Four Student Inventions Selected for Further Development

POSTED ON: February 25, 2015

Signage at the February 19 Quirky Eval. Photos by Joao Enxuto/The Cooper Union Inside the Quirky studio  Abiyaz Chowdhury and Eric Nguyen pitch their Dual-Flush Retrofit Kit Jessica Marshall and Deanna Kovalcin talk about their invention, 'Snip-It' A show of hands on whether a presentation should be 'upvoted'
Signage at the February 19 Quirky Eval. Photos by Joao Enxuto/The Cooper Union

Four inventions created and prototyped by Cooper Union engineering students have been chosen to be further developed by Quirky, a company that refines and markets new inventions. “We’ll research, brainstorm, design and style your idea into a shiny reality,” the company writes in its congratulatory letter to the students. The eight students designed their products last year as part of the Invention Factory, a six-week intensive summer program where students learned the basics of researching, designing, prototyping and presenting a new invention.

"It’s a fantastic opportunity and the perfect fit for our students,” says Alan Wolf, professor of physics and a patent attorney who runs Invention Factory with Eric Lima, associate professor of mechanical engineering. “Not every student will want to make that right-angle turn from technical work to business plans, raising funds, etc. The Quirky model of taking over the development of the product and generously sharing profits with inventors allows Cooper students to become what I call 'serial inventors.' They can quickly move on to their next invention and/or focus on school work."

On February 19th Quirky dedicated its weekly live-streaming "eval" session exclusively to reviewing eight inventions created by 15 students who participated in the 2014 Invention Factory. Part game show, part business evaluation -- think Shark Tank with online voting -- the event gave the students a chance to pitch their inventions to a panel of judges, audience members and the world at large, who could vote online in real time. Four of the eight inventions presented were "upvoted" for further development as Quirky products. See the highlights.

“It was fabulous and exciting. I was biting my nails,” Professor Wolf says. “They were incredibly enthusiastically received. The beauty of this is how perfectly Quirky fits the needs of the students. Quirky has small teams that take over every facet of this process.”

The four inventions selected include the Dual-Flush Retrofit Kit by Eric Nguyen and Abiyaz Chowdhury, designed to easily convert a standard toilet into a water-saving dual-flush system. It took the top prize at the 2014 Invention Factory. Last year's second-place winners Deanna Kovalcin and Jessica Marshall saw Snip-It, their universal tape dispenser, also get “upvoted." The other two selected inventions were ETCH, an easy-to-clean humidifier created by Jihu Kim and Min Joon So, and the Helmet Lock by Ryan Yun and Tony Lau that conflates a bike helmet and bike lock into one device.

Students presented their ideas to the audience of about 80 people inside the Quirky studio, located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Each presentation started with a video explaining and demonstrating the product. All of the videos can be found at inventionfactory.org. After the video the students fielded questions from the audience, webcast viewers, and a panel of expert inventors and designers who weighed in on the originality and potential market value of the products. 

Aggressive questioning forced students to agilely defend their design choices, a skill honed by the Invention Factory process of regularly presenting prototypes to designers, attorneys, alumni and students throughout the six-week program. One of the judges noted that the Dual-Flush Retrofit Kit, which works by being almost literally dropped into a toilet tank, was similar to one sold at Home Depot. Eric Nguyen calmly noted that they knew of the competing product and that it was in fact much more difficult to install. The installation video was called up, proving him right. The team's invention quickly moved on to the next phase.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.