Marketing Students Provide Breath of Fresh Air for EPA App
PMBA students help bring the environmental agency’s air pollution product to market
The brown cloud that likes to loiter around Denver’s skyline is a clear sign of the city’s air pollution, but most of the time, poor air quality isn’t that obvious.
For those who suffer from bronchitis or asthma, invisible particles and extra ozone in the atmosphere can be torturous.
What if all it took to stay safe and gauge the day’s air pollution was a few taps on a smartphone screen? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to make that possible — with some marketing help from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business.
The EPA’s TracMyAir app combines localized iPhone data (like weather and location) with real-time air pollution measurements from local monitors, allowing users to evaluate their exposure to potentially dangerous environments.
Researchers have been working with a beta version of the app, but as the agency looks to bring the technology to market, EPA program coordinator Kathleen Graham worked with students in the Daniels Professional MBA (PMBA) program on innovative ways to market the app.
“We enjoy collaborating with students on these types of projects, and we’ve been impressed with the information they’ve been able to provide back to us,” Graham says. “We really see this as a great collaboration.”
Graham connected with Dan Baack, an associate professor in the marketing department. He then incorporated the app into the “live client” component of his Principles in Marketing course and tasked students with developing a broader market for the app and searching for a revenue stream.
“It’s a really good way to apply what students learn in the first six weeks or so of the class to the ambiguous world of actual marketing,” says Baack, who also serves as academic director of the MBA program. “It makes for a really cool learning experience.”
The EPA is a perfect first client for students, Baack says, because its nascent technologies have a broad range of marketing challenges — more than just promotions and branding.
Because PMBA students are all full-time working professionals, members of the class could lean into their work experience and personal networks to better understand how the TracMyAir app could prove valuable.
Ben Garey, a student who is also a project manager in the construction industry, says the class helped him gain a concrete understanding of the marketing field. He left with a solid idea of how to analyze a market and figure out how to provide value to a client.
“It was eye-opening,” Garey says. “It was a bit of seeing behind the curtain. Getting introduced to [the industry] and seeing it come from idea to market really pulls it all together.”
Perhaps the class’ greatest benefit to the EPA, Garey says, is its professional diversity.
“I think the fact that we’re all working at the same time kind of helps us bring the night class into our day lives,” he says.
Through their research, Garey and his team recommended the EPA use a two-phase approach in marketing its app, expanding the user base before taking it commercial.
The EPA was pleased with the results.
“Working with the students, they’re able to apply what they just learned to our technology, which is a good learning experience for them,” Graham says, “and we get a great market assessment. We’re taking the information they shared and trying to market to some of the companies that the students identified. We’ve been really impressed with the product that they’ve developed.”
Graham and Baack are discussing ways to continue their partnership into the future. But whether or not it endures, the PMBA cohort can be sure it will take on real-world problems in the quarters to come.
While many MBA programs have a capstone experience that involves a live client, Baack says, few use live clients throughout the curriculum. Working with companies and agencies that focus on the public good, he adds, is a trait unique to the Daniels curriculum.
“Since we got support from [the late cable TV innovator] Bill Daniels years ago, we’ve always had a really strong focus on ethics and a really strong focus on the local Denver community,” Baack says. “[Social good] is at the heart of who we are as a college.”