The inception of ideas

GreenHouse logoKnown for its Mennonite roots, the town of St. Jacobs is a popular tourist destination. In between the shops and restaurants of the town’s commercial core is the Felt Lab, an open exhibit of new creations in the world of interactive technology. The showcase is full of activities for visitors to take part in, all made possible by the latest advancements in user-interface design.

Student leaping at Felt's entryMembers of St. Paul’s GreenHouse took a trip to the Felt Lab as part of their first outing of the semester. The event was meant to highlight the nature of creative problem solving and prototyping.

Felt Lab is a studio run by Research Entrepreneurs Accelerating Prosperity (REAP), a research initiative at the University of Waterloo that gives students the opportunity to experiment with the latest interactive and digital display technologies.

Rather than having to build all-new technologies from the ground up, students learn how to make existing technologies solve new problems in order to serve the needs of untapped markets. Subsequently, each visit to Felt Lab challenges students to create unique business opportunities utilizing the technologies featured in the showcase.

Inside the entrance to the Felt Lab are the bright LCD screens of display technologies yet to be commercialized. Some of the tech on display included:

GestureTek screenThe GestureTek Illuminate Table, an infrared multi-touch display and computer. This one was a crowd pleaser, as the group easily spent the next half hour playing games of ping-pong and using the painting and piano applications of the touch-screen table.

Oculus RiftOculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that immerses users in a 360 degree simulation. The simulation in this case was of a miniature roller coaster, winding through the living room of a large house. Vertigo was a sensation experienced by many who sampled the headset.

GestureTek CubeTheGestureTek Cube, an interactive floor projector. Innovators from GreenHouse are seen here, playing a 2-D game of basketball.

At the end of these activities, the GreenHouse innovators were given a brainstorming challenge: They were tasked with solving a customer experience problem.

Their challenge was to make the process of checking out at a wine store much more efficient to ensure that a customer's payment for store items could be verified. To solve it, they would have to employ the process of creative problem solving, which was meant to change the way in which people synthesize solutions.

The exercise arose from the need to give creative minds the sandbox for experimentation. All too often, the ability to innovate in any field of endeavour is restricted by socially accepted paradigms of thought -- these are typically established by those who have come before us. This point is outlined by writer and acclaimed ‘creativity expert’ Michael Michalko, who says that some of the most creative solutions often emerge from an open experimentation of ideas and concepts from different disciplines.

Students and a white boardThrough the process of creative thinking, students are given free rein to reflect on their thought processes and challenges while tapping into an array of resources. Here, thinking is not categorized into respective disciplines that have seemingly nothing to do with another; instead everything is connected and ideas are allowed to flourish in a continuum of relativity. Pictured here, the cohort made a presentation about all the potential solutions they were able to conjure up during their brainstorming process.

The trip concluded with brief presentations as the groups behind each idea received feedback from an audience of peers. Overall, the experience highlighted that the entrepreneurial process is infused with constant new discoveries that lead to solutions for old and new problems alike.

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