Skip to main content

NKU Entrepreneurship Inspires Innovation Beyond the Classroom


June 5, 2019—  By bringing hands-on curriculum into the classroom, Northern Kentucky University’s Innovation Challenge makes applying entrepreneurship in real time a fun, interesting, and inventive experience. 

The Haile/US Bank College of Business’ Jeff Varrone created the Innovation Challenge curriculum and implemented it in his Entrepreneurship classes at NKU. The Innovation Challenge asks students to identify a problem or a need at NKU that they could acknowledge through the creation of their challenges; the stipulation that the students must focus on NKU gives the students a common base to work with and from. Once students identify a problem the next steps are to research the topic; to consider what their competition might be, such as on-campus solutions that already exist or what other schools are doing; and to narrow those problems into actionable solutions. 

In the Spring 2019 semester, two teams were identified as being particularly successful. The group that received an honorable mention facilitated an ice cream social; their team won $100 because of their ability to think on their feet and adapt their plans as issues arose. The winning team, who ran an outdoor corn hole activity, won $400 for their ability to attract customers and encourage interaction. This team had the most participants as a result of their well-organized planning; the team got 124 people to participate in their event in an hour. 

“It was really cool watching how effective just asking someone [to participate] was,” said Luke Lawson, part of the winning team. “Ninety percent of the people we asked were happy to participate. It was just really cool to see how a simple question could get someone to participate.” 

“The Innovation Challenge was a great experience, both because of the challenge we came up with but also because we got to raise awareness for not drinking and driving,” added Teammate Tyler Hoskins.

Creating a successful business in the time frame of an hour is challenging, which is the point; it exercises the ideas that are being presented in the courses that they are taking as entrepreneurship students and applies those ideas to reality. The students must decide on what will work for their challenge and what will bring the most engagement within a small amount of time.

“They are running a business that is only open for one hour, but that hour is their chance to be as successful as possible and to reach as many people as possible,” Varrone explains. 

Success, in this case, is measured by how many individuals made donations and interacted with the challenge rather than how much money is collected at the end of the day. The goal is to create an activity that people see value in and that they would be willing to pay to participate in, which teaches an important lesson on value exchange and gives it real-world context and application. 

The Innovation Challenges provide entrepreneurship students to experience the discipline in a very real, hands-on way; doing so allows students to apply what they learn in the classroom to what they do outside of it and what they will continue to do in the future.

Click here for more details on the Haile/US Bank College of Business’ Entrepreneurship program.

About the Haile/US Bank College of Business: With more than 2,000 students, the Haile/US Bank College of Business’ goal is to educate and connect with the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati business community by delivering globally relevant, innovative and sustainable programs and practices. The college offers 12 undergraduate degrees and three masters level programs. For more information, visit its website

About NKU: Founded in 1968, we are a growing metropolitan university of more than 14,000 students served by more than 2,000 faculty and staff on a thriving suburban campus near Cincinnati. Located in the quiet suburb of Highland Heights, Kentucky—just seven miles southeast of Cincinnati—we have become a leader in Greater Cincinnati and Kentucky by providing a private school education for a fraction of the cost. While we are one of the fastest growing universities in Kentucky, our professors still know our students' names. For more information, visit