June 27, 2014

College Think Tank Tackles Innovation in Boston

A sample of the ideas generated at CollegeThinkTank

It was a meeting of the entrepreneurial minds on June 21 as students from Wentworth and 22 other local colleges and universities gathered at MassChallenge for the third incarnation of CollegeThinkTank Boston.

As part of a collaboration between Wentworth’s Accelerate, Innovation + Entrepreneurship Center and the City of Boston’s Office of Business Development, College Think Tank brought together students hailing from more than 20 different disciplines. In addition to Wentworth, Northeastern, Boston College, Emerson, Boston University, MIT, Harvard, Bunker Hill Community College, and Suffolk, among others were represented.

“CollegeThinkTank Boston provides a platform to generate ideas with diverse people and across college boundaries. At its core we are looking to build and strengthen collaboration and fast-paced, innovative thinking while impacting Boston and its communities, making ideas real and tangible through engagement and civic action.” said Monique Fuchs, Associate Vice President, Innovation + Entrepreneurship at Wentworth, and co-founder of the College ThinkTank.

The theme for this year was “Bringing Innovation to Our Neighborhoods.”  ThinkTank participants were challenged to develop business models that might “best drive deeper interaction between innovative startups and the residents and businesses of Boston, helping to create Boston as startup lab.”

To arrive at their respective answers, students were split into small groups. Working collaboratively and across disciplines, the students brainstormed, posted hundreds of ideas on a wall, and then narrowed down their options through categorization and further discussion. After working out a final plan, students presented to the room.

“We looked at what startups think they need and what they want, then measured it against the needs and wants of the public in Boston,” said Eric Galano, Industrial Design ’16, of his first College ThinkTank.

Also new to the event, Chad Davis, Mechanical Engineering ’16, was particularly struck by how varying groups approached their challenges. “It was interesting to see the different dynamics,” he said. “Some people were extremely visual in that they had lots of geometric organization and lots of sticky notes, whereas ours was a kitchen sink of writing.”

Chris Auld, Biomedical Engineering ’16, was taking part in his second College ThinkTank, as was Greg Affsa, Industrial Design ’15. Both were once again impressed with the way many different disciplines—including architecture, art, engineering, business, healthcare, mathematics, social sciences, and social services—were able to work together toward a common goal.

“I had a sociology major in my group and we worked very well together. He studied how infrastructure was used to create barriers between low income and high income neighborhoods,” said Affsa. “I was able to add a design perspective, while he offered an approach that I don’t normally take.”

Added Auld, “Some people in the group were new to the concept and not sure what a startup was exactly. But other people quickly took on a leadership role and helped everyone work together toward a solution.”

In the midst of the event were several facilitators from well-known innovation firms in Boston, including Naz Mirzaie (Essential Design), Marie Ledger (IDEO),   Alec Stern and Ethan Bagley Innoloft (Constant Contact), Elisa O’Donnell and Ramon Salinas (Imaginatik), Dieter Reuther and Karen Reuther (Cast Collective), Sam Aquillano (Design Museum Boston), Eli Ben Hur (i2i), Jason Stevens (AIGA), and Simon Williamson (Wentworth).  Eli Stefanski (Business Innovation Factory) facilitated the overall event and John Maudlin (Fields Corner Business Lab) and Gilad Rosenzweig (Smarter in the City) participated as community partners.

Trish Fontanilla (VSnap) and Bobbie Carlton (MassInnovation Nights) served as the social media superpowers behind the event and live tweeted during the day.

The City of Boston is set to review the ideas from this summer’s ThinkTank and may decide to work toward a Request for Proposal process to implement them. At last year’s June event, participants found solutions for vacant commercial spaces and the city has started to implement some of the ideas in various locations. CollegeThinkTank Boston also received most recently a Staples Foundation award, which is given by employee choice to encourage local community engagement.

All four students noted that access to Accelerate and various programs at Wentworth helped prepare them immensely for the challenges that awaited them at College ThinkTank, with the event serving as a continuation of their education.

“I found that Wentworth students [participating] worked well with others immediately,” said Davis. “I heard some great ideas for the city. I really think more people should get involved to see that their ideas can have real impact.”

More photos from the event can be found on Accelerate’s Facebook page.

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