In just the past few years, Olin has been a launching pad for a handful of successful student start-ups. In the case of indico, which is striving to democratize machine learning, a team of two juniors, two sophomores and one first year cooked up the idea in their dorm room. In late 2014, they raised $3 million in initial funding through Techstars. Not bad for undergraduate engineering students.
This is not an unfamiliar story at Olin. In early 2014, a senior-junior dual launched company around LilyPad, a lightweight, roll-up scale for individuals who are wheelchair-bound, and won Babson’s prestigious BETA award. They are now shipping the scale internationally. And in 2013, a five-student team of men and women launched Technical Machine, which raised more than $1 million in funding.
What makes for a young innovator? I decided to ask some of the leading thought leaders in academia and the corporate world, and the answer may surprise you.
It wasn’t the “smartest guy in the room,” but the person who cared about others, had a sense of purpose and was persistent. He or she was a multidisciplinary thinker, an independent learner and one who pushed themselves outside their comfort zone. They often preferred to work in teams and were comfortable leading and following – checking their egos at the door.
If you want to hear what Sir Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner, Howard Gardner and a host of other leaders say about innovation, innovators and how to attract and retain innovators, download the primer which includes excerpts from interviews.
They all seemed to agree that our current educational system that relies on experts (faculty) to passively transmit content to fledglings (students) is not the optimal learning environment to inspire innovation. Instead they advocate for coaches and mentors who inspire young people to discover their passion, find their purpose and jump into life with both feet.