WEEK 3: The Rise & Practice of Social Innovation and Sustainability

It’s amazing how time flies by in a heartbeat in New York city… the last week brings everything to a close as we took a look at social innovation and sustainability.

DAY 10 (01/06/2015)

In the morning session we had a talk from Andrew Pek, Partner, Pivot Leadership and then Daniel Pianko, Managing Director of the University Ventures Fund.

Andrew introduced us to the concept of the “new IQ” or as he explained it the Innovation Quotient.  He defined Innovation as “the human centred creation of something desirable to others that is doable is commercially and socially viable”.  The new Innovation Quotient therefore is fundamental to shaping, building and achieving new scientific discovery breakthroughs and commercial success.  To quote Richard Branson “Entrepreneurship…is about innovative ways to improve people’s lives”.

Daniel stated that college is disrupted and the new challengers for higher educational institutions is staffing providers such as Manpower, Adecco and Kelly Services.  He states that the average discount in the US on college fees is 50% and $60,000 a year in fees is no longer sustainable in the current economy.  Which is why smaller companies are setting up online courses or shorter weekly or monthly courses to assist individuals who know exactly what they want to do and can specifically target their educational requirements and get them a job quickly instead of going the more traditional and lengthy college or university route, which is why he is a big advocate of Galvanize, General Assembly, the Startup Institute, Kaplan, The Iron Yard and Development Boot Camp.  To quote Steve Jobs, make it “so simple that even a stoned Freshman can work it out

In the afternoon we visited Green Map System where we got an overview of all the green energy and sustainable initiatives happening in New York which are tagged with various icons on a map of the city and then we went on a walking tour of the East village to see all the community gardens in the neighbourhood.

DAY 11 (02/06/2015)

In the morning session we had the class presentations reviewing Week 2 and in the afternoon we had a guest lecture from Michael McGetrick, Principal of SPARK451 which is a marketing communications firm that he founded with 4 partners in 2011 and now has 50 employees.  The company specialises in marketing for higher education especially middle level colleges in the US as the competition to recruit the best students is fierce.  Michael gave an overview of how his company uses websites, online media, digital advertising channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc, brochures and their custom–built technology platform called “Luminous” to carry out advertising.  His four key pieces of advice were;

  • Put agreements in writing
  • Be prepared for difficult situations
  • When starting up, go fast!
  • When needed GTD! (Get Things Done!)

DAY 12 (03/06/2015)

DAY 12 consisted of two Company Visits to Rudin Management and Brooklyn Grange.  Rudin Management is a family-run Real Estate Company founded 105 years ago in New York which prides itself on its premier property portfolio of buildings in Manhattan and the company prefers to own and rent out properties with a view to sustaining them over several generations.  The unique selling point of the company is that they take care of each building as if you own it and if anything is broken they fix it immediately to ensure customer satisfaction of their tenants.  The company have recently invested in a Digital Building Operating System called DI-BOSS which gives them full visibility, reporting and operational control of each building to ensure energy management and optimal operation of each building.

Brooklyn Grange is a company which operates rooftop farms and we visited the rooftop farm at the top of Building 9 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The company is an excellent example of Smart Agriculture in the city as they utilise roof space for growing crops to supply the local community and restaurants within a 5km radius.  They produce their own special Hot Sauce from peppers grown on the roof and honey from their beehives also located on the roof.  The also offer the roof space for civil ceremony weddings with a fabulous view of lower Manhattan and run weekly yoga courses.  The company with its sustainable ethos of “Profit, People, Planet” was valued at $1.1 million in 2012.

DAY 13 (04/06/2015)

In the morning session we had a guest lecture from David Hochman Executive Director, Business Incubator Association off New York State Inc.  According to David, Innovation has represented 50% of growth in the US since World War 2 and it is no longer a choice between high tech or industrial innovation, his motto is simply “Innovate or Die!!”  He gave an overview of the difference between Accelerators and Incubators and provided key Start-up Methodologies such as Lean Launchpad, Business Model Canvas and the Lean Start-up.

The second talk of the day was given by Robert Zuber, Director of Civilian Protection/UNEPS at Global Action (http://www.globalactionpw.org).  Bob’s talk was the most informative and interesting of the week and gave an insight of his work with the Global Action organisation.  He works as an independent advisor and gives insight to key people in the UN to improve and make their processes better.  He has worked in the UN Building for the past 11 years giving “under the radar” consulting to the UN and governments while trying to “level the playing ground”.  Some of the topics discussed included climate change, the rights of women farmers in Africa, sexual violence during armed conflict and peacekeeper abuse in Darfur and the Central African Republic (CAR).

We finished off the day with a Company Visit to Brooklyn Research which is a small company that is located among other start-up companies and incubators in the old Pfizer pharmaceutical building in Brooklyn.  They have an agency which carries out technical research, builds custom order installations and prototypes for clients and they also have a co-sharing space for research members who also have access to their tools, labs and workshops.  Brooklyn Research is techie heaven for nerds!!

Overall the week was very varied and we crammed a lot of information and guest speakers in such a short time frame, that it will take time to digest all the information and take on board the whole experience and different dynamics that New York as an innovation eco-system offers to those willing to put in the hard work and resilience to keep going even after one or two mistakes along the way, but one key thing that I have learned is that New Yorkers are PASSIONATE about what they do!!

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