Evening & Weekend Students Co-Innovate with Top Firms

Second-year students in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program worked this weekend with innovation leaders from seven top companies to create co-innovation partnerships that position their firms on the cusp of what’s next in their industries.

As part of the program’s annual Mid-Program Academic Review (MPAR) course, 42 teams of six students each worked on projects for the innovation labs or centers of Citi, Ford, Kaiser Permanente, Nike, Panasonic, SAP, and Verizon.  Rather than simply focusing on a single company, each team was challenged to find opportunities for two partners to innovate together.

For example, the team selected by students as the audience favorite focused on assisting the elderly in maintaining independent living by combining SAP's real-time data analytics with Panasonic’s advanced display technologies.  The winning team consisted of Joe Suh, Neha Shah, Abde Tambawala, Amar Aujla, and Andrea Leibof. Other teams looked at everything from how connected automobiles might be more intelligent and user friendly to new platforms for improving athletic performance.

"It was so much fun," says Aquila Hussain, MBA 15, whose Nike-Ford team was chosen by Nike for having the best idea and best storytelling. Her team created a playful skit to illustrate the idea of a virtual trainer app that Ford could sync in cars to help motivate people to drive to the gym after work. The app would be able to interact with a user's calendar to find an open time for a workout or send a text message to a friend about meeting for a jog. The idea stems from the insight that people often decide whether or not to work out while driving home from work.

Hussain admits being a little skeptical students could come up with ideas that clients would like in such a short amount of time, but she came out of the process amazed at the effectiveness of problem finding, problem solving strategies.

"It always seems like if you're lucky, you come across a great idea," she says. But "while luck might have a small part to play, it was really eye opening to see that to come up with a great product idea, you need several great insights."

Ford-Nike Team
Members of the Nike-Ford team – Lauren Kalette, Ryan Bogert, Aquila Hussain, all MBA 15 – give their presentation, which was recognized by Nike for best storytelling.

The Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program holds MPAR every year as a combination course and retreat to give students the opportunity to apply what they learned during the first half of the program, including their Problem Finding, Problem Solving course, storytelling, collaborative teamwork skills, and competitive strategy. This year (2014) is the first time MPAR included a project-based challenge and focused on co-innovation.  

“We specifically chose to work with innovation labs/centers, since this innovation model  has recently emerged as a preferred method for many global companies to participate in the Bay Area’s vibrant technology and innovation ecosystem,” says Haas Lecturer and senior staff member  Dave Rochlin,  who developed and co-taught the MPAR course with Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman. “This course is the first step of what I hope will be a series of initiatives that put Berkeley in a key leadership role as this trend continues."

Indeed, clients found the focus on co-innovation very rewarding.

"It was not only very valuable but a lot of fun to have teams of students really focused on strategic partnerships, because that's work that doesn't always get done within the walls of Citi," says Alex Kinnebrew, director of innovation at Citi Ventures in Palo Alto. "Strategic partnerships are important to us. In fact, as time goes by, we are looking more externally than we are internally for sources for innovation."

One idea that she found especially intriguing involved a financial and fitness partnership between Citi and Nike related to financial literacy and healthy living among children.  Students proposed creating a virtual allowance for children with a simple Web interface that would allow parents to reward active, healthy behavior.

"It's really exciting for the partners and the students to realize that this process does in fact produce very meaningful results," says Kinnebrew.

Deborah Cahn and Ted Bennett

The two-day course, held at the Silverado Resort in Napa, wrapped up by tapping into Berkeley-Haas' deep connections to the wine industry with a reception and dinner honoring  alumni Ted Bennett, BS 60, and his wife, Deborah Cahn, MA 72 (English), owners of Navarro Vineyards, for their contributions to the California wine industry, their local Anderson Valley community, and Berkeley-Haas. Michelle McClellan, Haas assistant dean of development and alumni relations, was on hand to present Bennett and Cahn with the inaugural Berkeley-Haas Vintners Award.

Watch a video about Bennett and Cahn at youtu.be/6vTPOBEfRRY to learn more about their work and contributions.