Fletcher School hosts third-annual Innovation Week

The Fletcher School and its partners hosted Innovate Tufts earlier this week. From left to right, Director of Global Merchant and Cross-Border Trade Initiatives at Paypal Melissa O'Malley, Chief Marketing Officer at POPVOX Rachna Choudhry, and Senior Director of Global Brand Marketing at Xoom Theresa Pasinosky discuss their work with data. Research Fellow for Innovation and Change at IBGC Ravi Shanka (far right) moderates the panel. Alex Knapp / The Tufts Daily

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy hosted various panels and workshops as part of its third annual Innovation Week, which ran from Jan. 29 through Feb. 4.

Innovation Week was themed “Think Local, Act Local,” with an emphasis on the importance of local stakeholders in technological, entrepreneurial and governmental innovation, according to Innovate Tufts Co-Chair and Fletcher student Nadim Choucair. 

The event kicked off on Jan. 29 with a Design Thinking Workshop. Choucair said that attendees discussed the challenges associated with building communities among current students, prospective students and alumni based on common interests. To this end, they worked with Frog Design, an international design firm, and the Tufts Social Impact Network, which connects Tufts alumni with a common interest in social changeChoucair said.

His fellow Innovate Tufts Co-chair and Fletcher student John Clemow said he was pleased with the discussions that were held during the workshop, and noted that conversations focused on looking for a common framework rather than finding concrete solutions. He added that while most workshop participants were associated with the Fletcher School, there were also many Tufts undergraduates present.

Between Feb. 1 and Feb. 3, five different panels were held, according to the Innovate Tufts websiteChoucair and Clemow said that each of the panels covered innovation in a particular field, and that the presentations were geared toward the particular interests of student and faculty organizers.

The first two panels, held on Feb. 1, covered human rights and education, and were organized by Fletcher students Anna Ackerman and Amelia Rasmussen, respectively.

According to Ackerman, the education panel included Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Rogers, Lindsey Horowitz from Chelsea Public Schools and Education Consultant Jessica Turco.

“We kept the focus on education broad, so as to engage in a more philosophical discussion regarding the changing dynamic of how we are learning and for what purpose are we learning and teaching,” Ackerman told the Daily in an email.

On Feb. 2, Rockford Weitz, an Entrepreneur Coach at the Fletcher School, moderated a panel about advancements in financial technology (FinTech) entrepreneurship, which he and the panelists noted is a quickly growing and important field. According to an article in Forbes, FinTech startup investments grew from $3 billion to $12 billion between 2013 and 2014.

“Because the cost of financial services is going down, there’s a huge opportunity to develop products that everyone has access to,” Panelist Jean Donnelly said.

The panel on Feb. 3, “BlueTech Innovation in MA and Beyond,” focused on technological innovation in maritime trade, according to the Innovate Tufts website. Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito served on the panel, alongside several other panelists from government positions, the private sector and the Fletcher School’s Institute for Global Maritime Studies.

According to Matt Merighi, Fletcher student and panelist, the panelists covered maritime and trade innovation both in Massachusetts and worldwide.

“The heavy Massachusetts focus was part of Innovation Week’s ‘Think Local, Act Local’ mantra,” Merighi told the Daily in an email.

Polito gave opening remarks near the beginning of the panel, but requested to stay for longer than originally planned so that she could hear both of the student panelists speak after her, according to Choucair. He said he believes that this action demonstrated Polito’s interest in hearing student perspectives.

“[By staying] she was saying, ‘we are committed to advancing BlueTech innovations,’” Choucair said.

The final event of the week was a Cross-School Demo Night on Feb. 4, during which four aspiring startups from within the Tufts community pitched their ideas. The participants included Mimir Insights, an online platform that helps medical suppliers better identify sales leads, and Uliza, a phone-based system that allows people to access information without internet access, according to Choucair and Clemow. The demo night included three startups from the Fletcher School and one from AS&E.

Choucair and Clemow said that they were impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of Tufts students, which Choucair said was reflected in a similar Demo Night held last fall attracted Fletcher School students, undergraduates from the School of Arts and Sciences and Engineering (AS&E) and people who were not affiliated with Tufts. 

Choucair and Clemow added that the participants were at various stages in their development, and the purpose extended beyond networking or developing pitches for the particular startups in attendance.

“Rather than tangible pitching, a lot of [the goal] was to…sort of facilitate an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation at Fletcher,” Clemow said.

Choucair agreed, noting that the ultimate goal of the Demo Night was to foster an on-campus environment conducive to innovation.

“There are endless studies about how to build and maintain an entrepreneurial ecosystem on campus,” Choucair said. “[Fostering innovation] is one of the basics of any healthy campus ecosystem, and I think we should do even more of [it].”