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This year’s Butterworth Product Development Competition was finally in person again, after the global pandemic forced a 2020 cancellation and 2021 virtual edition. Sponsored annually since 2010 by UCI alumnus Paul Butterworth, the competition offers students from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) a unique opportunity to team up with other UCI students and experience real-world product development and entrepreneurship.

The Henry Samueli School of Engineering launched a similar program in 2014 — the Beall Student Design Competition — and the two complementary competitions have been held together ever since. Last November, the two schools held their 2022 kick-off event, and on May 25, 2022, the winners were announced, receiving more than $40,000 in prizes and awards.

“It was good to be back in person and back in full swing, engaging with students,” says UCI alumnus David Ochi, the Beall and Butterworth Competition director. “It changes the whole dynamic when you get that face-to-face time.”

The practical application of skills learned, and knowledge gained from meeting with a panel of judges with industry experience, enhances students’ education and portfolios. “There’s a huge value in looking beyond a professor’s approval,” says Ochi. “This competition forces students to move outside of the classroom, with an eye toward market opportunity and introduction.”

David Ochi and ICS Dean Marios Papaefthymiou with Butterworth student finalists at the May 25, 2022 Awards Ceremony.

2022 Butterworth Winners
The six-month competition started with more than 100 students forming 24 teams, and participants had the opportunity to attend six workshops to learn about design concepts, pretotyping (low-fidelity prototyping), user-centered design, the design-to-success journey, designing for experiences, and the process of turning ideas into reality. After the midpoint review, at which point the teams pitched their products to the judges for the first time, 18 teams remained.

“Unique to this competition is the midpoint review,” explains Ochi. “Having our team of judges listen to short pitches and provide feedback early on helps fill the inexperience gap and is a core part of the competition. It truly helps the teams refine their work for their final presentations.”

In the end, 10 finalists battled for the top three prizes.

Online farmer’s marketplace. First place, and $10,000, went to Leprendo, an online farmer’s marketplace that brings specialty farm produce directly to consumers. An online presentation walks you through the marketplace, created by computer science major Dylan Riffle, computer science and engineering major Kanu Chandra, business administration major Dan Ta, and psychological sciences major Nina Nguyen.

David Ochi (far left) and ICS Dean Marios Papaefthymiou (far right) present members of the winning team, (from left) Dan Ta, Kanu Chandra, and Dylan Riffle (Nina Nguyen not pictured), with a $10,000 check.

“The Butterworth Competition was a wonderful experience. By developing our pitch deck and going through the competition, we learned the importance of being able to combine the technical development of a product with business development and communicate this effectively,” says Riffle. “We were forced to reflect on how each feature will affect the sales cycle, customer retention and overall product market fit. Looking forward, we are continuing to develop Leprendo over the summer and trying to reach organic revenue goals by the start of fall quarter.”

Ochi says their idea of “digitizing the farmer’s market” shows great promise. “I think they have a good shot at getting into the Wayfinder program and having continued success beyond,” he says, noting that all participating teams have access to UCI’s ANTrepreneur Center and preferred application status for the UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder program, a structured incubator that connects UC-affiliated startups with the resources needed to launch their product.

Dining hall on wheels. Second place, and $6,500, went to FoodPool, an app for affordable food delivery to students, developed by computer science majors Patrick Wang and Arthur Lafrance, computer science and engineering major Sanghyun Byun, and computer engineering major Kevin Xu. As the students discuss, this “dining hall on wheels” only came after the team ditched their original idea. “Our second place team almost dropped out of the competition, because there was no demand for the app they originally built,” says Ochi. “But they were able to learn from the market and pivot.”

In addition to taking second place in the Butterworth competition, the team also recently reported that they are participating in the Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship, an eight-week summer program that supports student entrepreneurship.

Safer cities for cyclists. Taking third place and receiving $3,500 was Consense, an Internet of Things (IoT) system that leverages crowd-sourced data to make cities safer for cyclists. Computer science graduate student Richard DeAmicis, computer science major Lily He, computer science and engineering major Ado Ibori, and MBA student Melissa Yuenn collaborated on the system, and they too were forced to reevaluate their original design. “They wanted to create a system to help cyclists on the road know what’s behind them, but it wasn’t practical,” says Ochi. “They instead made a shift in customer, realizing that they could create an incredibly valuable tool for cities, identifying places to widen bike paths, build barriers and take other city-level action.” An online demo of the final prototype shows a heatmap of vehicle violations, where cars came within three feet of a cyclist.

Join the 2023 Competition
If you are an ICS student interested in joining the 2023 Butterworth Product Development Competition, consider adding “Entrepreneurship” (ICS 80 and CS 295) in the fall. Ochi will be teaching a four-unit elective course focused on turning ideas into reality from a technologist’s perspective. A second quarter of innovation and product design will also be offered in the winter.

With or without the course, Ochi encourages students to join the competition.

“It fosters a sense of accomplishment and ownership that extends outside of the classroom and transcends the quarter-system timeline,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to help students apply what they learn — and it’s not just for seniors. It’s great for younger competitors. In fact, many of the winners in the past have competed as first- and second-year students.”

So if you want to get a taste of a capstone class before your senior year, or if you have a product idea you’re ready to explore, join the 2023 competition. Any UCI student is welcome to compete, as long as at least one ICS student is on the team.

“It’s unique in that it’s not a business plan competition, and you’re not just coding,” says Ochi. “It’s about learning how you design something and then turn that design into an actual product. Whether you become an entrepreneur or not, it’s a valuable resume builder and, more importantly, a ton of fun!”

— Shani Murray