New Initiative Will Help ID Students See Themselves as Entrepreneurs

By Malrey Head Atlanta, GA

School of Industrial Design students have only been a very small part of CREATE-X, an initiative that gives students the skills and knowledge to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.

Now, the School and CREATE-X are hoping to change that. Together they have launched a new competition designed to encourage more ID students to take part in the program. It also ensures that at least one ID team takes part in the CREATE-X summer Startup Launch program.

CREATE-X is composed of three elements – Learn, Make, Launch – in which students learn about entrepreneurship and startups, get mentoring, financial backing, and more. They also can receive class credit.

For this new award, industrial design faculty encouraged students to apply. The School received 19 applications and the winner of the new CREATE-X Industrial Design Prize will be announced at Launchpad Plus on May 3.

The winner will get a slot in the CREATE-X summer Startup Launch that gives participants $20,000 to spend on their project.

However, the general CREATE-X Startup Launch has many more slots and ID teams not chosen may submit their projects to the general CREATE-X competition.

Currently, only about 1% of CREATE-X students have come from the School of Industrial Design. Although Raghupathy “Siva” Sivakumar, a founding director of Create X, pointed out that students aren’t always asked their majors or minors so the number could be higher.

A Formal Collaboration

The creation of this new award came out of conversations between School Chair Jim Budd, Steve Chininis, an instructor in the School of Industrial Design, and Sivakumar about the great projects already coming from industrial design students.

Sivakumar, who is also the Wayne J. Holman Chair Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, noted that these students are often building something relevant to the outside world and this is an opportunity to talk with those students about considering commercialization.

Chininis called CREATE-X a great program and remarked on the mentoring aspect. He said CREATE-X has people who can help students with problems they don’t understand.

The School of ID teaches design, but not the business skills such as how to do a startup, he said, adding CREATE-X is a way to help some students move their projects forward.

Chininis is the official industrial design liaison with CREATE X. He is an inventor and designer and has worked in product design -- specifically the toy industry -- for more than 25 years and understands startups.


In the fall of 2017, a team composed of an industrial design student and two mechanical engineering students won first place in the CREATE-X Idea to Prototype showcase.

While the engineering students, Dallas Condra and Jeremy Leff, had a great product that worked, they knew something was missing. Vanya Padmanabhan, the industrial designer, joined them after seeing their product and letting them know she could improve on it.

The engineering students first participated in Idea to Prototype in spring 2017. When Vanya joined them in the fall neither she nor they realized the potential influence she would have.

The team entered a customizable analog guitar effects pedal, which they named “disruption.”

Guitar pedals are used by musicians to alter, or distort, the sound of their guitars. Generally, a pedal can create only one kind of distortion effect. Buying multiples can be costly.

Jeremy plays guitar and knows from experience how expensive it can be to buy several guitar pedals. He and Dallas realized after one of their engineering classes that they could make their own. They eventually came up with one that had interchangeable modules to create different distortions.

Vanya is a friend who stepped in initially to help with marketing and branding, and later the physical product. That collaboration proved successful as they won 1st place in the CREATE-X Idea to Prototype and a Golden Ticket to InVenture, where they won 2nd place and $10,000.

Jeremy and Dallas praise the work Vanya did to improve their product.

They said they wanted their company to be taken more seriously. As engineers they realized they did not have the branding background; and did not understand how to make their product look professional.

As a designer, Vanya brought a totally different perspective. Industrial design students are taught to think about the user as well as the product, she said. User experience is core to the industrial design curriculum.

With Vanya’s input, the pedal went from a clunky prototype to one that was sleek and compelling, said Craig Forest, an associate director at CREATE-X and an associate professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering.

Forest said part of his role is to evaluate projects at different stages. He was able to see the change in the product after Vanya started working with Dallas and Jeremy.

From logo to power point to design, the product looked more real and more compelling, he said. He described the change in the prototype as making it one that guitarists could imagine themselves using.

Dallas expressed the same sentiment. He said he believes they won Idea to Prototype because of Vanya’s help. “Our presentation looked more professional, more complete, we have logos, design.”

Fans of CREATE-X

The students speak highly of CREATE-X.

Vanya said that she would encourage her ID peers to become involved. She said many have creative ideas that could become business opportunities.

Her friends are doing personal projects on the side in engineering and computing, and she said she would encourage them to look to Idea to Prototype because it provides the resources and mentorship they wouldn’t ordinarily have.

Jeremy and Dallas say they are big fans of CREATE-X program. They learned about the program after coming to Georgia Tech. They called it “the single best thing that differentiates Georgia Tech.”

They are working to refine their product more and take it to market.

However, Chininis and Sivakumar both stressed that there is no pressure for any of the students to start companies.

According to Chininis, “The idea is not, here is money you must be successful. It is more, here is your money, show your passion.”

The idea is that with the skills learned in CREATE-X, students will have the confidence to be successful at whatever they do.