Rice University team wins innovation challenge supported by Accenture
A team of students from Rice University may see their award-winning idea incorporated into programming from the nonprofit Smithsonian Institution — the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.
Rice’s Team Night Owls, made up of four undergraduates, recently won Accenture’s 2023 Innovation Challenge. The team’s winning concept: a three-month, six-town mobile bus exhibit designed to expose the Smithsonian to residents of rural areas in the U.S. One of the highlights of the exhibit would be an augmented reality/virtual reality feature.
The Rice team competed against more than 1,100 applicants. Participants were asked to “envision ways to deliver the spirit and wonder of in-person visits” at the Smithsonian to rural communities nationwide.
“Our biggest takeaway from the challenge was learning how to generate innovative ideas and then combine the best aspects from each one to include into one coherent solution,” says one of the team members, Sean Bishop.
Accenture is providing pro bono support to the Smithsonian to help turn the Rice team’s “Rural Routes” concept into reality. Ideally, the Smithsonian hopes to incorporate the team’s idea into its 2026 celebration of the country’s 250th birthday.
Officials say they liked the Rice team’s proposal because it would be a way for the organization to familiarize rural America with the Smithsonian while also collecting and displaying the stories of rural residents.
“We hope to amplify the voices of rural Americans and raise the visibility of their cultural stories,” the Smithsonian says in a statement provided to InnovationMap.
Nico Motta, a rising junior studying business and data science at Rice, says his team’s idea was born out of a desire to bring the Smithsonian to people and bring people to the Smithsonian.
“From there, two different ideas emerged that we eventually brought together. First, we connected the idea of campaign buses that allow political candidates to travel to smaller communities,” Motta tells InnovationMap. “Second, we researched existing Smithsonian initiatives and were intrigued by the Crossroads program, a stationary exhibit shipped out to community centers.”
The team then brainstormed ways to marry the two ideas. The result: the Rural Routes project.
Aside from Motta and Bishop, members of the Rice team are Eva Moughan, a rising junior studying math and operations research at Rice, and Austin Tran, a rising junior studying business and statistics.
Bishop, a rising senior studying chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice, says the Rural Routes entry stood out partly because the team:
- Dug into how to finance the exhibit.
- Supplied examples of similar projects that have achieved success.
- Folded augmented reality/virtual reality into the project.
Organizers believe the Rice team’s winning entry embodies the competition’s goal this year to generate “bold ideas and innovative thinking” about introducing more Americans to the Smithsonian.
“The Accenture Innovation Challenge invites students seeking to do well and do good to collaborate on solving real and real-time business challenges for leading nonprofits. The students’ innovative ideas make the nonprofit better able to achieve its mission, and together we work to implement the winning solution,” says Marty Rodgers, senior managing director of Accenture’s U.S. south region and executive sponsor of the Accenture Innovation Challenge.
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