How to make innovation more approachable: Conway Center and its innovative strategies workshops

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JILL KER CONWAY CENTER  The Conway Center hopes to encourage students to experiment with their ideas with their “Innovative Strategies” workshop series.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JILL KER CONWAY CENTER

The Conway Center hopes to encourage students to experiment with their ideas with their “Innovative Strategies” workshop series.

Lingchuan Xu ‘21 | Features Editor

Last Thursday, the Conway Center held a workshop as part of its “Innovative Strategies” series. “Last year most of the students came up with their own projects [to the Conway Center], but this year we want to give students a jump start and to help them understand what innovation is,” said Monica Dean, the Administrative Director of the Conway Center.

The series was inspired by the “back of the napkin” concept. Dean said that it was a play on making quick napkin sketches while brainstorming.

This time, the napkin came in the form of a handout and attendees had to think of and advertise a product, service or experience. They were encouraged to dig deep and were asked difficult questions: “Who are you? What skills do you have to bring to the venture? Who are your customers? Who are you providing the value to? Who is benefiting from what you create?” Last and most difficult, they had to figure out why they believed customers should care about their products. By asking these questions, Dean gradually led the students into the path of expressing their ideas.

Keeping the questions in mind, students began sketching ideas on their “napkins.” They later had an “idea jam,” where every group selected a representative to present their ideas in a 30-second pitch.

“Last year, students mostly started projects on their own, and we provided mentorship for them. Also, students [who come to us] are interested in participating in the Draper Competition, launching a venture, or [learning] how to take [on] a problem [with] an innovative solution,” said Dean.

“But this year, we wanted to help students to think outside of their immediate lives at Smith, so we brought leaders who could talk about [technology] so students can think of more innovative ventures for the future.”

Dean also said that the Conway Center wanted to experiment with different educational models. She said that the Innovative Strategies Workshop Series aimed to provide students with a safe and comfortable environment to brainstorm, form and share their ideas and get feedback in order to help the students become better thinkers.

According to Dean, the Conway Center plans to continue inviting experts from different fields to Smith because they believe it will encourage students to think more broadly about their ventures.