McMillon Studio Team Partners With NWA Food Bank to Tackle Food Insecurity

Members of the overall winning team at the McMillon Innovation Studio's Fall 2022 Demo Day pose with the trophy from the competition. Pictured (from left) are Jack Norris, Jarrett Hobbs, Mason Moser, Ami Ino and Joseph Wilkin.
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Members of the overall winning team at the McMillon Innovation Studio's Fall 2022 Demo Day pose with the trophy from the competition. Pictured (from left) are Jack Norris, Jarrett Hobbs, Mason Moser, Ami Ino and Joseph Wilkin.

An interdisciplinary student team that developed a tool to improve logistics for the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank's mobile pantry was named the overall winner at the McMillon Innovation Studio's Fall 2022 Demo Day.

The Innovation Studio team tackled the mobile pantry's challenge in allocating food supplies that had been hindered by a lack of useable data. Through the creation of a digital dashboard that gathered user information — phone number, location, household size and check-in status — the team improved the estimation and distribution processes for the food bank.

"The 'human-centered design' mindset that (the studio) preaches allowed us to really step into the shoes of who we were creating solutions for, ensuring that we were able to tailor whatever we created to their needs," said team leader Jack Norris.

Established in 1988, the NWA Food Bank stores and distributes food to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and food-insecure families and individuals across four counties in Northwest Arkansas. Its mobile pantry makes monthly stops at 20 cities across Arkansas and provides shelf-stable products, frozen protein and fresh produce on a first-come, first-served basis, according to its website.

While the studio team found the mobile pantry reaches residents who are food insecure, there have been instances of people being turned away due to depleted supplies.

Norris, a junior majoring in computer science, said several of his teammates were drawn to the Food Bank's challenge because most had experience with service-oriented organizations.

"Personally, when I read that the Food Bank was looking to find ways to be more efficient, coming from a computer science background, I figured that technology would be one of the best ways to do this," Norris said.

Held twice a year, Demo Day is the Innovation Studio's capstone event, showcasing the learnings and prototypes developed by student teams after a semester of guidance and mentorship. The fall event was held Dec. 7 at Adohi Hall. Winners received gift cards to local restaurants Plomo's and Prelude Breakfast Bar.

There were 18 teams working in the Innovation Studio this semester, and studio director Justin Urso expects the next cohort to be as big in Spring 2023.

"This is a great number of active teams in the studio as it allows us ample time to focus our work and meet regularly with the students," Urso said. 

Design teams followed three tracks in Fall 2022 — entrepreneurial, organizational and social — and tackled a range of emerging problems identified through partnerships with industry, non-profits and across campus.

Product teams, one of the newest programs out of the studio in the spring, also fielded three finalists in this year's event. Product teams specialize in a zero-to-one product management program, and many teams that have shown commercialization opportunity from their design teams move into product teams.

The newest program track, social impact design teams, was established thanks to a grant from the Alice Walton Foundation and became a particular focus during the semester, Urso said.

"Nearly all of the students that were project managers on social impact design teams had served as project managers on organizational innovation teams in the past," Urso said. "Their experience has been instrumental in furthering the scale and impact that the studio continues to have in our community and with our partner organizations."

Fall 2022 Demo Day winners

Organizational Design Teams

NWA Council Healthcare Transformation

  • Scope: How might we develop a referral and support system for individuals requiring in-patient psychiatric care?
  • Project lead: Nathania Nischal, junior, biomedical engineering
  • Team: Grace Hunley, sophomore, supply chain management; Aly Navarro, junior, biomedical engineering; Hector Salinas, senior, computer science
  • Mentor: Ryan Cork, executive director of healthcare transformation, NWA Council

Product Teams

Care Share

  • Scope: A platform that pairs small businesses with healthcare providers in order to share the cost of care between employer and employees when traditional insurance is not economical.
  • Project lead: Alex Cummings, junior, economics
  • Team: Jayson Holt, sophomore, pre-business; Evan Yu, junior, finance
  • Mentor: Amanda Echegoyen, chief operating officer, Community Clinic NWA

Social Impact Design Teams

NWA Food Bank (Overall Demo Day winner)

  • Scope: How might we improve the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank's Mobile Pantry model?
  • Project lead: Jack Norris, junior, computer science
  • Team: Jarrett Hobbs, senior, computer science and computer engineering; Ami Ino, sophomore, international business and economics; Mason Moser, sophomore, finance; Joseph Wilkin, junior, computer science
  • Mentor: Lindsey Russell, direct services coordinator, NWA Food Bank

Teen Action Support Center

  • Scope: How might we increase community engagement with TASC's mission?
  • Project lead: Mitchelle Bylak, junior, computer science and music
  • Team: Laryssa Alvarado, freshman, international business and economics; Avery Cyrenne, senior, graphic design
  • Mentor: Brittany Moody, director of program design and development, Teen Action & Support Center (TASC)

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.

Contacts

Brandon Howard, communications and social media specialist
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
479-418-4803, bjhoward@uark.edu

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