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Algorithm for social media analytics earns Scripps Innovation Challenge grand prize

Apr 22, 2014

Scripps College of Communication Dean Scott Titsworth presents the $10,000 first prize to Naeem Gul, Ehsan Ardjmand and Enakshi Roy at the Scripps Innovation Challenge Pitch Day event on April 21. / Photos by Megan Westervelt

Algorithm for social media analytics earns Scripps Innovation Challenge top prize

Two teams win $10K apiece, five additional receive $1000

By Erin Roberts

ATHENS, Ohio (April 22, 2014)—The second annual Scripps Innovation Challenge, a media innovation contest sponsored by the Scripps College of Communication and open to all students at Ohio University, concluded Monday, April 21 on the main campus of Ohio University in Athens when Team E.G. 501 took home the $10,000 first prize for its pitch to monetize the Columbus Dispatch’s 190,000 Twitter followers through identifying communities on social media and customizing tweets to better serve existing followers.

The team, comprised of Ehsan Ardjmand, Naeem Gul and Enakshi Roy, called their innovation CATS, which stands for clustering, audience targeting, and shooting. 

“This system will help the editors craft the tweet, help the marketing to match the content of their tweets to the advertisers and help the data guys focus on emerging trends in realtime,” said Roy, who presented on behalf of the trio. 

Ardjmand, a doctoral candidate in Industrial and Systems Engineering; Gull, a graduate student in International and Development Studies; and Roy, a doctoral student in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism are apartment mates and said they had time to fully discuss and think through their idea to monetize Twitter followers. 

“We had a lot of time to talk about it,” said Gul, a Fulbright scholar from Pakistan. “We started with a concept and began to add elements. We got the idea to cluster the communities and target the messages, and Ehsan was instrumental in that work.”

While the team members recognized there are existing social media companies that crunch the “big data,” they maintain their CATS system is the only one that detects communities among organization’s followers and analyzes and then uses that information to improve an organization’s social media practices. Revenue for the company would be funded by subscription fees.

In all, seven finalist teams presented their pitches to four judges during Pitch Day, conducted from 2 to 5 p.m. in Baker Center Ballroom. The second prize of $5,000 and diversity enhancement prize, also $5,000, were awarded to Team Casino Loyale, comprised of Alyssa Pasicznyk, Kelsey Hoak, Avery T. Jennings, Olivia Bevan and Alex George. The team chose to tackle the challenge of creating a loyalty program to increase a news organization’s audience and came up with an idea to let users rack up points that they could use as coupons or special offers with local partners.

This year’s challenge drew 31 entries from 28 teams representing students from majors across the university, including mechanical engineering, meteorology, information and telecommunication systems, journalism, finance and marketing, strategic communication, and visual communication, among others. On March 26, the seven finalists were announced at the Scripps Celebration.

One of the goals of this year’s challenge was to provide more resources and opportunities for learning throughout the year. Also new this year was the $5,000 diversity enhancement prize for the team whose solution best reached underserved and underrepresented audiences.

For many area innovators, the challenge is a chance to see Ohio University students in action as well as a glimpse into what emerging ideas might go further than the contest. 

“I think the Scripps Innovation Challenge is an excellent opportunity for students to look at the problems out there and come up with market-driven solutions,” said Jennifer Simon, director of the Innovation Center at Ohio University. “We look at these pitches as a potential pipeline for the Innovation Center; we look for strong teams and ideas.” 

Judges for Pitch Day include Retha Hill, executive director of the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at Arizona State University; Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab at American University; William Crowder, managing director of DreamIt Ventures in Philadelphia; and Ryan Lytle, social projects manager at Mashable.

Five of the finalist teams were awarded $1,000 honorable mention prizes. They include:

  • Team AIRheads with Arielle Patterson, Rachel Bailey and Morgan Eastman
  • Let’s Connect with Sanusi Shehu and Freddy Rubenga 
  • Pivot with Sam Fox, Anthony Aerni, Jacob Betzner, Caitlyn John, Alexa Miller, and Carl Johnston 
  • Digital Convergence with Angela Reighard, Allen Henry, and Christa Lamendola
  • Merge Media (formerly Team Athena) with Lindsay Friedman, Alex Harshaw, Sierra Ferrier, Josh Aldrich and Sabrina Reda 

The contest is funded by a $3 million endowment for innovation given to the college by the Scripps Howard Foundation in 2006.

Scripps College of Communication Dean Scott Titsworth commended the students for their work. 

“I am truly impressed by the innovative solutions pitched by students today,” he said. “Let’s give them all another round of applause for their efforts.”

The event was live streamed, and a recording can be viewed at http://bit.ly/1kYqbEt. Additional details on the challenges can be found on the Innovation Challenge website at www.ohio.edu/scrippscollege/innovationchallenge.