Weitzman News

Posted April 17, 2018
  • Two members of the winning team behind Chipper, Haley Russel (center left) and Laura Colagrande (center right), along with jurors for the 2018 iDesignPrize

Students’ Sustainable Pet Food Wins $50,000 iDesign Prize

It was a big night for Chipper.

Last week, the specialty pet food designed by graduate students Laura Colagrande (Department of Architecture and Integrated Product Design Program), and Haley Russell and Amanda Robison (both of Wharton) earned all the winnings in the third annual iDesign Prize competition. First they were awarded $5,000 toward the venture in the “people’s choice” category, the outcome of a secret-ballot vote by their fellow students and awards-ceremony attendees. And then the professional jury that was judging the competition granted them the big prize: $50,000. 

“The Chipper Team is delighted, ecstatic and grateful to have been awarded the iDesign prize,” said Colagrande, Russell, and Robison, in an email. “When we look at building out Chipper Pet, we’re really building a community around this movement to do good for pet and planet. The People’s Choice Award gave us a great sense that our hope and goal to create a Chipper Community seems to have legs.”

In their presentation, Russell and Colagrande noted that Americans spent $26 billion on food for dogs and cats in 2016. Of that, some $2.1 billion was spent in the special category. Pet owners are increasingly choosing foods that are human grade, high in protein, and free of byproducts. And yet, there are few good options for products that do less harm to the environment, the students said.

Chipper aims to address that gap. The product, which has been tested on the students’ own pets—and more than 100 others—packs two-and-a-half times the protein of other meat-based pet foods, while using just a fraction of the land and water resources that other products use. The secret? Crickets. Dried, powdered, protein-rich crickets. Chipper can bring in millions in revenue if it can capture just 1-2 percent of the specialty pet food market, the team said.

“The funds from iDesign will go directly toward bringing our product to market in the early fall—an opportune time to launch a pet food product!” the team said. “We see this happening via four distinct buckets that we'll seek to focus on in the coming months: customer experience, treat production, packaging, and supporting new Chipper Team contributions.”

“We’re excited to support Chipper in the next phase of their business,” said Sarah Rottenberg, adjunct assistant professor and executive director of the Integrated Product Design program. “The team has all the ingredients for success: a great product, a strong team with a multi-disciplinary background, and a compelling promise to delight dogs and create a sustainable product that is better for the planet.”

IPD is a joint initiative of PennDesign, Penn Engineering, and the Wharton School. Offering two master degrees and a certificate, 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.

The iDesign jury—comprised of Jordan Goldstein, architect and regional managing principal at Gensler; Holly Flanagan, managing director for Gabriel Investments; Karl Ulrich, vice dean of entrepreneurship and innovation at Wharton; and Jeff Smith, co-founder of product design firm LUNAR—offered praise to all four teams pitching products in development. InstaHub is a tool that snaps onto the back of a light switch and will shut off the lights when rooms are unoccupied, leading to energy and cost savings. imageCore is a camera that automatically scans rooms and creates high-quality interactive images that can be used in real estate and short-term rental listings. Out of Sight is a line of products that help smartphone users disconnect to focus on other tasks—from sleeping to entertaining to working—by temporarily locking devices away at the users’ request. 

The iDesign Prize gives Penn student teams the chance to launch an innovative product design venture after graduation. It is awarded for innovative physical products that solve a real problem in the world and are supported by holistic design, engineering and business planning. The iDesign Prize is generously supported by Jay Abramson (W’83, L’86), Laurence Goldberg (W’89), Mason Haupt (W’77), and Kevin Penn (W’83), who are members of the PennDesign Board of Overseers.

Last year’s winner, Burrow, a line of modular furniture products, followed up with a big year of fundraising and wide-ranging publicity.