By Peyton Rodgers ‘20
Interdisciplinary teamwork happens all the time at UNC Asheville. In the fall semester of 2019, four UNC Asheville students were given the opportunity to showcase that teamwork, and pitch their unique business ideas to local entrepreneurs at One Million Cups Asheville, bringing their ideas for the growth and benefit of their community that they developed in the classroom to a broader, professional stage.
Students Quinn McKearney, Zach Boone, Luther Wardle and Katherine Franks formed two interdisciplinary teams in the Ideas to Action Class, taught by Mary Lynn Manns, professor of management. The class invites students from all majors to develop social entrepreneurship ideas into plans, pitches and models under the guidance of mentors and advisors from the campus and Asheville community. These ideas are for businesses that do more than turn a profit; they also help change the world.
Quinn McKearney, senior in arts and entrepreneurship management with a focus in music, partnered with Zach Boone, a computer science major, to cultivate a project they called Scene Now. This project focused on the boosting the local music industry in the Asheville community using data analysis of various shows and venues.
McKearney and Boone tracked different variables necessary for the production of each show such as weather and advertising, along with audience demographics such as how many of the members are female identifying, and if any of the members are people of color or LGBTQ+.
After collecting the data, they continued with information about the venue, such as how much, if any, money the venue and band made. With this information McKearney and Boone hope to accurately understand the attendance of the show and how much money they will profit.
McKearney and Boone found this information to be beneficial for bands and venues to become more successful in their future bookings.
“We really want to focus on the DIY musician who’s still working the service industry job, that kind of thing, because these people are really important to the community,” McKearney said. “A lot of times they don’t get any sort of help or even outside interest from people outside of the music scene.”
McKearney recognizes the struggles artists must overcome in the start of their career and hopes this data will help upcoming artists thrive.
McKearney became inspired to start this project from his own history in music. After coming to Asheville when he was a high school sophomore to play in a show, he became fascinated with the Asheville music scene.
“A lot of the inspiration came from going to shows and being in one of five people in the room,” McKearney said. “But then seeing the artists up there trying their best, and in my mind really being great, great artists, great musicians, it’s definitely inspiration. I want to get these people better crowds, because I think that a lot of people deserve it.”
After presenting their project at One Million Cups, McKearney got the opportunity to network and share ideas with other like-minded people along with gaining experience of pitching his personal ideas.
Luther Wardle, sociology major with computer science minor, and Katherine Franks, an economics major, created a comprehensive study tool suite called “reSight,” a multi-sensory accessibility application for individuals with reading impairments to provide alternative learning methods in higher education. The aim is to help students by utilizing assistive technology, adapted to meet student’s individual learning styles.
With this web app, users are able to build study tools out of any document source, such as an image or PDF; take notes; use speech-to-text and text-to-speech; and form notes by highlighting text.
“The goal is to allow a note sharing ability that will actually allow organizations to take those notes and put them on a newsfeed of sorts where students can share notes they’ve gathered from documentation,” Wardle said. “We feel like that’s very effective for group learning.”
This tool also is useful to teachers and professors by providing insight on the ways a student is learning, even if the teacher isn’t directly involved with that student.
“The goal is to facilitate a suite of tools that can provide a stronger learning environment to improve reading comprehension for students,” said Wardle, who worked under the guidance of Brian Drawert, assistant professor of computer science, while developing the app.
Wardle and Franks allowed their project to evolve throughout the production process with self-taught research and independent study. “The project constantly surprises me,” said Wardle, who would regularly study new programming processes to make their vision a reality. “We’ve had to evolve the way the actual features are designed and built to accommodate the language we’re using.”
Creating the product is just one part of the social entrepreneurship journey. Sharing your idea and building support is a crucial element, which Wardle and Franks got to experience at their presentation to the One Million Cups crowd.
“Well I got a cup, so it was a good experience,” Wardle joked. “Overwhelmingly we had very positive results and positive feedback from people.”
The experience also helped Wardle turn his focus from the development of the app to how the app would function as a tool used by people in the real world, and interact with entrepreneurs and developers with fresh perspectives and ideas.
Wardle plans to continue work on reSight even after graduation. “I’ve put too much work into this project for me to stop doing this project now,” he said. Though the technical work of the project is difficult, Wardle says he is motivated by the people close to him who would benefit from accessible learning technology. “This project has pushed me over the top, where I’ve realized that you have to look at failure as an obstacle that has to exist, and it has to be something that you perceive as something you’re going to get over.”
For more information, visit the Ideas to Action website.