CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Adam Treister and his University of Cincinnati classmates would spend months designing buildings, only to throw away their cardboard models at the end of the semester.
Treister also saw fashion design students create stylish clothing lines that would wind up stuffed away in boxes. Graphic design students started branding campaigns for local businesses, but their work never saw the light of day.
Treister got to thinking. What if you could connect all that talent to businesses that could turn their ideas into reality?
The answer came in the form of a start-up technology firm and social networking site -- called The Student Designed Network -- that Treister decided to put together.
"As students, we already have in place the technology, the facilities and the talent to do creative work," said Treister, who lives on Charleston's West Side. "We just don't have an application in which to use it, or the money to produce it."
In July, Treister, 22, entered his idea and businesses plan into a Cincinnati competition designed to promote innovation and spur economic development.
Out of more than 300 entries, Treister's business proposal made the top four. Though he didn't win the $25,000 grand prize, nonprofit leaders and professors in the community contacted him to offer praise and support. Treister started tweaking his idea.
"During school, design students are generally given a hypothetical situation in which to produce a creative product," said Treister, who designed a library, public pool and other projects as an architecture student at Cincinnati. "The problem with this is our work is only being used as a practice exercise, and it's not being utilized in the real world."
Here's how Student Designed Network would work: Students would log on to the site and submit entries individually, or as an entire class with help from professors. Students would showcase their work and receive feedback.
Companies, nonprofits and government agencies would log on and request proposals for whatever creative work they required. The businesses would pay design students about $200 to $10,000 per project -- significantly less than what they'd spend to hire an established design firm.
Treister would screen the submissions and requests. He'd earn a fee, if the students and businesses started a project.
Treister acknowledged that some businesses already are using student freelance work and saving money. At the University Cincinnati, Treister's friend designed a menu for a local restaurant, which bought the design. Another group of students created a window display for a local shop - and got paid for the work.