How can business schools help students become creative thinkers who are constantly producing new ideas? At the Villanova School of Business (VSB) in Pennsylvania, we do it by requiring every first-year student to participate in the Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship (ICE) Challenge as part of the first-semester Business Dynamics course. This means students must learn to be entrepreneurial within their first weeks on campus.
We piloted the ICE challenge in select sections in the fall of 2010. Students were assigned to random teams that each had to come up with an idea for something new, such as a business, invention, mobile app, or social venture. Within the first eight weeks of the class, every team delivered a two-minute elevator pitch in front of their classmates, and students voted on the ideas they thought were the best.
We have since expanded the program to all VSB students and added a culminating event where the top teams present their ideas to a panel of judges, which brings more excitement and impact to the program. Once the ICE Challenge was successful in the business school, we invited our colleagues in the College of Engineering (COE) to join us, and now the ICE Challenge is required as part of the first-year interdisciplinary projects in the COE. While VSB students present their ideas to their classmates in person, the COE students record two-minute videos of their pitches and vote for top ideas online.
In late November, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, the top vote-getting teams present their ideas to a panel of judges, which includes deans and associate deans from the VSB and COE. We also elevate the seriousness of the challenge by recruiting external judges and securing prize funding from the Ideas to Innovation Network, an initiative of the local development council designed to spur entrepreneurship throughout Pennsylvania.
We’ve made it easy for professors to teach the ICE Challenge by creating a turnkey module that includes packets, materials, and videos to support its implementation. For instance, we’ve included videos that explain how to ideate and how to develop elevator pitches; faculty can upload these into the course management system or develop their own versions. We’ve also created an online form to collect the data necessary to distribute the videos and tally the votes, which minimizes administrative and faculty effort in these areas.
Business and engineering students who are interested in taking action beyond the ICE Challenge can enter our annual Villanova Student Entrepreneurship Competition (VSEC), which provides US$10,000 of startup funding each spring.
We continue to modify the ICE program and are planning to engage the College of Nursing (CON) this fall. We have held meetings with the nursing faculty to get their feedback so that we can tailor the event to this new audience. The top teams from all three colleges will face off at the culminating event in November, where representatives from the CON also will serve as judges. At the present time, each college will run the first eight weeks separately, but we are considering ways to create multidisciplinary teams pulled from students in all three colleges.
As soon as students step on campus, the ICE Challenge shows them that they have a license to be creative. By the end of the program, they’ve learned what steps to take when they have an idea and that the ICE Institute is here to assist. They’re also armed with a great answer when their relatives ask the classic Thanksgiving break question, “What have you been up to at college?”
II Luscri is director of the Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) Institute at the Villanova School of Business in Pennsylvania.