Building Innovative Thinking & Entrepreneurial Confidence in Students

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In May, 2018, Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Accelerate program hosted the regional Technovation showcase for MassTLC’s Ed Foundation. This was Accelerate’s second year hosting the showcase.

Monique Fuchs, Associate Vice President, Innovation + Entrepreneurship and Co-founder of Accelerate, spoke with MassTLC about the center, the various programs available to students, the tech industry’s involvement, and the center’s support of Technovation. Our conversation follows.

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What is Accelerate?

Accelerate, Wentworth Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center builds innovative thinking and entrepreneurial confidence among students to impact their career choices and trajectories. Students refine and exercise competencies such as empathy, inspiration, discovery, resilience, and presence, which will make them successful regardless whether they launch their own startup or work for an organization. We encourage students to “Love the Problem” not the solution, which in turn will drive them to truly seek impact for individuals, communities, or industries and prepare them for a successful transition into the workforce.

Are there different programs within Accelerate? What are they and how do students participate?

Since Accelerate’s launch in 2012, multiple exciting programs have been created for our students to catalyze their growth as future leaders and innovators:

  • Startup Challenge – A platform for interdisciplinary student teams to nurture an idea they are passionate about. Throughout the course of the academic year, Accelerate hosts workshops and events that help students expand their entrepreneurial skill sets while also providing students with access to internal and external mentors that serve as valuable resources for the continued development of their startup ideas. Each semester’s Startup Challenge culminates with a PitchRound event where students can pitch to a panel of judges for up to $10,000 in gap funding to achieve their next milestones.
  • Social Innovation Lab (SIL) – A 12-week immersive experience that allows co-op students, as so-called Innovation Fellows, to create innovative solutions to real-world issues while working in high intensity environments. The challenges students tackle can be quite diverse and the process of working through them is anchored in design thinking principles. Past SIL partners have included Boston Children’s Museum, State of Massachusetts, WGBH, and Zoo New England.
  • ThinkTank – Launched in 2013 we partnered with the City of Boston as an interdisciplinary, city-wide initiative solving real-world issues and jump-starting civic innovation and entrepreneurship. Since then, the ThinkTank concept has evolved to convene the external community and industry to challenge assumptions, explore possibilities, co-create ideas, envision the future, and define the societal challenges of our time. The most recent ThinkTank “Future of our Cities – Converging Generations” brought together 50+ industry thought leaders, students, and faculty to uncover opportunity spaces on how we will live, work, and utilize cities in the future.

How many Wentworth students participate in Accelerate?

Since its founding in 2012:

  • Over 5,827 participants have taken advantage of Accelerate’s programs
  • Over 1,320 students have formed interdisciplinary teams in the Startup Challenge with 814 startup ideas being generated in that period of time
  • 67 Startup Challenge teams have been funded with $301,850 in gap funding via PitchRound events

Does the local tech industry support Accelerate? How?

The innovation and entrepreneurship community has been very welcoming from the beginning. In fact, we couldn’t have built Accelerate without them. Many thought leaders and professionals work with us as inspiring speakers, provide their unique lenses as judges during PitchRounds, mentor our students to move them to the next level, and facilitate or participate in immersive events such as the ThinkTanks. Individuals represented tech companies such as Microsoft, Philips, Draper, Formlabs, Autodesk, Bose, Artaic, and Rendever, just to name a few.

Have any students launched companies or products from Accelerate?

Absolutely! Perhaps our most visible Accelerate graduate is Pillar Technologies, a company founded by three Wentworth alums in 2015 that captures, measures, and distributes data on construction sites via smart sensor technology. Pillar was the recent recipient of $2.75 million in seed funding from a myriad of powerhouse VC’s including XL Innovate, Hyperplane VC, and Techstar Ventures.

Other amazing products that have been launched at Accelerate include:

  • Gentoo – An infusion harness vest for outpatient chemotherapy treatment.
  • Eleis Farm – A family startup that is producing, packaging, and marketing sustainable palm oil on the north coast of the African nation of Guinea; the company was recently accepted into MassChallenge’s Boston Cohort for 2018.
  • Myotherm – Electrically heated foam roller that is designed to accelerate the recovery process for people in physical therapy programs.

Why do you support the Technovation Challenge?

Universities focused on STEM are still male dominated and at Accelerate, which was founded by a female entrepreneur, we are hoping to change that. Providing access and a supportive platform to develop and empower the next generation of female entrepreneurs and tech talent, both domestically and internationally, is one way to underwrite Technovation’s mission to close the tech gender gap.

What’s the best part of hosting the Technovation Showcase?

It is utterly inspiring to see young talent go out and identify challenges in their communities and pour passion, sweat, and hard work into developing technology solutions for change over the course of a couple of months. Nothing is more humbling than seeing their personal transformations as they take the stage for the showcase event. As they grow to be leaders in technology or elsewhere, they show that the 21st century can be in good hands.