MBA Students Pitch New Flash Drives


 Not long ago, a USB flash drive was an expensive and coveted device. In 2000, a flash drive with just 510KB of memory went for a whopping $19.99. Today, consumers can get 32GB of storage for the same price. Despite plummeting costs, flash drives have remained relatively unchanged.

Last semester, however, MBA students in the Sawyer Business School's MBA-North Campus Program received a unique challenge. Nigel Waites, former chief technology officer of Best Buy and current Principal at Skusion LLC, asked them to develop a new-and-improved flash drive.

The eight students in Professor Stephen Golden’s Global Innovation & New Product Development in Virtual Team course (MGES 906) were divided into two teams, with each group developing a different new-use model.

Under the guidance of Golden, who has helped bring more than 100 electronic products and services to market, the students worked collaboratively and engaged in dynamic and interactive brainstorming sessions. MBA student and entrepreneur Christina Minicucci found Golden to be “amazingly helpful.” He consistently offered detailed feedback and new resources along every step of the project, she said.

One team focused on technical innovation, while the other created a new design for the flash drive. Golden said it was “exciting” to see the students go in such different directions.

Minicucci’s group developed a USB flash drive that functions as a transmitter rather than a storage device. The new product, according to Minicucci, will make it easier to transfer files between electronic devices.

Jacquelin Brogan’s group took another approach. They developed the USB-To-Go, which clips onto cell phone cases. The redesigned product is convenient, cost-effective, and less likely to become lost or stolen, she said.

During the weekly classes, the students Skyped with factories, design houses, retailers, distributors, and patent attorneys from around the world to refine their ideas. They also interacted with product development teams from several major international retailers, including Best Buy, Staples, Synnex (Canada), and Wal-Mart.

Then after weeks of preparation, the students gave live presentations to potential investors. The final judges included Waites, Vice President of iRobot Richard Campbell, Senior Director of Product Development at Flextronics, and past Vice President of Marketing at ZipCar Victoria Godfrey.

Pitching ideas to real executives “energizes you in a different way,” Minicucci said, adding that both groups intended to take further steps toward commercializing their products.

“The ultimate goal of the course is for the students to continue to pursue their product development,” Golden said. “These products really could end up in a retail store in the future, which is exciting for not only for the students, but also the University.”

Other courses are theoretical, providing a foundation of knowledge, but this is where students “pull all of these pieces together in a real-life situation and try to develop and sell a product, a real product,” Golden said.

The ability to innovate and develop new products is essential, especially in today’s global environment. Successful business leaders need to find new ways to cultivate innovation and harness the talent of people at multiple locations, Golden said.

Suffolk University’s new MBA-North Campus is located at the Riverwalk Properties in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The location, in combination with the Boston campus and online option, allow MBA students the flexibility to select courses based on their interests and schedules.