Meeting the Haverford Innovation Platform (HIP)

Since October, The Clerk has been following the Haverford Innovation Platform (HIP), a program that was created to support innovation and social entrepreneurship on campus. We have spoken with students and staff about the program, trying to answer four central questions: What is HIP? Whom will it benefit? How is it funded? And how has it evolved? After nine months of interviews and meetings, here is the story of HIP.

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What is HIP?: Building capacity for innovation on campus through a student group and a College-run program

When thinking about HIP, it is important to differentiate between two programs: the Students’ Council (SC) project, known as HIP, which is run by students, and the larger Innovation Program, which is run by the College and will be located in the soon-to-be-opened Visual Culture, Arts, and Media building (VCAM). The former was spearheaded by Ian Andolsek ’17 and Tristan Pepin ’18, SC Co-Presidents, as well as Nathan Sokolic ’19, Dorian Wirz ‘17 and Yue Xiang ’17.

According to its website, HIP “will provide multiple pathways to innovation and entrepreneurship, encouraging students to employ their skills, follow their passions, and implement their ideas.”

The website continues: HIP “will be led by student and faculty members across campus, with an emphasis on balanced and intentional student engagement as a complementary program leading into the forthcoming Innovation Incubator and Innovation Programs.”

Andolsek and Pepin said that HIP will help equip entrepreneurial-minded students with more resources and support at Haverford. At the start of 2017, about 80 students were on HIP’s email list.

“Right now […]  if someone has an idea, whether it be social impact or creating the next Google, there’s nowhere on campus where they can get the support they need,” said Pepin.

HIP will help fill that role by organizing events about innovation and by giving students a place to pursue their own ideas. Shannon Mudd, an economics professor who has worked closely with HIP, also said that he hopes HIP can “make people more aware of the advantages and disadvantages of going out on a business on your own.”

“It’s not surprising to me that there’s been an increase in entrepreneurship,” said Mudd. “I actually was surprised that I wasn’t aware of it sooner on campus. But now with HIP, people are coming out of the woodwork, and so I’m discovering there actually is a lot of interest that maybe I wasn’t aware of.”

According to the SC budget, HIP secured $10,000 each semester, which came from the Student Activities Fund rolled-over from 2015-16.

The Innovation Program, run by the College and scheduled to launch this fall, will serve a similar purpose. According to the Plan for Haverford 2020, the College’s strategic plan, one key part of the Program is the Innovation Incubator, which will give students a chance to work through the entrepreneurial process. It describes the Incubator as:

A ten-­week summer program in which students from the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts will form teams to jointly explore research problems in an atmosphere of entrepreneurial invention. Mentored by alumni/ae conversant both with specific areas under exploration and with entrepreneurial techniques, skills, and strategies—and gently guided by supportive but not suffocating faculty oversight—students will be given living stipends and modest funding to develop scientific, commercial, artistic, community, and activist projects with potential for ‘real-­world’ application.”

It continues: “A small number of these projects might be selected for further support during the following academic year so that they can advance to an early phase of implementation (possibly under the guidance of an ‘entrepreneurial/artist/activist-in-­residence’).”

According to the VCAM building project website, the Innovations Program run by the College will receive a half million dollars from donors, to be used over the course of 5 years. Other projects in VCAM will get even more funding.

History of the student-run HIP: from an email proposal to an expanding program

One of the early references to the program, which evolved into what is now HIP, was in February 2016, when Andolsek and Pepin, then SC Co-Treasurers, sent an update to the community. In the update, they highlight two issues – the “new financial aid policy,” and what they saw as the “little-to-no support for student-lead entrepreneurship endeavors.”  In light of these issues, Andolsek and Pepin proposed a new project.

“Moving forward, we will work with the Deans to develop a strategy to create avenues for students to seek support from other students as well as faculty, while providing funding for projects through a grant created with Haverford’s surplus student activities funds,” they wrote. “We would like to see any profits generated through this program to go back into this grant to fund future projects, to go towards a fund that will be used by the discretion of Students’ Council.”

In early April 2016, they sent another update, which clarified some of their plans. According to this version of the “Entrepreneurial/Financial Aid Fund,” they would, “…with Haverford’s support, use money rolled over from the Student Activities Budget to fund socially-minded business endeavors here at Haverford, run by students, and potentially alongside professor mentors.” A resolution passed at plenary a few days later allowed SC to reallocate the “rolled over funds” – the money that clubs had not spent during the year – to miscellaneous other SC projects and clubs, rather than to Grand Haverfest, which is how SC had become accustomed to spending the money. As proposed, SC allocated a portion – 20 percent – of that rolled-over funding to HIP this year.

Andolsek and Pepin added: “We will be running as Student Council Co-Presidents in part so that we can continue working closely on this project with the Deans as well as other Senior Staff into the next year, and hopefully beyond.”

By fall 2016, Andolsek and Pepin had been elected SC Co-Presidents, and HIP began to take shape in its current form. That September, they sent an email to students, which defined HIP and outlined a few of their upcoming events. They wrote:

“Student Council plans to run four (4) workshops this fall on entrepreneurship, design, innovation and social impact, as part of an initiative The Haverford Innovation Platform (HIP) which seeks to grow the entrepreneurial community among students. This initiative will unfold over the ’16-’17 Academic Year, dovetailing with the College’s efforts as it implements the Innovations Programs and Innovation Incubator outlined in the strategic plan Haverford 2020.”

In the email, they also raised the possibility of a plenary resolution in Spring 2017 related to “Student Generated Ventures,” though they ultimately did not bring forth such a resolution.

Between October and November, the student leaders of HIP followed through on the plans for a panel on entrepreneurship and a “Design Thinking” workshop. During the workshop, Andolsek and Sokolic said, students from Haverford and Swarthmore learned about social entrepreneurship – what Andolsek described as “business directed at producing social good”– and created their own projects to address issues in Philadelphia. The workshop concluded with a pitch event, giving these students a chance to share their ideas and compete for a trip to a conference.

“I think HIP and this business idea [have] helped me to put some of things that I’ve been thinking about into practice like for the first time in my college career,” said Joey Leroux ’18, who was on the winning team at the pitch event, with an idea about sustainable cricket farming.  “So that’s been new and exciting in itself – just trying to make something happen, while also at school being a full-time student.”

That fall, members of HIP also introduced a plenary resolution intended to create a new student liaison position for HIP. According to the plenary packet, the resolution, if passed, would help ease the amount of time that the Co-Presidents spend coordinating the program, “given the responsibilities already mandated” to them, by recruiting another student’s help. It would also ensure that the program could live on after Andolsek and Pepin’s term as Co-Presidents ended. The presenters wrote:

“Be it resolved that the Student Council makes available an appointed position to work with the administration, on behalf of Student Council and the Student Body, to oversee and interface with Innovation Initiatives on Campus.”

They continue: “Be it resolved that the Student Council co-Presidents, with advisement from the Student Council, will appoint a liminal Student Council-Innovation Coordinator until the Spring Term, at which time the College intends to hire a Innovation Program Manager. Following this hire, the Student Council will appoint a long-term Student Council-Innovation Coordinator to work alongside this individual, faculty, staff, and interested students to help shape the College’s forthcoming programs.”

After students voted in favor of the resolution at plenary, President Benston accepted the resolution, writing to the community in November that it “helpfully advances goals for the College’s Innovation Incubator initiative, which has been a model of program development among students, faculty, and administration.”

Andolsek said that SC did not appoint an interim SC-Innovation Coordinator that Fall, as proposed at plenary, but that he fulfilled those responsibilities as SC Co-President until someone was appointed in the spring. The “long-term” position was filled in February 2017, when Andrew Eaddy ’19 applied and was selected for the position. Since then, Eaddy has been working with both HIP and SC, and communicating between them.  

“So my job is essentially to be the mouthpiece for HIP to SC – keep them updated on how things are going with HIP, talk about special projects that HIP is working on, think strategically about HIP also moving forward and what direction we want HIP to go in,” said Eaddy. “It’s a little bit nebulous. It’s a new position, so we’re kind of working it out as we go.”

[Editor’s Note: Eaddy is a member of The Clerk’s Editorial Board.]

In the spring 2017 semester, the College also hired Shayna Nickel, Innovation Program Manager for the larger, College-run program. A few members of HIP had been interviewing candidates for the position since the fall. (In one meeting that I attended, only three students from HIP showed up to interview a prospective Program Manager. In the meeting in which students first met Nickel, there were only 2 students – Andolsek and a former Clerk editor.)

Since starting in January, Nickel said that her “focus has been primarily on creating sustainable programming beginning this fall,” when the College’s Innovation Program officially launches.

My role as manager is to create a program with workshops and events offering opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to generate or expand ideas, collaborate, and architect solutions to problems or questions they want to address now or in the future,” said Nickel.

She continued:  “This community has a vibrant diversity of ideas and my hope is that ultimately the program will create a network across the disciplines that encourages collaborative and innovative thinking leading to undertakings of learning by doing.

HIP continued to hold events and workshops throughout the spring 2017 semester, including a Systems Thinking Workshop. About 11 members also attended the Spark conference at Yale.

Victoria Merino ‘20, who has been involved in HIP since the fall, said that, as the program moves forwards, she hopes to bring together more people on campus to talk through their ideas. She added that, as the incoming SC Officer of Academics, she wants to “link HIP to SC in different ways,” and also emphasized faculty involvement in the program.

“We want to reach out to more people,” said Merino. “It’s fantastic to see the ideas that people can have from all over the world, and I would love to reach out…To be able to take [their] knowledge and then present it in a way that’s constructive and that we can use would be fantastic.”

Nickel said that the Program will host the Design Thinking Workshop again this fall, as well as other programming, such as guest speakers from Philadelphia. She added that, in 2017-18, HIP will also have a steering committee which will include students, faculty, administrators, and alumni. Nickel said that students will be able to join the committee through a yet-to-be-determined application or appointment process.

Examining HIP: Student perceptions of the project

Despite HIP’s growth this past year, some students expressed mixed feelings about the program. Some said that they still don’t know much about it, while others raised questions about whom the program benefits.

“Business values are kind of inherently contradictory to Haverford’s values and the values we talk about in the Honor Code,” said one student. “For that reason, I thought it didn’t make sense to support this program [at plenary].”

In an earlier interview, Andolsek attempted to address such concerns. He said that “the focus [of the Innovation Incubator and HIP] is a broad focus on arts and design, social impact, [and] social entrepreneurship,” rather than entrepreneurship in the typical sense of the word.

”I don’t want to speak for the College and institution as far as their whole focus,” he said. “But it’s certainly not ‘how do we get these students making their first million dollars as quickly as possible.’”

It is also worth examining how the program was implemented. HIP is a SC project, not a club, meaning that it is under the direction of the Co-Presidents. According to section 5.05 of the Students’ Constitution, SC Co-Presidents have the authority to develop projects of their choosing.

It states, “The Co-Presidents are responsible for planning events and implementing projects to identify what campus-wide issues Students’ Council should address.”

Examples of SC Co-Presidents’ projects over the past nine years include: working on the Smoking Policy; implementing Havertivity; updating the Constitution; putting a printer in the campus center; arranging 24/7 access to the campus center; surveying students about financial aid; recommending that the budgets for the Women*s Center, Eighth Dimension, and similar programs be institutionalized; allocating $100,000 for facilities upgrade; developing an application for the Student Facilities Fund; and overseeing renovations across campus.

Looking ahead: Ken Ruto ‘20 and a HIP project that could solve a global issue

Ken Ruto ‘20 wants to solve the current water crisis in Kenya, and now he says HIP is helping him achieve that goal.  Currently, Ruto is designing a “real time water consumption data” system, called Flux, that will monitor how much water people in Kenya, his home country, are using to make sure that the supply is being utilized and distributed efficiently, and to encourage people to conserve as much water as possible.

Ruto said that he became interested in similar technology during his writing seminar in the fall, when he chose to research the “Internet of Things” for his final paper. Later, while reading news about Kenya’s current water crisis, he said had his “eureka” moment. Ruto said that he realized he could use technology to address the root causes of the country’s water crisis. Now, he says he and his brother, an engineer, have developed a prototype that will use “cellular networks to send data” about water to people in Kenya, so they can see how much water is available, and so the government and water service providers can budget the water supply accordingly.

Ruto said that Flux will have “a minimal energy requirement” and “will leverage self-powering technology,” making it an affordable and accessible option in Kenya.

“[Water service providers in Kenya] lose on average 50% of all their water delivered and revenue through thefts, illegal connections, and undetected leakages. This means that county governments sometimes have to invest limited resources to bail them out,” said Ruto. “So if we can work with Water Service Providers to cut down on non-revenue and improve organizational efficiency, then providers and county governments can improve existing infrastructure and invest in service extensions for neighborhoods that really need this water.”

Ruto said that he has been involved in HIP since October, and has been able to put everything he learned from HIP into practice in designing Flux. He has also gotten help from Andolsek and Matthew Scharf ‘20.

“HIP has been very, very resourceful and helpful in regards to the ideation and shaping it and just making it happen,” said Ruto.

He added that he has already had a number of successes with the project, including placing as the first runner-up out of 160 participants at the Singularity University East African Global Impact Global Challenge. He is now working on a pilot, and said that he is optimistic about the future of the project.

“This is not a silver bullet,” said Ruto. “Of course there are a lot of things that go into the Kenyan water crisis. But, if we can provide this data, map our entire water infrastructure, help cut down on organizational inefficiencies and losses… it is going to go a long way in improving water service delivery for the millions of Kenyans, my family included, that rely on these utilities for cheap, affordable water and sanitation.”

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