010.
“For me it was incredible to realize that there are so many professionals out there teaching similar topics related to entrepreneurship and social impact. It was inspiring to see that they all work hard to come up with ideas and as much as they have great success some times, they also learn from their failures and use them to move forward and come up with even better projects”, shared Becerra.
The NCIIA Sustainable Vision Kickoff Workshop was held the day before of the conference and allowed Designmatters VP, Mariana Amatullo, along with Gottlieb and Herscovitch to prepare with fellow NCIIA grantees for the work ahead with a new NCIIA grant that will help support the expansion of the “Safe Agua” investigation, Safe Agua Peru. The project is envisioned to build on the Designmatters partnership with Un Techo Para Mi Pais, this time with slum communities in Lima, Peru.
Here are a few 1st-hand testimonials from the team:
“Our panel was a very rewarding moment- when we finished our presentation on our case studies of Safe Agua and Creating Social Value Through Design, the audience of mainly engineers was so interested in the approach that design brings to social impact projects and commented on the possibility of collaborating in the future to achieve better projects”- Liliana Becerra
“NCIIA Open Minds was a dream opportunity for a student like myself, looking to break into social entrepreneurship and future partnerships. The exhibit included like minded people, all focused on social impact and fairly educated in their respective field. There were a wide collection of disciplines from engineers, to biologists, to business types, and we added our designer perspective to the mix. By presenting our pressurized shower solution, the Ducha Halo,
we were able to get the opinion of the brilliant minds within the social enterprise community in regards to our product, the potential for impact, and how sustainable our business model is. This community helped us realize areas that we must place more focus on, such as heating technology, durability, and easy maintenance. They appreciated our simple solution to such a widespread problem and scale of testing that we had already conducted through the NGO and the communities in Chile and Argentina.
Most importantly this helped me realize that there are other people in the social and humanitarian space, and that I am not alone on this mission. This has fueled my ambitions to continue with not only the project but also to continue on my quest to become a social entrepreneur post graduation. The production version of the Ducha Halo will hopefully help provide warm showers to families all over developing countries in Latin America soon, and this will be my first of many solutions for the developing world.” -Narbeh Dereghishian.
“For me, one brief interaction captured the spirit of the OPEN Minds event – to inspire curiosity, empathy & socially-driven invention, and disseminate appropriate technologies globally to those with the fewest resources. Jessie and Narbeh were demonstrating their Ducha Halo portable shower to young children in the Smithsonian Museum of American History’s Spark!Lab. They explained to the young visitors that nearly one billion kids around the world can’t just turn on the tap to get running water, and that the Ducha Halo offers a low-cost solution that makes it easy, safe and dignified for all of these kids to take a shower. In response, one boy, about 6 years old, asked a very good question: “Couldn’t you punch a lot of holes in the bottom of a bucket, then fill it with water and hold it over your head to shower?” I hope that his curiosity endures, and maybe one day he will grow up to tackle the next generation’s global challenges. - Penny Herschovitch.
“Among the things that impressed me at the NCIIA 15th annual OPEN conference were that colleges from MIT to Rice, Stanford to Penn State were all moving beyond the invention/innovation space into the commercialization/entrepreneur/social entrepreneur space—on a global scale. This being my first NCIIA conference, I imagined engineers showing off gizmos. Not so. Instead, saw strategic thinking, viable and often validated business models. And some cool gizmos. Also realized that there’s a disconnect between between government-funded innovation for economic recovery and research, innovation and entrepreneurship at universities. Specifically, Art Center! - Steven Montgomery.
” I was introduced to the work of NCIIA and the Lemelson Foundation three years ago through my colleague and Designmatters collaborator, Professor Ken Pickar from Caltech. I remember attending NCIIA’s annual conference then and quickly immersing myself in what was a terribly stimulating context to meet like-minded colleagues: experts, faculty, practitioners and students from a wide network of schools throughout the country who were all sharing innovations and inventions that stand-out for their entrepreneurship framework and social purpose. Fast-forward to March 2011: it is so rewarding to be back this time with the design leads of two deeply consequential projects that are made possible through Creating Social Value through Design and the upcoming Safe Agua Peru, and especially to route for our students. It is just fantastic to revisit the journey in the past 3 years leading up to what I foresee will be our ongoing an collective engagement with the community of innovation that NCIIA fosters.” - Mariana Amatullo.
For more on the NCIIA’s 2011 OpenMinds Showcase and to see Ducha Halo in the press, visit
Open Minds: A meeting of the minds in DC highlights student innovations
Colleges Nurture World-Changing Inventions
From Lab to Startup: Student Innovators Go to Washington
From Inventions to Ventures: NCIIA’s Open Minds Showcase