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Idea competition recognizes innovators

Idea competition recognizes innovators

If Hill Leavitt has his way, solar powered cellphone charging stations will be a mainstay in the Shoals.

Festival goers would have a place to charge a cellphone at the event, and nature-goers would have the same access if they were spending a day at Cypress Creek or at Florence’s McFarland Park on the Tennessee River.

The Hibbett Middle School fifth-grader presented his idea for making the Shoals more mobile friendly at the Big Idea competition Wednesday night and was named winner of the middle school and high school category. The competition took place on the University of North Alabama campus.

Leavitt proposed placing self-charging stations at events and in strategic locations in the Shoals so mobile users would never be left with a dead battery. He said people at events would be free to take pictures and videos, and share those with friends, drawing attention to the Shoals.

He was one of three winners at the competition that was developed to start a dialogue about how to make the Shoals a place for technological innovation.

Leavitt’s idea would work hand in hand with the idea Mark and Carol Pyle presented to create a tourism app that would give users access to information about Shoals landmarks. The Pyles proposed the idea as a way to create a music tourism trail but said businesses such as shops and restaurants also could benefit by using an interactive map to pinpoint tourist attractions, merchandisers and restaurants.

Kirby Best, CEO of Performance Scrubs, a new production company in the Shoals that makes medical scrubs and pajamas, said the Shoals is a “magical area” for innovation and creativity, and included the ideas he heard Wednesday night in that compliment.

“These are some creative ideas coming out of this area that are second to none,” he said.

Jason Summer’s idea of making the Shoals a research hub for electric cars won the college category. His idea called for the area to combine its land, utility and education resources to create an atmosphere conducive for electric car research. He said that is an area primed to expand because of the demands for cleaner transportation.

Summer said every major car manufacturer is involved in electric car design and research, and said UNA could create a research center while Northwest-Shoals Community College could create job skill training programs to feed the industry.

The competition came out of a work session in October that challenged business and community leaders to develop ideas to make the Shoals a hot spot for digital innovation. UNA marketing and management professor, Santanu Borah, said the competition is meant to encourage creative thinking and problem solving and to move local idea developers from the why mindset to the why not way of thinking.

Florence Freshman Center Principal Rod Shepard said creative and innovative thinking should be encouraged because success can be tied to progressiveness. He said today’s students will have “jobs that may not even exist right now because the technology has not been invented yet.”

Originally published by Times Daily.

Competition to bring out Shoals’ best ideas

Local education and business leaders are hoping competition brings out the next Big Idea.

The University of North Alabama, Florence city and schools officials, and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, are sponsoring a Big Idea competition asking locals to submit ideas about how the Shoals can become the next it spot for digital technology.

Santanu Borah, a management and marketing professor at UNA, said the idea came out of a “strategic doing” work session last fall about ways to improve the Shoals.

“The digital technology space is something that is important, critical really, for communities that want to stay dynamic and vibrant,” Borah said.

The competition is open to middle and high school age students, college students and community members at-large. Winners will be selected from each category and given $500 to propel their idea forward.

“We look at things that are happening in Silicon Valley and, if you peel back the layers, the core is a very simple problem that people have chosen to deal with,” Borah said. Borah used Uber, a cab company that allows riders to virtually hail a taxi though a smartphone application, as an example of innovative problem solving.

“There are problems all over the place that we have to deal with, and people tend to walk away and think it is someone else’s problem or someone else will come up with a solution,” Borah said. “We need to create a mentality that these are problems we can solve.”

Entrants should submit a two-page electronic document on the Big Idea website, The first page should include the name, category and contact phone number and the second page should be a summary of 500 words or less explaining the idea.

Finalists from each category will be chosen to make a short presentation March 11. Winners will be announced that day.

The winner in the school category also will be eligible for a $1,000 UNA scholarship.

Greg Carnes, dean of the UNA College of Business, said idea competitions can spawn creative outside-the-box thinking.

“Great ideas are generated by events such as this, and it will be exciting to see how these ideas develop into opportunities for innovation in the Shoals,” Carnes said.

Originally published by Times Daily.

Submit your winning idea to help make the Shoals the next big leader in digital technology

The Shoals needs your help in becoming the next leader in digital technology.

A joint committee from the University of North Alabama, area schools, mayoral offices and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce are inviting students and members of the community to participate in the inaugural Shoals Big Idea Competition, an initiative to engage the public so that northwest Alabama can be relevant in the 21st century.

The Big Idea, a public event to be held at 5 p.m. March 11 in the GUC Performance Center at UNA, is accepting submissions through Feb. 22.

“The Shoals can thrive as a technology hub in the South,” said Kerry DeLay McCane, president and CEO of IP Watch in Florence. “We are excited to be a part of that effort, recognizing that we need talented, well trained developers that are excited to remain in the community to work and start families. We need a supportive technology infrastructure and we need new ideas from the community.”

The competition consists of three categories: high/middle school, college/university, and community. Winners in each category will receive $500 to help move their idea forward. A $1,000 UNA fall 2015 scholarship will be presented to the winner of the high/middle school category.

Winners will be selected based on brief presentations in which they must answer, “How can we, as a community, become the next leader in digital technology?” Ideas that potentially make a difference, solve a problem and promote the Shoals as a hub for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship will be awarded.

“The idea could be anywhere between 10 words to 500 words,” said Santanu Borah, professor of the UNA Department of Management & Marketing. “Anyone can turn in as many ideas as they like. Organizations can turn in their ideas as groups also.”

For information on the Shoals Big Idea Competition, visit or contact Borah at 256-765-4605 or by email at

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