In the words of a University Innovation Fellow: Qualifications to be an Entrepreneur
By Meghan Reynolds, Engineering major, 2017 UIF
Around the time I entered fourth grade the fictional worlds of princesses, jungles, and schoolhouses started to fade away. I no longer spent my days pretending to be a mom or a mermaid and I found it more difficult to wander around the world while playing in my backyard. And, around the same time, I wrote myself off as non-creative.
In school I enjoyed math and science. I wanted the straight forward answers that equations provided. Dread would slowly creep through me when we were assigned creative writing prompts during English class or art projects that highlighted my lack of drawing skills. I pigeon-holed myself based on these feelings and decided that anything that required any degree of creativity was not for me.
So, naturally, anytime someone mentioned innovation or entrepreneurship I would pay little attention. Me? An entrepreneur? I had no novel inventions or grand ideas for a startup. Leave the I&E ecosystem for those whose creative juices were never lacking. I was not in the league of the Mark Zuckerbergs or Elon Musks – so why would I bother with such an initiative? Then came UIF.
During the fall of my sophomore year I was informed of an opportunity arising on Loyola’s campus known as the University Innovation Fellows (UIF). The program was just being launched at Loyola and freshmen, sophomore, and junior year students were asked to apply as members of the university’s first cohort. Individuals who were interested in making a lasting impact on Loyola’s campus and had some background in innovation, entrepreneurship, or the sciences were asked to consider the opportunity. As an engineering major with the desire to make positive changes at Loyola I decided to apply (without knowing much else about the program). And now, a year down the line, I am extremely humbled and grateful to have been chosen to become part of this team. My experience in UIF has been unforgettable and has completely reshaped my view on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Last spring I, and the rest of Loyola’s University Innovation Fellows, took part in UIF’s six week online training program out of Stanford University’s d.School. Throughout the training we had to complete weekly assignments that made us familiar with Loyola’s existing I&E ecosystem and also got us accustomed to the design thinking approach to change. Design thinking is all about failing fast and failing often. Once a problem is identified you brainstorm as many ideas as you can generate and then choose the best to prototype. The prototyping is done cheaply and quickly to find the errors and weaknesses in your design as fast as possible. From here you modify and adapt based on your results and the process continues. Using this mindset innovation becomes a creative process and environment that is open to everyone. Already my opinion of innovation and entrepreneurship was changing but the real 180 took place at the UIF Silicon Valley Meetup – the culmination of our training experience.
Our cohort was extremely privileged to be able to travel to Palo Alto this past spring to partake in a global conference of the hundreds of University Innovation Fellows that had been trained in 2017, as well. At this four day event the UIF staff had us partaking in design thinking activities, creative ice-breakers, and touring some of the most innovative and entrepreneurial companies existing today (such as Google and Microsoft). However, it was not the grandeur of these experiences and places that impressed me but their diversity. I found that at all of these companies and within the UIF community itself there was no one characteristic defining the innovators and entrepreneurs. We were all from diverse backgrounds with different skill sets – from engineers, to accountants, to human resource workers. Yet, everyone had something to add in the collaborative process, which is truly what defines innovation and entrepreneurship.
From my experience I have found that innovation is not creating the next flying car, entrepreneurship is not starting a multi-billion dollar startup, and creativity is not limited to artists and musicians. Instead, the I&E ecosystem is best represented by individuals who can identify a problem in their environment and aim to fix it. In order to change the problem currently in place one must think of a new, out-of-the-box solution. This environment, therefore, is non-exclusive. However, like myself, so many individuals write themselves off as not being creative enough to participate. To fix this problem we must show that we can all be “intrapreneurs” – those that change the world around them and make a huge difference along the way.
With this new mindset is becomes apparent that everyone on Loyola’s campus can take part in the ever changing and growing I&E ecosystem. And if you feel as if the University Innovation Fellows is a program you’d be interested in, I urge you to apply to Loyola’s next cohort. All that is needed is a short video (3 minutes max) stating what you would innovate at Loyola if given the chance. A whole new outlook on creativity may be in store for you, as well!
Are you interested in being a leader of change at Loyola? Learn more at www.loyola.edu/uif.