It started as an idea. That idea took a team consisting of two physics majors, a marketing major and a liberal studies major to bring it to life.
“We had some time, some parts and we just started throwing around the idea of what kind of proof of concept does Georgia College need, and what can we provide from the research lab that I work in,” said Nick Palmer. “One day, we did an inventory of the lab and realized we had enough parts to build a basic charging station. So, the next day, I asked can I make it look like a flower?”
Luma, an 11-total-foot-tall, free-standing, solar charging station that features five panels shaped as petals, was born. With the guidance from Assistant Professor of Physics Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge, the charging station design was completed by Palmer and senior physics major Hani Sharif by the end of the fall 2018 semester.
Mahabaduge let Palmer know that Luma could have further applications during the start of spring 2019 semester—namely the 2019 Georgia InVenture Prize. What was created as an educational tool to engage campus on solar energy, became an opportunity for Palmer to compile a team of GC’s best minds to turn Luma into a marketable product.
The InVenture Prize is an interdisciplinary innovation competition that brings together students from across Georgia to compete for patents and prizes before a panel of three judges. Team Luma, made up of Palmer, Sharif, Erin Dickman and Abigail Quick was one of 19 teams that were invited to compete in early April.
“This was definitely out of my comfort zone. I’ve never worked tech,” said Erin Dickman, senior liberal studies major with a minor in Spanish and Latin American culture. “This was the first time I was getting my foot in the door into anything solar, anything energy, or STEM. Having Nick and Hani explain things in technical lingo and then having to Google and translate it into layman’s terms was eye-opening. I realized this is what people who aren’t involved in the tech industry need”
Dickman took the lead on translating the market research conducted by senior marketing major Abigail Quick and the technical aspects of the product explained by Sharif and Palmer into a succinct 2 ½ minute pitch to the judges.
Quick, a senior marketing major, had the task of conducting market research. She began by asking questions like who are the competitors, how much was spent, what can it do and what can’t it do. From there, she created a survey to learn what people thought of the product and what they’d pay for it. She also dug into census records, looking at incomes of people in their target range and how it translates to Luma.
“The biggest takeaway was seeing everything in my year’s as an undergrad come full circle,” Quick said. “It was kind of cool to see that I have learned so much, I know what I’m doing and I can work on a project like this and use what I’ve learned to make a difference.”
The competition was April 3 in Atlanta and, by the luck of the draw, team Luma was the first to pitch. While it could have been nerve-racking, Palmer said one of the highlights of the experience was the pure glee of seeing Luma, a towering beacon of all the work the team had done, standing amongst the other competitors who mostly had apps or smaller, handheld inventions.
“What was an incredible moment was that, because we had set up Luma in the same place where there were introductory meetings for the students, everyone saw it as they came in. So, they open the door to the studio, and you just see this giant flower,” said Palmer. “There’s a picture of all the students in the meetin, and you can just see this big flower behind all of us, and I’m grinning like crazy.
Another bright spot in the competition was the amount of support the team noticed from all the other competitors that hailed from institutions around Georgia.
“It was so nice to come into a competition like this and everybody be so supportive. Everyone was commenting on how awesome the products were,” said Palmer. “Everyone was trying to find a new way that they can help the other person—maybe their product could help them this way or maybe consider this market.”
The team didn’t make it to the top five finalists, but Palmer said it didn’t faze him or the team.
“It was the first competition that I’ve been in that from it started to the moment it ended, no matter my momentary emotional change, it was all positive. It was all incredible,” said Palmer. “In the last couple of weeks, to see the team come together and really become stronger, answer tough questions and nail the pitch—it was amazing. It was a great opportunity to see the breadth of talent in Georgia and know that we can compete alongside them.”
The competition and all the work she’s done with Luma has altered Dickman’s future, where once she never really considered entering into the tech field. Working on and competing in the tech industry has given her a new perspective.
“It was liberating- That’s the best word to use. It was exciting to hear different mindsets outside of your normal field, contribute and add and enhance an entire piece of work.” said Dickman. “I don’t think people recognize the importance of that. A lot of people were in the tech industry at the competition, and I felt like I was one of the only non-tech people there. It gave me a really interesting perspective because it showed the importance of having different minds, even completely outside the realm, go into these areas and explore them so you can make it accessible to other people, regardless of the industry.”
Palmer said the future of Luma is at Georgia College, where he had envisioned it being in the very beginning. He hopes to see it on front campus, being used to charge laptops and cellphones or Tent City during Homecoming.
“I started with almost no research skills, and now I’m leaving a successful grant writer of $22,000 for the school, I’ve done startup competition because of it and one of my research articles is going to be published,” said Palmer. If that doesn’t speak to the extent to what individualized education can grant, I don’t know what does.”