Entrepreneurship center hosts sustainable container design challenge to inspire Mason students

girls at a table
Students participating in the Spring 2022 Container Design Challenge make origami containers as ice-breaking activity. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

Dhaksha Kannan, a sophomore in George Mason University’s Honors College, wants to help the community put its “best carbon footprint forward.” Kannan, a computer science major, also considers herself to be an inventive person who enjoys a little competition here and there.

That’s why Kannan is participating in the 2022 Spring Container Design Challenge, in which students can work in teams or individually to create returnable, reusable and sustainable food or beverage containers.

“This competition seems like a good outlet for my creativity and my concern about the environment,” Kannan said.

Mason’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, part of the School of Business, is hosting the design challenge as part of an ongoing partnership with the City of Fairfax Economic Development Authority. An informational video on the spring container challenge can be found here. Students interested in participating can register here.

“Our container challenge is a way for students to be creative and test out sustainable container ideas without having to finance their explorations,” said Rebecca Howick, interim director of the center. “We are grateful to have such amazing partners on and off campus to provide this experiential learning opportunity for Mason students.”

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Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Crystal Fickers discusses the details of the container-making competition. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

Workshops will be available throughout the semester where student teams can ask questions of local design experts.

Students have until the end of the spring semester to submit their designs and prototypes, which will be judged on elegance, feasibility, market value potential and sustainability. The ideas must be unique and not currently available in the marketplace. Participating student teams must submit their final prototypes by April 22. Winners will be announced by May 6.

First prize will be worth $1,275, with $1,000 going toward supplies for prototype implementation and $275 toward membership to Nova Labs Makerspace in Fairfax for each team member. The first place winner also gets to present their idea to the Mason community at The Depot, the center’s farm, food and beverage retail pop-up program, and to City of Fairfax restaurant owners.

Last week, interested students gathered at the Mason Innovation Exchange for an informational session during which they discussed their ideas and got to know each other.

Andres Jordan, an adjunct professor specializing in design thinking for innovative operations, said the project “opens up student minds to new possibilities.” Jordan was on hand to talk to the students about design innovation.

During the gathering, the students and some of the faculty made origami containers and practiced pitching their creations as superior to the others.

“We used the origami as an icebreaker and a simulation of the entire challenge,” said Crystal Fickers, the center's program manager.

The students attending the informational session appeared determined to participate in the overall design challenge. Ha Le, a sophomore majoring in computer science, already knows what she wants to build—a container using natural materials, such as leaves.

“This is an amazing experience,” Le said. “Who knows? With this project, we could create something, bring it to market and maybe sell it.”

Sydnee Wright, a junior majoring in finance, said the project gives her an opportunity to be a “part of the solution” in fighting climate change. Wright is working on a prototype for a container to transport fresh meat.

“This project is in line with the things I’ve learned at Mason about having your ideas and moving them forward,” Wright said. “It’s a chance to be innovative and have fun doing it.”