Twenty-first birthdays can be memorable or not remembered at all.
Indiana University student Nick El Khoury had more reason to celebrate Wednesday night than merely reaching the age to legally go to bars.
El Khoury and partner Murat Kacan teamed up to win the first Schurz Innovation Prize at IU after seven finalists presented their ideas to a panel of judges in a competition in the University Club at the Indiana Memorial Union.
Schurz Communications Inc., the parent company of The Herald-Times, launched the competition with a $25,000 gift to IU’s School of Informatics and Computing to encourage students to come up with real-world digital innovations and solutions to the challenges facing 21st-century media companies.
Kacan and El Khoury proposed redesigned and visually attractive online and mobile platforms that would reward readers for subscribing to the media site by offering enticing discounts and deals available only to subscribers and pushed to their mobile phones, for example.
That would create a self-sustaining audience, the IU students said, because the value of the subscription would be more than returned by restaurant discounts and other rewards.
Kacan said their proposal, called The Mix, focuses on locally based rewards because regular customers are the “life blood” for retailers and media outlets.
Restaurants and other potential participants would benefit from direct and targeted advertising that would easily offset the cost of the discounts offered.
The IU senior estimated that he and El Khoury probably invested “a couple hundred man-hours” into developing their idea. They clearly outpaced the competition with their presentation, using small, hand-held tablets to seamlessly pass their oral description back and forth while using the same tablets to control the visual presentation on the big screen the audience could see.
Hoosier Times Publisher Mayer Maloney praised the team’s project and awarded the students the $4,500 first prize. Kevin Ferri won second place and $2,000 and Robin Dalton took third and $1,000.
Dennis Groth, associate professor of informatics and computing, said the competition — which relaunches this semester — is valuable to IU students.
“Anything that provides realism — an opportunity to demonstrate their learning in the real world — is really good,” he said. “We can do things out of books, but it’s a better learning experience to tackle real-world situations.”
Travis Brown, director of strategic initiatives for informatics, praised the competition and the way it is structured to the audience during the time the judges were evaluating the proposals and choosing the winners. “I’ve seen a lot of company projects and I’ve never seen one that didn’t take your intellectual property as their own when it’s over,” he said.
Schurz Communications, “the biggest little media company you’ve never heard of,” according to Digital Media Vice President Kerry Oslund, is based in Mishawaka and operates cable, high-speed data, TV, radio, print and digital businesses “from Alaska to Augusta,” he said. In Indiana, the corporation owns five newspapers, eight radio stations, a television station and a printing company.