BRAID Conference Provides Innovation Inspiration to Evening & Weekend MBAs

Four teams of Evening & Weekend MBA (EWMBA) students recently accepted a challenge from PaylPal: Find a way to improve the gas-purchasing experience for their customers.

PayPal was among many companies that arrived at the inaugural Berkeley Roundtable on Applied Innovation and Design (BRAID) conference eager to find fresh ways to solve design challenges. The students, who were on their Mid-Program Academic Retreat (MPAR) retreat held Jan. 16-18, were there to help. The retreat was coordinated to run parallel to the BRAID conference, at the Silverado Resort in Napa, Ca. 

BRAID is a membership organization that serves a three-fold purpose, according to BRAID Director Elizabeth Kovats. It provides corporate innovation executives the opportunity to connect with others in their community, to facilitate professional and organizational development, and to collaborate with Berkeley students and faculty on a range of innovation projects and issues related to human-centered and design-based innovation practices.

Combining the conference with the mid-program course enabled the 250 students to apply their classroom learning to real-world challenges posed by innovation executives at BRAID member companies including Abbott, PayPal, W.L. Gore, Hearst, Siemens, Kaiser, Citi Ventures, AutoDesk, Panasonic, and Ford.

“There’s a lot of exciting applied innovation and design-based work happening at Berkeley and in the greater Bay Area, and growing student interest and demand for getting exposure and hands-on experience,” says Haas Lecturer and BRAID Executive Director Dave Rochlin, who founded the roundtable last fall with Haas Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman (pictured, top). “Running the course alongside the conference provided a front-row seat to the most cutting-edge methods and frameworks used in customer-centered design and innovation."

BRAID is a joint program of the Haas school's Institute for Business Innovation, and Berkeley Engineering’s Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, with additional faculty participation from the School of Information, College of Engineering, and The Blum Center for Developing Economies.

While some roundtable member companies are established Bay Area innovators, others have just recently set up innovation outposts in Silicon Valley, a growing trend.

Offering a range of projects to the MBA teams allowed organizers to match student interests with compatible challenges from the companies, Kovats says.

Each team was asked to conduct research and develop insights over the break, and worked with the companies’ executives to develop solutions. They tapped what they learned in their core Problem Finding, Problem Solving course, which teaches elements of design thinking, systems thinking, and critical thinking, as well as innovative problem-solving techniques.

At the conference, about two dozen corporate innovators participated in separate sessions on Friday, and joint sessions with students to mentor them on their work on Saturday.

One of the weekend's highlights was an awards banquet and celebration emceed by Haas Lecturer Clark Kellogg. The MPAR Cup trophy, awarded by the students to the team with the most outstanding presentation, went to Tejkiran Balijepalli, William Huang, Jon Moreno, Ravi Prakash, and Bryan Shieh for their PayPal project. "I was impressed by all of the student teams’ ability to apply the design thinking methods they learned in Problem Finding, Problem Solving," said Hisham Ibrahim, director of product innovation at PayPal. "They brought customer empathy to the problem, re-framed it, and rapidly iterated potential solutions. It was an absolute pleasure to join the conference, collaborate with the teams, and meet like-minded design thinkers in the BRAID community."