SOUTH BEND -- Schurz Communications has issued an innovation challenge to students and faculty at Indiana University's School of Informatics and Computing.
The challenge -- to find real-world digital solutions and opportunities for 21st-century media companies -- begins this semester and it comes with a monetary prize for a winning innovator.
"The prize is part of the motivation. It is like the shiny new penny that gets your attention," said Kerry Oslund, vice president of digital media at the South Bend-based media company, which owns The Tribune and WSBT-TV and Radio.
"But, what really matters to (the university) is infusing their program with an entrepreneurial spirit. They want real-world problems so they can build interesting solutions around them."
The company provided $25,000 to the school, which it can use for course development and equipment. However, Schurz mandated that a large portion of the gift must be set aside to provide prizes for winning prototypes and concepts.
Schurz will talk with participants about problems facing the media that, if solved, could have positive impacts on both society and business. The company will also provide real-world data sets from its various types of media businesses and vendors, including cable, high-speed data, TV, print, radio and digital media.
Schurz is collaborating on a similar program at the University of Notre Dame's College of Engineering, where students will look at the use of mobile technology for media purposes. Examples of prototypes could include smart hone and tablet applications.
Oslund believes some of the next great ideas will come from university students and their mentors.
"We'll show them our problems and the tools we have to work with and then get out of their way and allow them to bring their creativity to the problem," he said. "They will look at our world differently than we do and will come up with new ways of looking at this."
Winning innovators will present their ideas to Schurz and its investment partners, who might work with them to obtain intellectual property or licensing rights.
"A company the size of ours doesn't get a lot of early looks," Oslund said. "We want to put ourselves in the position to get a look at early stage ideas and business opportunities."
Schurz is also in advanced conversations with Purdue University and is looking forward to talking with Ball State University in Muncie.
For centuries, media groups have offered prizes for innovation. Similar contests have helped grow the automotive and aviation industries.
"Newspapers were doing this and then telling the stories along the way," Oslund said. "Perhaps it's in our DNA and it's an interesting way to recruit and find solutions for our many problems."
Staff writer Alice Culp: