San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ingenuity on Display At Fair for Entrepreneurs

A toothbrush that self-applies its own toothpaste, an insect repellent for animals made from chrysanthemums and restaurant menus reprinted in braille were among the novel ideas on display Wednesday at the NationalUniversity’s (UNA) Entrepreneurs’ Fair.

The activity, at the Heredia-based public university north of San José, showcased 55 projects developed by UNA student groups.

The student groups, modeled to function like small start-up businesses, typically are comprised of students representing different fields of study, such as business, economics or the sciences. Working in groups of two to five, the students create their own mini-businesses. This involves the development of an idea or product, a marketing strategy, a company title and logo and a sales pitch.

Though the ideas and projects this year covered a wide range of genres – from food products to odor-combating dog beds, the majority of the projects incorporated a theme of environmental sustainability, as many products were created from recycled goods or aimed at reducing pollution or waste.

“Environmental sustainability is a key concern for our students at the university,” said Gerardo Villalobos, coordinator of the UNA’s Entrepreneurs Program and its bi-annual fair. “It’s a very important theme to both the students and the university, and that’s evident in the projects you see here today.”

The environmental projects varied from extensive, science-heavy ideas, such as breaking down plastics with a sugar cane extract, to simpler ideas, such as making pens and pencils out of recycled wood.

Most student groups this year chose an environmental issue and created an idea and product designed to eradicate a certain problem.

One student group, called “REDCO,” centered its project on cigarette butts, and the contamination that the butts create when littered on streets. The group developed a small wooden container, about the size of a keychain accessory, which could be used by smokers to store their butts. According to the group, one cigarette butt is capable of contaminating up to 50 liters of water.

Apart from the environmental projects, several groups focused their efforts on social issues.

One group, who dubbed their project “En Braille,” took menus from local restaurants, such as Pizza Hut, and rewrote them in braille using a braille typewriter, known as a Perkins Brailler. The group aims to sell the menus to local restaurants.

Other projects focused more on actually creating a brick-and-mortar location and selling their idea.

One student, Luis Diego Achío, presented his idea called “Cerealized.” This involves a fast-food restaurant that will offer customers the option of creating their own combination of cereals and mixing them together in one bowl. Achío and his father intend to open such a restaurant in Heredia next year. At the fair, Achío handed out samples of Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs for prospective customers to try.

“We want customers to be able to choose their favorite cereals and combine them in one bowl,” Achío said. “The more combinations you try, the more you find out which mix is your favorite.”

At the conclusion of the fair, a panel of judges, including UNA Academic Vice- Chancellor Sandra León, a representative from Ashoka, an international organization that promotes social entrepreneurship, and a representative from Banco Nacional, awarded prizes to the student groups with the best ideas and presentations, and in some cases, also awarded the groups $1,000 to boost their potential venture.

“Each year the projects and ideas are improving and are more environmentally and socially oriented,” León said at the awards ceremony. “I think that can be attributed to the teachers and the students of the university, who are continuing to work towards being more socially conscious and more interested in developing a sustainable environment.”

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