Undergraduate Innovation in the Tennis Market

Ann-Sophie Hahn, BS ’17, has spent the last few years studying business at UIC while training and competing as a UIC athlete. A double major in finance and marketing, Hahn studied finance abroad at the London School of Economics, and interned as an assistant auditor in Stuttgart. When her faculty mentor, Professor Jelena Spanjol, introduced her to the Interdisciplinary Product Development program, Hahn saw it as a way to develop practical marketing experience to balance out her experience in finance.

“The more I discussed IPD with Professor Spanjol, the more interested I became in the applied marketing,” Hahn says. “But what sealed the deal for me was learning that there would be a Wilson Sporting Goods IPD team for the 2016-17 year.”

Hahn came to UIC on a tennis scholarship, and has played Wilson rackets for most of her tennis career. Wilson had sponsored her tennis club back home in Germany. “I remember first arriving in Chicago, and riding the Blue Line from O’Hare, how you pass the Wilson headquarters along the way,” she says. “I always wanted to get inside that space. Now, in IPD, I feel like I’ve stepped into my marketing wheelhouse. Working with Wilson has revealed to me how much I know about what tennis players want and need.”

Hahn spent her first semester in IPD getting to know Wilson. She visited their facilities near O’Hare, where she met with the executives who’ve helped guide her research of global markets and of tennis clubs here in Chicago. “By the time I’d gotten to know Wilson, my IPD team was well into the fall semester,” she says. “Our engineer and our designer were beginning to explore the product itself, and we business students were starting to sketch a business plan.” At this point, it was up to Hahn to translate her knowledge of Wilson into actionable proposals for her IPD team.

IPD gave Hahn her first experience on a cross-functional team, and she’s valued what it’s taught her about all the moving parts in product development. “I’ve had to learn how designers think,” she says, “about how the product isn’t merely some object that stands alone, but has to fit within a certain space. And how engineers think, too–for every idea about an innovative product, the engineer is there to explain how many steps are involved, what it takes to make the thing work. Product ideas change as the research evolves, so as each one of us makes recommendations for changing the product, the others are there to explain how a change in design will cause a change in production, or how a change in production will cause a change in overall cost.”

The team has spent a lot of time sifting through ideas, and has had to return to square one more than once. Nonetheless, Hahn is grateful for the IPD experience, and has even applied for a marketing internship in Wilson’s Germany offices. “This kind of experience, being able to say, ‘I know how to research, how to work with design and engineering, how to manage this product development process’, this will help me on the job market.”