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Issue Date: August 2013, Posted On: 8/2/2013

Suffolk professor discusses popular innovative ideas challenge
Inventor, businessman and entrepreneur Sushil Bhatia has founded multiple companies, established a large-scale distribution network for a Fortune 200 company, and served as the president and CEO of a manufacturer and global distributor of marking and coding equipment.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Suffolk University professor has flipped a small innovation challenge geared towards his classroom students into a $100,000 competition with global implications.

Recognizing his considerable efforts to grow the project, in 2012 Suffolk University named the challenge the Dr. Sushil Bhatia Competition for Innovative Ideas.

"It was a big honor to get that recognition from the university," Bhatia said. "I started it from scratch and have grown it like an entrepreneur."

As Bhatia explained to INDIA New England, the challenge initially formed back in 2006 after the professor joined Suffolk University full-time. Teaching courses on innovation and new product development, Bhatia's competition generally drew only 20 to 25 submissions — all from students enrolled in his development courses.

However, like a true entrepreneur, Bhatia eventually began expanding the challenge to a broader audience. After branching out to include Suffolk's entire business school, the professor ultimately was also able to get the entire university involved in the challenge.

And today, the general public — and not just Suffolk University students — have the option of submitting ideas for consideration.

"That's the whole point of the competition," Bhatia said in reference to including Suffolk University along with the public. "Expanding the competition gives it a more global reach and more people can connect to Suffolk University."

And just by looking at figures alone, it's clear more people are connecting to Suffolk through the challenge. Bhatia estimated roughly 300 submissions have been received for this year's competition — a substantial increase from the mere 20 to 25 entries from several years ago.

Those 300 submissions are broken down into a number of different award categories. This year's categories include freshman student, sophomore student, junior student, senior student, graduate student, and alumni award divisions.

Additionally, a Bottom of the Pyramid Award and a Urvashi Bhatia Green Product Award are both open to the general public.

The Bottom of the Pyramid Award recognizes inexpensive and useful products designed to help the billions of people around the world who earn just $2 a day.

On the other hand, the Urvashi Bhatia Green Product Award, which was named after Bhatia's wife, is given to ideas that meet environmental needs. "She has been my source of inspiration and a major force that has inspired some of my inventions," Bhatia said of his wife.

Along with an increase in award categories and submissions, the overall amount of prize money up for grabs has also skyrocketed. Since the program's inception in 2006, prize money has steadily increased: from $5,000 to $25,000, and later from $25,000 to $50,000.

Today, participants in the Dr. Sushil Bhatia Competition for Innovative Ideas compete for $100,000 in awards and other various services.

The judges, as Bhatia explained, are not associated with Suffolk University — a component that excludes prejudicial decisions during the deliberation process. Their connections to the outside world can also help winners enter into a much bigger market with their products.

And on that end, contest winners are required to draft product development plans to showcase how they intend on launching their novel ideas into actual marketplace products. "Not many of the ideas are converted into real products," Bhatia explained. "This forces them to take action."

It also forces them to take action because their award money is entirely dependent on these product development plans. Winners receive 25 percent of their award money based on these quarterly reports, according to Bhatia, with resources available to help them throughout the way.

The professor is also known for this unique teaching method, a style he has termed meditate and innovate. Focused on breathing and laughing, Bhatia says the style helps people open their minds.
He's also coined the phrase think neutral — a term he associates with calming the mind down to encourage creative and innovative thinking.

"Our brains are so overloaded with thoughts and ideas that we cannot properly sift through the various thoughts to think rationally and calmly. In such an overload, how, then, can we expect to create space in our head for new and innovative ideas to deal with our situation — be it personal or professional," Bhatia writes on his website.

"This is where yoga and the art of laughter come into the picture. Both work to clear the mind and the body of stress and thought overload," it continues. "When the mind is relieved of unnecessary thoughts space is created for new and innovative ideas to flow in."

His unique style has caught on with many — and not just his students. Bhatia has been interviewed on Good Morning America and CNN, while the Wall Street Journal also published a column on his meditate and innovate style of thinking.

To learn more about this year's Dr. Sushil Bhatia Competition for Innovative Ideas, visit www.suffolk.edu/innovativeideas.
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