‘Entrepreneurial Endeavour’ is an elective module offered by the UCD Innovation Academy to students, which aims to foster creative thinking, problem solving and an entrepreneurial mindset. The Tribune sat in on one of their classes that focused on identifying problems on campus and then saw students imaging potential model solutions.

The problems ranged from transport, accommodation, food options, seating, retail opportunities, money management and sports engagement.

Fergal Brophy, an entrepreneurial specialist working for the Innovation Academy, is one of the leaders of the module. He laid out the problem-solving activity the students were undertaking. “Students work on these initiatives in order to practice entrepreneurial thinking whether it be for-profit, a social cause or a community venture. They ideate, undertake customer discovery to identify problems-to-be-solved, prototype and experiment with solutions, work on business models and pitch.”

Lack of diverse food options on campus was a key problem that two groups of students attempted to come up with prototype solutions for. The dearth of vegetarian, healthy, or alternative food choices was identified as a pressing problem in UCD. Under a Freedom of Information request submitted by the College Tribune, it can reveal the catering company for the Main Restaurant in the Gerard-Manley Hopkins building obtained the tendering license with a commitment to provide a “variety of menus”. The official UCD report into grading their proposal found they put forward a “very good selection of food offered”, but that it “would have liked more details in terms of specifying each category of food and providing the proportion of food that is sourced locally.”

However the Main Restaurant, among other food outlets in UCD has since been critiqued for its lack of diverse food options. Students in the Endeavour class working on brainstorming potential solutions also were critical that on campus it is companies with more money and resources that get allocated tendering licenses, rather than food that is suitable or desired by students.

The ‘Deal Mobile’ was one imagined initiative by a group of students, which would be a roaming food van that provides student-orientated meals that included healthy vegetarian options. They envisioned the Deal Mobile making timetabled stops at different areas on campus throughout the day, to cater to each of UCD’s dispersed faculty buildings. The second group researching solutions to the problem of food options on campus drafted an idea based on providing students the food they want. Their idea ‘pop-up munch’, would be a space where UCD invites various food providers from town to come in to UCD. They argued they could bring in popular food options such as burrito brands, that would be otherwise be unavailable to students in UCD on to campus for a day. Their plan saw students voting online for which outlet they wanted each month, and outlets being pitched against each other to provide the best deals in order to secure the guest spot on campus.

Other problems included student engagement with sports in UCD. The student’s prototyping a model to combat this problem came up with a UCD Sports Connect App. The App they said would primarily be an integrative platform that combined student’s lecture timetables with data available on UCD sports or gym classes, to allow students to manage and fit in sports or exercise around their busy schedule. The app would have a ‘Gym Tracker’ that could give students the real time information as to how full the gym was, and a progress counter that allowed students to keep track of their own activity against goals they set themselves. The platform would have an option to interact with your friends or classmates in finding players for a 5-a-side game, or a partner to head to the gym with.   

Money management was another problem a group of students were tasked with troubleshooting. The students conceived of a savings and expenditure mobile app, ‘Checkbook’. Users would input the wages they received, and log in any anticipated expenditure such as rent, nights out, new clothes etc. Students could then set a target amount of money to save each week or month, and update the app on their expenses as the month went on. The app would keep students updated on how close or far they were from reaching their monthly targets, and it could be used to budget for larger targets like a summer holiday or J1. The theme of developing apps was a commonality between many groups, in addressing problems with accommodation and rent students devised a Find a Flatmate app, ‘Bunkie’. The Tinder of the rental market, it would allow students to search for flatmates who would be compatible and share similar interests or lifestyles.

Opportunities for students to get involved and volunteer for charity was theorized as another gap in the current college experience. Students came up with the idea for a ‘UCD Charity Link’, as they found current opportunities for UCD students to volunteer are oversubscribed. For example competition for places on the UCD SVP Soup Run are always hotly contested on a first-come first serve basis. The students therefore came up with a platform where eager students could sign up with their email, and then charities and NGOs would be encouraged to tap into this reserve of UCD volunteers and link in with the campus to run events.

Two students, Roz Fraser of commerce international and Kevin Brennan who studies politics and sociology spoke on the projects the students had come up with. “I think it’s better that students are trying to come up with ideas rather than the faculty and the management in UCD. It would be really cool if the University could take some of the ideas on board and actually run with some of them, because some of them were really good.”

Fergal Brophy also felt UCD could have a lot to gain from listening to student’s ideas and tapping into innovations such as these. “Like all organisations, UCD should always listen to their users in order to better understand problems and solutions.”