A focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley

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This past spring break I had a great experience in California during the University Innovation Fellows national conference.

Having gone to the conference last year as well, I was not invited to all of the sessions since they are reserved for first-year fellows. During that time I caught up with fellows I'd met last year, explored Stanford’s innovation ecosystem and pursued other opportunities.

I spent as much time as I could getting to know new people to really understand what it is like to live in such a place. The hotel we stayed at offered a free shuttle service Monday through Friday that came in handy.

One day I was using this shuttle to get to Stanford’s campus with a driver named Steve. While driving, Steve offered to show me around town after learning that I wasn’t from there or familiar with the area. After showing me the garage that Hewlett Packard was founded in and Steve Jobs' house, an unexpected opportunity came my way.

Knowing that I was in California for an innovation conference Steve suggested I go to IDEO to see what I could learn and maybe score a tour. Before I knew it, I was in IDEO’s lobby introducing myself to their receptionist, explaining who I was, and asking if I could possibly be shown around. The receptionist told me I had just missed Barry Katz, but encouraged me to email him and see if I could set something up.

For those who don’t know, Dr. Barry Katz is a professor at the California College of Arts (CCA), a consulting professor at Stanford University and he is also a fellow at IDEO, one of the world's leading design companies.

At CCA he teaches in the graduate design program and undergraduate programs in Industrial and Interaction Design. At Stanford’s d.school, he teaches in the joint program (MSc) in design. He has written books on design thinking and has helped shape the way it is viewed/practiced around the world.

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Kelley student Amadin Agho and Dr. Barry Katz. Courtesy: Amadin Agho

As I emailed Dr. Katz, I never expected him to actually reply, but I was very surprised when he said he was willing to meet with our campus' new fellows and myself.

Over the course of the conversation, he explained what IDEO does, his role there, misconceptions when it comes to design thinking, how we as students can provide benefit to our campus/community/the world, and he ended with a tour of IDEO.

During our conversation with Dr. Katz, I spoke about the work I was doing at the Indianapolis co-working space The Bureau during Professor Steele’s W-311 New Venture Creation class. He remarked on how this is a huge step in a positive direction for our campus, as a faculty member is trying to meet our efforts in the middle with his own and open new doors for all students.

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A view inside Stanford's d. school. Courtesy: Amadin Agho, BS'17.

When we were not having sessions during a company visit, we were based at Stanford’s d.school, further mapping out changes we could bring back to IUPUI.

After the conference was over, we took advantage of the free time we had before returning. Some of the things we did included: meeting with d.school faculty, visiting the Exploratorium in San Francisco and meeting Steve Wozniak at an event on Stanford’s campus.

This was a spring break that both myself and the other fellows will never forget.

An Explanation: the University Innovation Fellows Program

According to the program's website, the University Innovation Fellows Program "empowers students to become agents of change at their schools."

The website goes on to explain that the "Fellows are a national community of students leading a movement to ensure that all students gain the necessary attitudes, skills and knowledge required to compete in the economy of the future. These student leaders from schools around the country create new opportunities that help their peers develop an entrepreneurial mindset, build creative confidence, seize opportunities, define problems and address global challenges.”

In the summer of 2014 I was introduced to UIF through another organization I helped start called The Brain Trust. This organization was founded with innovation and entrepreneurship in mind and continues in those endeavors till this day. When Karen White informed us about the UIF program we saw it as a great opportunity to experience things no one else on our campus has, and to take those learnings to improve IUPUI.

Elizabeth Creamer, Cody Howell, Sierra Kennelly, Daniel Balmer, and myself were the first leadership circle from our campus to be launched as Stanford UI Fellows.

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Pictured, from left: Amadin Agho, Elizabeth Creamer, Sierra Kennelly and Cody Howell during their 2016 spring break trip with the University Innovation Fellows Program. Agho and Kennelly are Kelley School of Business students and Creamer and Howell are from the School of Science.

In the spring of 2016, we underwent a six week training program through Stanford.

During this program, we were challenged with mapping out our campus' innovative structure -- to discover what areas were present and those that needed improvement. This task culminated in what is now called the “Landscape Canvas," which is a tool that we constantly refer to and update for future leadership circles.

Every year, the conference for the University Innovation Fellows program is held at Stanford University, with several workshops run in the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design aka d.school.

During our time at Stanford's design school in March of 2016, the three other fellows from IUPUI and I were exposed to the wonder that is "design thinking" for the first time.

In these d. school workshops, we were challenged to build innovative frameworks and tools that we could bring back to our campus in order to inspire others. To further incubate the creation process, all seats and workspaces there are mobile and transformable.

A tremendous impact

All of these immersive experiences have helped to transform my learning experience as I come back to campus each year.

Seeing something in a textbook is one thing, but when you can apply real-world experiences to it, it goes so much further.

For example, during my New Venture Creation class at The Bureau we had a session dedicated to design thinking. With my experiences from the prior year, I was able to help my peers understand the topic better and get them more excited about its implications for entrepreneurship.

My work and experiences with this organization have exemplified that there is always something you can learn from others.

This is true even for people you may deem as “difficult” to work with.

Most importantly, remaining humble and being grateful for one's blessings can get you farther than you ever thought possible. I cannot stress how important it is for students to get out of their comfort zones and find opportunities outside of the classroom that will transform their views on the world.

This even goes for starting an organization you are passionate about, but are apprehensive about how others will receive it.

What I have to say to that is -- If you’re really passionate about it, your drive and ambition will attract others.

If you'd like more information on how to apply for the University Innovation Fellows Program, click here.