Innovation Task Force Awards Scholarships to Two Students

Winners’ business ideas net $50,000 prizes in first ITF competition.

Dave Lawlor, Alex Schneider, Joe Holleran, Steven Knapp
(From left) Senior Associate Vice President for Finance Dave Lawlor and ITF scholarship winners Alex Schneider and Joe Holleran met with President Steven Knapp last week.
April 07, 2014

By James Irwin

Two students will receive $50,000 scholarships in the George Washington University’s first Innovation Task Force scholarship competition.

Alex Schneider, a second-year Law School student, and Joe Holleran, a junior in the School of Business, were announced as the winners of the ITF scholarship contest Monday. The two students, who established business plans and went through three rounds of review—including presentations before a panel of judges in late March—will each receive a $50,000 scholarship and have their ideas implemented by the university.

ITF, established by President Steven Knapp in 2009, has brought students, faculty and staff together to improve GW’s business processes and advance academic priorities. Mr. Schneider proposed an idea for computer energy conservation. Mr. Holleran’s plan centers on international payment solutions.

“Transformative ideas like these are making a huge difference at our institution,” Dr. Knapp said. “We are delighted by the progress of our Innovation Task Force and the imaginative ways in which our students, staff, and faculty are contributing to this effort.”

Mr. Schneider’s energy conservation plan, based on an estimated 120 hours a week that university computers are not in use, focuses on implementing Energy Star management settings to campus electronics, outfitting equipment to draw less energy and engaging the GW community on the benefits of implementation.

“Energy Star has an old saying: ‘Money isn’t all you’re saving,’” Mr. Schneider said. “I think that’s key here. This goes to the sustainability mission of the institution. I think it speaks to students interested in sustainability and adds to the ITF portfolio.”

Mr. Holleran’s idea grew out of his own GW experience. As an international student from England, he had the additional hurdle of currency exchange when it came to making tuition payments and having spending money while in the United States. Currency exchange can be done through banks, but Mr. Holleran found the potential to save money by using Western Union or World First instead because those organizations take a smaller fee off the top.

“There’s a difference between the live market exchange rate and the exchange rate that people are actually getting,” Mr. Holleran said. “The difference is how banks and brokers make their profits. World First’s overheads are extremely low—lower per transaction than banks. The savings are higher.”

Dave Lawlor, Alex Schneider, Joe Holleran

Alex Schneider, flanked by Dave Lawlor and Joe Holleran, proposed an idea for computer energy conservation. Mr. Holleran, right, created a plan for international payment solutions.

Forty-seven ideas were submitted for the ITF scholarship competition last fall, and five second-round qualifiers put together business plans with help from volunteer mentors. Those plans were reviewed by a business plan committee of faculty, staff and students in January. University Provost Steven Lerman, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz and Senior Associate Vice President for Finance Dave Lawlor made up the three-person panel for the final presentations, which were held March 21.

“We had a very strong pool to select from, and these two winning ideas will directly benefit university stakeholders,” said Mr. Lawlor, who serves as ITF chairman. “From an energy consumption standpoint we now have new ways to reduce energy costs while also complementing our sustainability efforts. On the cost foreign exchange side we’ve found a way to leverage our size as a university to directly and immediately benefit each international student coming to GW.”

Presidential Administrative Fellow and graduate student Christopher Kim, B.A. ’13, served as project manager for the competition. He was supported administratively by Megan Flood, project manager in the Office of the Vice President for Research, and Robert Snyder, executive director of planning and outreach for student affairs.

The mentors, paired with semifinalists based on subject matter, played a large role in helping ideas become detailed plans.

“They brought a lot of expertise; they’ve seen some of these issues before,” Mr. Schneider said. “The ITF committee also had ideas throughout the process. And I found out a lot of things the university already is doing, which was interesting.”

The two winners were notified last week and met with Dr. Knapp on Friday.

“The opportunity to present in front of the provost, Dave Lawlor and Lou Katz was amazing, as was having the opportunity to meet with President Knapp,” Mr. Holleran said. “The competition has been a fun experience and a learning experience, and it would have been those things whether I got the scholarship or not.”