A review of Harvard’s Igniting Innovation Summit

Photo Courtesy of cnbc.com ||  The eighth annual Igniting Innovation Summit at Harvard was thought-provoking, personal and well-worth the visit, Zoya Azhar ’20 writes. 

Photo Courtesy of cnbc.com || The eighth annual Igniting Innovation Summit at Harvard was thought-provoking, personal and well-worth the visit, Zoya Azhar ’20 writes. 

Zoya Azhar ‘20
Assistant Opinions Editor

On Oct. 21, the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center sponsored a small group of Smith students, in which I had the privilege of being a part of, to attend the eighth Annual Igniting Innovation Summit on Social Entrepreneurship at Harvard University last weekend. The conference took up most of the morning, running into late afternoon and aimed to bring student entrepreneurs’ attention to notable entrepreneurs in various fields. 

The Ignition Summit was relatively small compared to the India Conference that Harvard hosts every year in the spring, which Smith students, including me, have also attended in the past. I was pleasantly surprised as everyone in attendance got a chance to individually approach the key-note speakers with questions after the presentation, in addition to a group question and answer session. Each speaker came with focused presentations, so the conference allowed the primarily student audience to engage with some of the tangible goals and outcomes of startups and entrepreneurial ventures. 

The conference hosted four keynote speakers and offered eight panel sessions in between these keynote presentations. The keynote speakers were a diverse group who presented how entrepreneurship served each of their individual purposes and goals. Shama Amaleam, Tyler Gage, Matthew Glotzbach and Dr. Alaa Murabit were the keynote speakers. 

Amaleam is the COO of Thinx, a company which developed the revolutionary period proof underwear. Gage is the co-founder of RUNA, a social enterprise which uses guayusa to make energizing drinks. Glotzbach is the CEO of Quizlet and was involved with YouTube before. Murabit holds an impressive position of being one of the 17 global advocates for the UN Sustainable Development Goal, as well as multitude of other roles, each equally impressive. 

The panel sessions each focused on a separate area of interest and where entrepreneurship is headed in each area. There was a panel focused on entrepreneurship in education and how there is a shift towards unconventional methods of education, with a focus on constructive outdoor engagement and organized writing. The panelists included the executive director at Playworks Massachusetts, the deputy director at WriteBoston and the CEO at Youthprise. 

A panel session I found particularly interesting was “Urban Mobility in Smart Cities: Vehicles for Change.” The session was led by Jackie Lender, a Harvard Presidential City of Boston Fellow, who is involved with brainstorming Smart City initiatives in Boston. She brought up a lot of interesting ideas that she hoped to see implemented in Boston in the next 10 to 20 years. For example, she wished to create telecom and Wi-Fi hotspots with antennae on streetlights, as well as multi-purpose roads which can be utilized as a playground for kids when traffic flow is low enough to be restricted and also set up sensors which indicate when trash cans around the city need to be emptied out. 

Amaleam’s keynote address was also extremely interesting and brought up how the taboos surrounding periods made it difficult for Thinx to advertise their product. It made us think about how to challenge society with our innovation. Amaleam mentioned that their product has had a positive impact for young girls for whom pulling out their absorbent underwear is much less embarrassing than pulling out a tampon or sanitary pad in class. 

Other panel topics included civic engagement, human empowerment, technology and innovative storytelling and modes of entertainment. 

The conference was well-worth the visit and it was great to see that two of the key-note speakers were women, one of them a visible Muslim. The Smith students in attendance were able to grasp tangible concepts and ideas that I’m sure will be valuable in each of their fields as we go on.