University hosts third Shoals Big Idea competition

The third annual Shoals Big Idea competition is March 9, 5-7 p.m. in the Gulliot University Center Performance Center. Creative minds from kindergarteners to college students and community members in the Shoals will present their innovative ideas.

The finalists for the competition will present their ideas, and the top three winners for each category will receive a cash prize up to $300.

The judges will announce the winners at the end of the event. There is no cost to attend.

“The purpose of the Big Idea Competition is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship by getting the community to imagine the Shoals as the next leader in digital technology,” according to the Shoals Big Idea website. “We hope that some of your ideas will lead to business opportunities and the possibility of creating those opportunities in the Shoals.”

Digital technology is the use of scientific and engineering knowledge to create practical uses of digital or computerized devices and methods.

The competition will consist of individuals and teams, and some may have multiple ideas.

Last year, there were 29 ideas submitted and the sponsor, Listerhill Credit Union, wrote 10 checks totaling $3,250 to the winners.

Ben Hillis, a fifth-grader at Hibbett Middle School in Florence, won first place in the middle/high school category for his electric bicycle idea.

The community winners, Jason Strayhorn and Hope Lowery, working with tech developer Brian Williams, took first place for their app that would connect farmers with their customers.

First place in the university category went to UNA senior Isabella Roland for her “Smart Parking” concept, which consisted of an app that would allow student to see available parking spots on campus.

“I think it would be great if some UNA students could pitch ideas to make campus better,” said junior Rahsaun Fletcher.

The keynote speaker is Deborah E. Barnhart, chief aexecutive officer and executive director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Santanu Borah, professor of management and marketing, said the competition is a great opportunity to make the community better by listening to younger generations’ ideas about digital technology. Companies like Apple, Facebook, Wal-Mart, Airbnb and Google derived from big ideas to fulfill a need in a community.

“The younger generation doesn’t operate on old assumptions,” Borah said. “They see a gap in the community needs, and they fill it. That’s why we need competitions like this to encourage this younger generation of innovators.

“It’s a great way for a diverse group of people to get together and solve problems in the community and to show young people they can take control of their own destinies.”

Listerhill Credit Union is presenting the event. Sponsors are No’Ala Studios, PartyPros, the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and the city of Florence.

Senior Hannah Coates said she is happy someone is encouraging young people.

“A lot of times great ideas get overlooked just because someone isn’t a certain age,” she said. “It’s the young people who make the changes that really matter, and I’m glad that Florence has realized that.”