Innovation at Work

Spring 2019 – Hillside Chat – Innovation at Work

Denison has a long and proud tradition of attracting and developing innovators, disruptors, and trailblazers, and we are dedicating this issue of Denison Magazine to highlighting and celebrating that entrepreneurial spirit. The alumni we profile in the opening pages represent only a small fraction of the Denisonians who are making an impact in the world through various forms of entrepreneurship.

It should not be surprising that Denison has produced so many enterprising alumni. Entrepreneurs are often described as free thinkers, problem-solvers, and innovators who learn from failures to create success. Liberal arts colleges instill these attributes within our graduates. We pride ourselves on it.

Denisonians tend to be highly engaged, active, smart, goal driven, and emotionally intelligent. We not only attract these kinds of students, but also develop these attributes as we take students deep and wide across the curriculum, immerse them in both academics and co-curriculars, and provide them with the opportunity to live with and learn from 2,200 engaged peers. I also believe the faculty mentorship students receive instills a willingness, excitement, and capacity for coaching and feedback that is crucial to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurial ways of thinking and being are important to educating this generation of students. Our students are graduating into a world of uncertainty both for them and the communities that will shape their lives. It is a time of tremendous challenges and unparalleled opportunities.

As we have launched the Knowlton Center for Career Exploration, we have been struck by the number of students who have started businesses while in school and those who have ideas for start-ups they plan to pursue post-Denison. Even our alumni who are working for larger organizations are contributing in entrepreneurial ways as their organizations look to them to help innovate and reinvent.

One expression of our work to drive entrepreneurial thinking and behavior is our recently launched Red Frame Lab. Located in Slayter, the lab is home to workshops and one-on-one coaching around design thinking, creative problem-solving, and entrepreneurship. The Red Frame Lab recently hosted a three-day start-up boot camp where students developed and pitched ideas with guidance and mentorship from Columbus-based entrepreneurs. During Winter Break, Red Frame facilitated a UX (user experience) Workshop for students to learn and practice design-thinking skills by visiting and working with a local museum. This fall, we will host the second ReMix Entrepreneurship Summit, an event created and led by Denison alumni.

These investments in fostering design thinking and entrepreneurship are benefitting our students, and just as importantly, they are benefiting our university. The Research, Engagement, and Design (RED) Corps is a team of 12 students who work closely with the Division of Student Development and the campus community to take on important projects to improve the campus. They use different methodologies from interviews, focus groups, and design sessions to compile and synthesize data, engage in human-centered design, and develop prototype solutions. RED Corps has gathered student insight that has been instrumental in the design of our housing master plan, new wellness center, social spaces, and community gathering spaces. Students are now working to address and improve campus parking.

We are doing this work in a uniquely Denison way. While many labs and studios nationally rely on technology, our premise is that the human brain is the most precious problem-solving tool we have, one that will never grow outdated. Robert Abbott, the Red Frame Lab’s entrepreneur-in-residence, describes the work as helping students to become, “innovative, resourceful, and driven to create change and value. Entrepreneurship is a mind-set, defined by what you do and how you think, much more than who you are or the title you have.” Through workshops and individual coaching sessions, he and the rest of the Red Frame team strive to help students develop curiosity, tenacity, resilience, and adaptability, among other key entrepreneurial traits.

The Red Frame Lab pulls heavily on our location. Columbus is regularly named in top 10 lists for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Much of this activity is happening on our side of the city, which means that Granville is home to many entrepreneurs, a number of whom are working in and around the Red Frame Lab. They are coaching students, facilitating workshops, and connecting us to the larger Columbus entrepreneurial ecosystem.

While programs like the Red Frame Lab are new, their work was seeded more than a decade ago through the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, another reminder of Denison’s long history of attracting and developing entrepreneurial-minded students. We’re deeply proud of this history and our students, as evidenced by the stories you’ll read in this issue of Denison Magazine.

Published June 2019