“Cute” is the word that comes to mind when meeting Kiwibot. Knee high with the dimensions of a small cooler, the four-wheeled machine’s digital face winks and makes heart eyes as it raises its lid and delivers food to customers.
But when University of Denver adjunct professor Jim Ducay sees the California-based service, the word he thinks of is “opportunity.”
This quarter on campus, through a new course, Ducay and a team of students aim to commercialize the Kiwibot franchise on campus, operate it as a student-run business and eventually expand it to the greater Denver area.
“It’s about creating experiences for students above and beyond ‘I took that class,’” Ducay says. “How do we use DU as a living laboratory? Let’s take [Kiwibot] and test it here.”
The Kiwibot course is one of four “Xperiences” offered this year by Project X-ITE, DU’s cross-disciplinary program for student innovators and entrepreneurs. Participants form a multiskilled team and receive either course credit or compensation as they work hand in hand with real companies on real projects.
Kiwibot wants students to test the demand for its product and its viability as a franchise. Plus, it wants to find out if it can work logistically and safely on a larger scale. Students in the other Xperiences course will work with RE/MAX (led by CEO and Executive MBA alumnus Adam Contos) to study the future of the real estate market. Other projects involve Hitachi Vantara and the Denver South Transportation Management Association. The students lending a hand are diverse: computer scientists, accountants, marketers, engineers, advertisers and more.
“To innovate,” Ducay says, “you need to bring creative minds together and put them in the right situation. It’s diversity of experience.”
This represents the second time that DU is offering Xperiences courses. Last year, Ducay and his students worked with Arrow Electronics.
Senior Daniel Virtue was part of the Arrow team tasked with determining a strategy for the company’s Internet of Things data connectivity services. The process started with a quarter’s worth of market research and lessons on how to deliver an effective presentation.
“It requires you to be practical in your work and with your research and do all of the necessary digging,” Virtue says. “[We’re] picking up the phone and putting something together that is insightful and practical and will be of a long-term benefit to the client. All of these necessary skills and practices that we learned are easily translatable to other fields.”
By the class’s second quarter, Virtue and his teammates were meeting with Arrow executives and collaborating more regularly with the company.
Scheduled class time frequently features outside speakers, connections Ducay has developed in his years as an executive at such companies as Acceris Communications, SES Americom and Avaya Networking. The emphasis is on learning from people of diverse backgrounds and delivering a quality product.
“I think it’s helped me tremendously, particularly with presentation and market analysis,” Virtue says, noting that these are real-world skills that place him ahead of the curve.
Virtue will join the RE/MAX Xperiences team this year and hopes to immerse himself in an industry in which he is considering working.
Ducay wants to see these sorts of collaborations expand and bridge the divide between the academic world and the corporate world — all while breaking down departmental siloes on campus. Xperiences, he says, are a leap in that direction.
“That’s exactly what the intent of this is,” Ducay says. “The experiential piece, the ability to have an impact, to learn.”