Press Room

Smart Couch “Burrow” Wins the 2017 iDesign Prize

Philadelphia—At a public pitch session at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy on Tuesday, the University of Pennsylvania School of Design’s 2017 iDesign Prize was awarded to Burrow, a modular, luxury couch company that’s poised to revolutionize the way people buy and interact with their furniture. The team behind Burrow includes Wharton students Kabeer Chopra, Alex Kubo, and Stephen Kuhl, and Portland-based furniture designer Leah K.S. Amick.

Open to teams of aspiring entrepreneurs led by a Penn student, the annual iDesign competition was launched in 2015 to promote the design of physical objects that solve a real-world problem. The winning team receives $50,000 and mentoring from Penn faculty and alumni.

“Opportunities for innovation are all around us,” said Sarah Rottenberg, host of Tuesday’s event and Associate Director of the Integrated Product Design Program. “With Burrow, the jury was impressed by how fast the team seized the opportunity with a clever and well-designed product. They also made a strong case for how the iDesign Prize will help bring good design to more people, more quickly.”

Designed with the modern consumer in mind, Burrow is ordered online and ships free in easy-to-carry, compact packages. It can be assembled at home in under 10 minutes, without tools, with a 100-day trial. Launched earlier this month, Burrow has quickly attracted customers and national press coverage.

As Chopra said in the team’s presentation on Tuesday, “Burrow takes a luxury, mid-century modern sofa and reverse engineers it to ship in compact packaging, which cuts out several hundred dollars in cost. We’re able to combine a better product, and a better experience, at half the price of traditional retailers out there.”

Burrow was one of five designs in competition for the 2017 iDesign Prize. Other finalists included a baby bassinet developed in collaboration with Penn Medicine that allows new mothers to safely transfer their baby to and from the crib; an internet-and-cellular-free communications network intended to connect refugees with vital resources; a home pasta maker that uses bean flour instead of wheat flour to support vegetarian and gluten-free diets; and a fabrication appliance that combines the capabilities of a traditional lathe and 3D printer to meet the needs of jewelers, hobbyists, and medical device designers.

The final elimination round was judged by: Neil Epstein, Senior Creative Director, Comcast; Patrick FitzGerald, VP, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, The Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania; Holly Flanagan, Managing Director, Gabriel Investments; and Lisa Roberts (CW‘74), designer, author and TV personality.

The first-round jury consisted of alumni and PennDesign Overseers Jay Abramson (W‘83, L‘86), Laurence Goldberg (W‘89), Mason Haupt (W‘77) and Kevin Penn (W‘83). 

About the Jurors

Neil Epstein is Creative Director at Comcast, where he focuses on design, technology and information architecture. Epstein is an expert in what it takes to bring ideas to market, as well as what boundaries to push to foster new ideas. He is fascinated with good design and good gadgetry, and is passionate about physical design, digital design, and the environments they foster and create. Epstein has worked for Gabellini Sheppard Associates, Gothamist, frog design, Connected Ventures and Comcast. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Patrick FitzGerald’s role as Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania includes identifying potential spinouts, strategic partnerships, commercialization opportunities, early stage investment vehicles, and innovative devices, therapies and tools. Over the past decade, he has built or helped to build a variety of businesses, most notably Recyclebank, Nanny Caddy, Philadelphia Distilling, Deliveroo, ChargeItSpot, SeedInvest, Bungalow Insurance, Haystack Informatics, Mavuno Harvest, and Philly Car Share among many others. FitzGerald teaches entrepreneurship at the MBA and undergrad levels and is a formal mentor in Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program. Previously, he was Managing Director at DreamIt Ventures, one of the top startup accelerators in the country. He received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania and his JD from Fordham University School of Law.

Holly Flanagan is Managing Director of Gabriel Investments, an investment group that supports early-stage companies in the Philadelphia region by providing capital for high-potential business opportunities. She is also an “Aunt” in the Circle of Aunts and Uncles Investment Group, providing low-interest loans and social capital to under-resourced community-focused Philadelphia entrepreneurs. Flanagan has been a member of the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs and the Forum of Executive Women. She is an Eisenhower Fellow, focused on women entrepreneurs and investment in China and she just returned from a trip to India where she co-led a US Mission in India/US State Department seminar to empower and motivate women entrepreneurs. She holds a BA and MBA from the University of Delaware.

After a brief stint in architecture, Lisa S. Roberts (CW‘74) changed careers and became a product designer in the gift and home furnishing markets. After 25 years as a licensed designer to over 40 manufacturers, Roberts changed careers again and wrote two books on product design, Antiques of the Future and Design POP. She was also featured in a TV series on design titled My Design Life for the Ovation Network. Roberts is now working on her third book, a design book for children.

About the Integrated Product Design Program

The University of Pennsylvania's Integrated Product Design Master's program merges the disciplines of design, engineering and business for the purpose of creating compelling new products and experiences. The program is designed to train students in technology, business, manufacturing, aesthetics and human-product interaction and provide them with a framework for bringing these disciplines together to create something new. 

About PennDesign

PennDesign prepares students to address complex sociocultural and environmental issues through thoughtful inquiry, creative expression, and innovation. As a diverse community of scholars and practitioners, we are committed to advancing the public good–both locally and globally–through art, design, planning, and preservation.

Media Contact: Michael Grant,, 215.898.2539.