White Space Challenge kicks off its sixth year


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

The White Space Challenge is in its sixth year of its cross-university product design competition.

Sydney Hogan, Reporter

The White Space Product Development Challenge, an annual cross-university product design competition, is celebrating its sixth year. 

The White Space Challenge is organized by Northwestern’s Segal Professional Bridge, an organization that connects students interested in entrepreneurship with professors and professionals, and the Chicago Chapter of the Product Development Management Association, a professional society that promotes career-based product management. The winning team receives a cash prize of $2,500.

The term “white space” refers to an area of the market where there is an unmet need. 

“With the context of what it takes to solve a real, right-now problem in a way that is unique and creates an advantage, it’s an intricate design process,” said McCormick Prof. Dan Brown, an advisor at the SPB.

Brown said he started SPB to unite different professional organizations, such as mechanical engineering or design groups, to design new products and projects that share the same values. He partnered with PDMA to teach students how to design prototypes for their products and test them in the market. 

After the initial planning stage in the challenge, students receive an academic mentor and a professional mentor in the industry. 

While the competition is based at NU, students at schools like the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Illinois Institute of Technology will be participating this year.

Steve Jambor, the president of PDMA’s Chicago chapter, who started the White Space Challenge with Brown, said it’s a unique program. Instead of being solely business or engineering oriented like most collegiate competitions, this challenge focuses specifically on product development. 

Jambor said the main focus of the challenge is to ensure that the product fits market needs.

Though the majority of the participants from NU are in McCormick, students from different disciplines are encouraged to participate. In fact, Jambor said the strongest teams are multidisciplinary.

In the future, both Brown and Jambor hope the challenge can be expanded to the whole Midwest. 

The last day to register for the White Space Challenge is Jan. 29.

“They’re (students) even surprised by what they’re able to accomplish and how much fun they’ve had learning and doing the competition,” Jambor said.

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