Vespa Goes Back to School
By Andrew Tilin

(Business 2.0) – Buttoned-down businesses are finding an unlikely source of inspiration: the pierced and tattooed student populations of design schools. In need of fresh ideas for its Vespa scooters, Italy's Piaggio sponsored a project in September at New York's Parsons School of Design. The students dreamed up a seat-mounted animal caddy and a scarf with built-in speakers, among other inventions. One promising idea--a seat that turns a parked Vespa into a lounge chair--is headed for market testing. "We have designers, but this gave us a chance to learn how young people might see our products," says Paolo Timoni, CEO of Piaggio USA.

While car companies have been sponsoring student projects for decades, top schools such as Parsons and the Rhode Island School of Design are seeing the likes of Fossil and Steelcase filling studio slots at an unprecedented clip. After all, the input is cheap: Funding a semester-long Rhode Island design class, for example, typically costs less than six figures. Add in the value of your employees going onsite, scouting fresh talent, and getting ideas themselves, and you'd have to be a dunce to ignore the opportunity. -- ANDREW TILIN