Students: Win $15,000 in McMillon Innovation Studio Contest

University of Arkansas students who can slice and dice data to anticipate trends and help retailers and suppliers stay out in front of their customers can win $15,000 in the McMillon Innovation Studio’s second design contest.

Three information sessions about the contest, to be conducted in concert with DataNinja of Bentonville, will be held Wednesday, Sept. 6, in room 203 in Willard J. Walker Hall, and Thursday, Sept. 7, and Tuesday, Sept. 12, in the McMillon Innovation Studio in the Harmon Parking Garage. All three meetings are at 5 p.m.

There will be free pizza for students at the information sessions.

The contest begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, with a kick-off event in room 103 of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development. The competition is open to all University of Arkansas students.

“Engineering skills will clearly be needed to design and build, but business expertise will be needed to understand how business users are going to work with the projects and what metrics are needed as well as work on the business case,” said Clint Johnson, director of the McMillon Innovation Studio. “Students from other colleges also are invited to bring their own expertise and experience to this solution.”

Students will be challenged to create a solution that can pull together information from many different sources — local news sites, social media and other online sources that influence shoppers’ decision making — to discover why certain items are selling or not selling in specified locations.

Sean Nicholas, DataNinja’s chief executive officer, said such a solution could give suppliers and brands the ability to go beyond the usual “what” and “where” of analytics and supply the “why.”

“Everyone has heard of big data,” Nicholas said. “We want to add purpose and precision to make it actionable data.”

He said understanding the response from people, community events and weather all over the country and how those elements relate to sales performance will allow retail partners to plan and position their inventory much more efficiently, reducing costs and providing the best level of service possible.

“It’s almost like having an informant in every community,” Nicholas said.

Coaching sessions for competing teams will be held throughout the fall, with judging set for November by DataNinja, local entrepreneurs and StartupJunkie of Northwest Arkansas.

In the studio’s first contest last spring, Lovelace Technologies, made up of students from both the Sam M. Walton College of Business and the College of Engineering, won $10,000 in seed money to start their business.