Three days. Four teams. Creative solutions to bullying.

The Elms Innovation Challenge is a 72-hour workshop that invites students to collaborate on innovative ways to tackle a pervasive social problem. The 2019 challenge focused on developing creative solutions to bullying. Students from a variety of majors conducted field research and used the Lean LaunchPad method to test their ideas before pitching them to local business leaders.

Lean LaunchPad is a business methodology that gives startup owners immediate feedback from customers in the marketplace during the business launch, allowing them to react to market demands and learn as they grow their businesses.

“This year’s Elms Innovation Challenge is a pilot program,” said Amanda Garcia, CPA, CFP, MS, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “The students are learning rapidly. They’re going to prototype ideas and solutions around bullying, and they’re going to learn the skill sets to handle feedback, to take criticism, to work with teammates, and also to be focused on how their actions can make an impact.”

The workshop was designed to develop skills related to problem solving, business, and field research, and to give the students hands-on experience employing those skills.

‘After the weekend I learned that, with innovative thinking, you can really tackle a lot of things.’

Christian Pavlakis ’21

The weekend’s events included a workshop on design thinking; a panel discussion on bullying; breakout brainstorming sessions; a workshop on improv and collaborative thinking led by Pam Victor of Happier Valley Comedy; an escape room experience; a visit to Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, MA, where the students participated in a field research workshop and conducted focus groups on bullying with members of the community to gain a deeper insight into the problem; storyboarding sessions to develop visual thinking skills; and a pitching workshop.

“After the weekend I learned that, with innovative thinking, you can really tackle a lot of things,” said Christian Pavlakis ’21, a double major in accounting and management. “It’s definitely really cool to kind of think of something that you think nobody’s ever thought of before, and kind of try to revolutionize that idea.”

Photo of Elementary education major Samantha O'Grady '20 at the Elms Innovation Challenge
Junior Samantha O’Grady ’20, an elementary education major, pitches her team’s concept for “Let’s All Be an MVP,” an educational program focused on defining self-worth and value.

Community partners, including Elms alumni, service organizations, and local educators, visited campus on Monday, Feb. 18, for the students’ presentations of potential solutions and for an awards dinner where the top pitches were recognized.

Pavlakis’ team won the award for top innovative idea after pitching a concept for a mobile app called “Teen Safety Circuit,” which would allow students to report instances of bullying to their school administration using an anonymous interface. The award for top designing thinking chart went to the team that developed a one day step-up program that would partner with local community organizations. Other team solutions included an education program focused on defining self-worth and value, and a community youth mentorship program.

Photo of accounting major Chris Soderberg '19 at the Elms Innovation Challenge
Senior Chris Soderberg ’19, a double major in accounting and management, explains to the judges how “SAFE,” a one day step-up program, would benefit students in the local community.

“The product that my group designed is something that I kind of want to go into,” said Sam Kolodziej ’22, a graphic design major on the Teen Safety Circuit team. “Logo design, working with businesses, things like that. So, this was perfect — it will fit right into my portfolio, and it will really give me a boost in the job world.”

“At Valley Venture Mentors, talking to the teachers to see what they already try to do to input a ‘peace area’ within their schools, within their classrooms — I took a lot of information away from that,” said Samantha O’Grady ’20, an elementary education major. “Not only in that, but with what my group is doing — and what other groups are doing and talking about — I feel like I’ll be able to take a lot of that into my future classroom.”

“We have challenged these students to close the empathy gap, and to use their own innovation and creativity to create real social change,” said MBA program director Kim Kenney-Rockwal, MBA, SPHR. “These students will now be able to demonstrate critical and empathetic analysis of a problem.”