Student spotlights

Student Spotlight: Innovation in China

August 16, 2018

Chris Richardson and his teammates having a discussion
Chris Richardson works with his teammates to develop and pitch an innovative product over the span of a 15-day intensive summer program in China.

Three VCU Political Science students were awarded scholarships through the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund. Baldacci, a VCU POLI alumni himself, cited students as “any university’s most important asset” and noted he and his wife Michelle were looking “forward to helping VCU students in achieving their full potential.”

Christopher Richardson (Political Science & Product Innovation, Class of May 2019), details his summer at the Asia-Pacific Innovation Academy in Shenzhen, China:

The Asia-Pacific Innovation Academy focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship and achieved this in a multicultural team setting. This year the focus of the program was artificial intelligence and smart cities. The rules were simple: Teams of five students formed around an idea and were told to be ready to pitch their ideas to investors on Day 15. The constraints were simple, too: You could only have two people with the same nationality on a team and no one from the same university. I was part of a team that initially focused on group purchasing, but we pivoted on Day 4 to working within the travel space to develop a solution that used machine learning to use pictures that users click on to determine consumer preferences and advise them of places to go when they travel. We pitched a holistic travel experience platform, looking at budget, location, length of time and preferences to suggest itineraries. Though we made it into the product sprint, we did not end up finishing in the top 10 because the investors were hesitant to invest in such a crowded, competitive and highly regulated market space.

The entire program occurred within the backdrop of Shenzhen, China. More than 75% of the world's consumer electronics are built within 100 km of this city and exported out through its ports, making it not only the first of the Special Economic Zones within China, but also one of the most successful. This provided for an ecosystem in innovation and entrepreneurship on a scale I have not witnessed anywhere else in the world through my travels. If I could think of it, I could have a prototype manufactured within 48 hours. Or, if it was an app or service, you could have those programmed and finished within 72 hours.

Other POLI students enjoying transformative learning experiences this summer due to support from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund were Maryum Elnasseh (Mass Communications and Political Science, Class of May 2020), who participated in the Going on Assignment in Prague study abroad program this summer, and Madeleine Murphy (Foreigh Language and Political Science, Class of May 2019), who participated in the VCU World Languages Curations + Modules Project, and who traveled to France this summer to conduct relevant field work.