Best Buy Announces College Innovator Fund

Back in April, Best Buy announced the closure of several “big box” retailing stores to focus more on the direct consumer experience, following the model of Apple and Microsoft. This comes a few years after the fall of previous major chains like Circuit City and CompUSA, the demises of which were largely influenced by the growth of Best Buy itself. As the chain is now arguably set up as the premiere electronics retailer, it seems Best Buy is turning some of its attention away from sales and towards the future with the announcement of the College Innovator Fund.

The fund is a national search to discover and sponsor the development of ideas in technology, sustainability, education or other related fields. Participants have until August 14, 2012 to submit a two-minute video detailing their idea to the Best Buy Facebook page. A panel of judges will narrow the ideas down to ten finalists and then choose the top three winners. The general Facebook community will then elect the fourth place “fan favorite” by popular vote. The retailer is offering four prizes totaling $100,000 to get the winning projects off the ground—one grand prize of  $50K, two runner-ups of $20K, and the fan favorite takes home $10K.

In a press release, President of Best Buy Digital and Global Marketing & Strategy Stephen Gillett said: “”At Best Buy we understand the impact that technology and entrepreneurialism can have on our society. Students are often at the helm of this forward thinking so what better time to provide a national platform to help them introduce and support these ideas than during the back-to-campus season. Through Best Buy’s College Innovator Fund we are uncovering the next generation of innovators that will advance and improve the way we connect with the world around us.”

Engineering students Jonathan Write, Zach Wilson, Scott Goodin, and Kevin Scott

The College Innovator Fund announcement seems strategically placed after the kick-off of Best Buy’s back-to-school marketing campaign. This year’s advertisements feature student innovators who comment on how the usage of their own personal technology aided them in coming up with  ideas. Among others, the videos include ASU’s Jonathan Write, Zach Wilson, Scott Goodin, and Kevin Scott’s “Defying Gravity” spot and U Penn’s Daniel Mellinger and Alex Kushleyev’s Nano Quadrotors flying robots project. Also included is businesswoman and entrepreneur Jessica Jackley, creator of Kiva, the world’s first P2P microlending website.

As you’ll see, each advertisement ties the inspirational project back to the usage of Best Buy’s products, but something about the spots seems to elevate them above typical consumer promotion. These young thinkers had great ideas and used computer technology to get them where they wanted to go. Best Buy is simply capitalizing on their success and promoting their business. The fact that the retailer is so successful at selling consumer electronics means they’re able to create the College Innovator Fund. Best Buy may be a super-mega corporate titan, but this is one initiative that educators and students can certainly appreciate.

Although we should keep in mind this: If the winner of the College Innovator Fund produces a hot new consumer electronic, what retailer do you think is going to sell it first?