Pop Up Challenge: Designing A Sustainable Cafe

Oct 12 2018

The Challenge: Find a one-day solution to turning NYU Shanghai’s second floor cafe into a more sustainable one. Consider ways to “reduce, reuse and recycle” packaging, better manage food and beverage ingredients so that they fit into “a circular economy,” and raise employee and customer satisfaction. And figure it out in just 45 minutes.

That was the “Pop Up Challenge” facing some 20 students and guests of the Program on Creativity + Innovation (PCI) course, Entrepreneurship Explored, as they gathered in the Cafe on October 5. The students had been divided into three teams and had been allowed to bring in any recycled paper and plastics they had collected from their daily lives over the last two weeks.  

After hearing the challenge and completing a 45-minute brainstorm, each team had three minutes to present their business ideas in the form of a poster or performance. Nine judges from diverse fields including business, journalism, and art, who had observed and evaluated how the teams worked together during the brainstorm session, then fired questions at each team. Each judge was then asked to allot portions of their $10,000 in “investment funds” among the three proposals.

“It is an opportunity for them to try out how preliminary ideas can be developed into real enterprises,” said Yuan Yanyue, Assistant Professor of Arts and Sciences, who teaches the course this semester.


Team Optio presented their group project of a sustainable coffee garden on Oct 5 at a pop up challenge organized by PCI's Entrepreneurship Explored class. (Photo by Kris Chen '22) 

At the end of the day, Team Optio had earned the most “investment” dollars from the  judges as the most feasible project. The team designed a “coffee garden” for recycling used coffee cups. They offered customers a rebate of 1 RMB for returned coffee cups and collected leftover coffee grounds in a “coffee pot” to transform them into flower beds.

“We focused on the executability of our project. We tried to minimize cost and use what we already have that can be recycled. The project didn’t require high initial investment and had a relatively high return,” said Optio team leader Zheng Lan '19, a psychology major.

The team was still challenged by the judges, who questioned their specific choice behind 1 RMB -- why this particular amount?

“We did not think on it thoroughly. I answered that the money is just an incentive, something like a token. Our purpose was not to make money but to recycle materials and protect the environment,” Zheng said. “Turning ideas into practical projects is more difficult than I expected.”

Lin Xin, a business developer at the Tank Shanghai Art Center, said she was impressed by the pop-up market format, which extended the classroom from case-sharing lectures to practice-based challenges.

“Students truly immersed themselves in the challenge. In response to judges’ provocative questions, each team was able to reply with confidence and composure,” she said.

With an emphasis on creativity, ethics, and future-oriented vision, Entrepreneurship Explored encourages students to examine closely five key topics that reflect major social and technological changes which might have a great impact on the future of humanity: circular economy, crowdsourcing, machine learning & artificial intelligence, blockchain and well-being & lifestyle. Experts and practitioners from different fields are invited to share their vision and first-hand experience and to lead interactive workshops.

“I liked how this course churned out an emotion I never felt before--a mixture of anxiousness and nervousness to think outside of the box,” said Angela Zheng ‘21.