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72 Hours of Innovation: Design Boot Camp

No two words together tell a narrative about an experience quite like boot camp. As an incoming Master of Product Innovation student for the 2015 fall semester, eleven graduate students and myself just completed this three-day indoctrination last week. Having completed the US Army’s boot camp once upon a time, and now VCU’s Product Innovation boot camp, I can say with certainty that the two share one common theme, immersion.

For starters, day one was more like two days. This twelve-hour day started with more than nametags and handshakes, it began with introductions to the people you’re likely to see more of than most for the next two years. And at the helm of this eclectic mix of philosophers, engineers and business professionals was our navigator, Joe Cipolla. Joe not only introduced the program, but he began to give us our first glimpse of how this group of diverse grad students would use art, business and engineering to establish a product innovation foundation. Although product design began right away with Dr. Jean Gasen, what we were really discovering was collaboration styles among classmates. Not just forming impressions, but how each of us approached a problem. Before any of us could realize that we were learning laughing yoga techniques, Dr. Gasen encouraged us to challenge our assumptions of innovation.

As this immersive day continued, we were suddenly thrust into describing sensory perceptions of art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. We followed this expressive experience with a no holds barred debate and art scavenger hunt. Now that we were fairly confident we knew our classmate’s names, we got a glimpse into who among them were the most competitive! As the afternoon set in with my new MPI family, we were whisked off to Richmond’s Visual Arts Center where we learned first hand that art is a verb. Between the screen-printing, line drawing class and pottery, where we got more than a little clay under our nails, my classmates and I were learning firsthand the role art would play in our curriculum. The day concluded with something nearly all of this incoming class could relate to, local food & beer. As we laughed over suds and nachos at Home Team Grill with Joe Cipolla and Ken Kahn, I think we all agreed on one thing, if this was the first day- it was going to be an amazing experience.

Day two and three furthered this hands-on product innovation boot camp with designing prototypes at the Science Museum of Virginia to learning how machinist turn raw steel into beautifully thought-out objects at Tectonics Design Group. While being educated on how Sabra Dipping Co.’s R & D team finds the intersection of innovation and hummus, I think we each ate our body weight in chickpeas. And what is a new MPI student to do next with all of these new innovative ideas? Learn how to present them of course from two of the very best, Professor Aaron Anderson & David Leong.

Over the weekend, someone asked me “…how was the boot camp?” As I looked back over those three intense days, and all the warm smiling faces of the second year MPI students & faculty at our closing reception, the only answer I could come up with was, “I’ll let you know.” The design boot camp isn’t about three days and whetting your appetite for product innovation. It’s about immersion. It’s about design thinking and the notion that this graduate program is going to change the way we think about everything.

Post Written by Blue Crump, Current MPI Student

2015 MPI Spring Break

During Spring Break, 19 da Vinci students in the Master of Product Innovation (MPI) program and 3 faculty members had the wonderful pleasure of exploring the beautiful city of San Francisco. As part of the MPI program, students get to spend an all-expenses paid trip to visit and workshop with some of the most innovative companies in the nation. Here’s a quick look at their itinerary:

  • Jump Associates
  • Intel Museum
  • Google
  • Institute for the Future
  • Airbnb
  • Capital One Labs
  • Planisware

Throughout the week, the students had some really interesting conversations and gained a tremendous amount of inspiration to “manufacture delight” through human-centered design. Here are some highlights from their trip:

Jump Associates

It all started with their tour at Jump Associates. Strategists there focused on the importance of human-centered design and walked the students through their design thinking practice. Furthermore, the students took time to ideate around the countless revenue models for a lemonade stand – crazy how such a simple concept can have so many possibilities!

Our visit to Jump was very exciting and inspiring. Seeing the things that we do here in da Vinci in practice in the real world was quite an experience. In this picture we were participating in a daily meeting that the employees at Jump call the morning “scrum”. We mentally and physically prepared for the day by doing stretches, talking about what we were excited about for the day, and playing a fun game making up silly proverbs.


The very next day, the da Vinci’s spent the day in a private tour around the Google campus. Included in the tour were conversations with amazing speakers like Timothy Jordan (Senior Developer Advocate, Google Glass), who talked about innovation and the outlook of future products. Furthermore, the students then spent some time hands-on with Google Cardboard, talked to some of it’s developers, and brought some developer kits back to the da Vinci Center. The exciting tour then finally ended with a Google lunch outside under the beautiful sun.

The da Vincis walking the iconic steps in Google’s Building 43. This was the commencement of our tour of Google’s incredible campus in Mountain View. At the top of the steps the original server used to power Google, dubbed the cardboard server, is kept on display.

While visiting Google we were given the opportunity to experience a relatively new technology that Google is experimenting with called Cardboard. Cardboard is a ultra-inexpensive version of the advanced technology Oculus VR, a virtual reality device. A great example that technology can always be innovated to become better, faster, more adaptable, more available, or any number of things.


If the class had to pick a winner for the “Best Workplace award”, it would be Airbnb. Their office had the perfect blend of open, collaborative workspace mixed with fun and play. Their conference rooms were exact replicas of real Airbnbs all over the world! The tour however, did not stop there. The students had a very interactive Q&A session with Willow (Creative Producer @ Airbnb) and topped off the day with some wine and beer at Airbnb’s gourmet cafeteria. No wonder this company is disrupting the hospitality industry!

The foyer at Airbnb was a beautiful example of collaborative workspace.  Featuring things like a living wall, attractive furniture, open floor space, and artistic touches throughout the building, the space captivated us from the beginning.

The foyer at Airbnb was a beautiful example of collaborative workspace. Featuring things like a living wall, attractive furniture, open floor space, and artistic touches throughout the building, the space captivated us from the beginning.

Capital One Labs

Last but not least, the group spent some time at Capital One Labs, located at 101 Post Street. There, serial entrepreneurs Joshua and James spent some time going over the disruption and innovation currently happening in the banking industry and even shared some of the innovation happening right now at Capital One to change banking for good. Many of the students were impressed with the startup/hackathon culture of a tech company in a bank and had some insightful questions about inciting innovation in a yet-to-be disrupted industry.

The students and faculty come back with some unforgettable memories and insights. New connections were formed and friendships were further refined. Till next time.

Post Written by Eric Kim, Current MPI Student

Photos and captions by Hillary Hardiman, Current MPI Student

Upcoming MPI Information Session

Interested in the Master of Product Innovation program? Join us for an information session on Wednesday, January 28th from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. at 807 Cathedral Place.

Please RSVP with Dr. Frank Franzak.

MPI Info Session_ January 28 2015


VCU da Vinci Center wins RVA Creativity Award

Ten local businesses and organizations were named winners of the first-ever RVA Creativity Awards on Thursday night.

The awards program — organized by C3, the Creative Change Center — recognizes businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations that have the best examples of creativity, originality, imagination and risk-taking. It was held at the Hippodrome Theater.

More than 110 applications were received, and there were 20 finalists.

The RVA Creativity Award winners are:

• Richmond Cycling Corps : A nonprofit organization founded in 2010 that engages inner-city youth in public housing in cycling programs.

• Coffitivity : A Richmond-based website that was named among Time magazine’s 50 best websites of 2013. It enables people to stream the ambient sounds of a café to help boost their creativity.

• RVA Street Art Festival : An organization that transformed the former Cary Street bus depot into an outdoor art gallery with murals and sculpture.

• OutRVA : A campaign started by five VCU Brandcenter students to make Richmond a more welcoming and attractive city for the LGBT community.

• Light Tape : A product manufactured in Richmond by Electro-LuminX Lighting Corp., Light Tape is a durable electroluminescent light source that can bend around any surface and is adaptable to a wide range of projects.

• VCU da Vinci Center : An interdisciplinary program at Virginia Commonwealth University that brings art, business and engineering students together to collaborate on projects, the VCU da Vinci Center offers the nation’s first master’s degree in product innovation.

• Boaz & Ruth : A faith-based initiative in North Richmond that is using social entrepreneurship to help formerly incarcerated people receive housing, training and jobs.

• Batter Up : A blog, a social experiment and a movement started by graphic designer Ryn Bruce in 2013 to bake a free cake every week for a cake-worthy person in the area and to encourage people to share stories over homemade food.

• RainRaps : A water-repellent, reversible, lightweight and fashionable wrap for women. Stacy Struminger and Rachel Teyssier founded the Henrico County-based RainRap business.

• Light of Human Kindness : An interactive mural that combines art, technology and human connection. The project, initiated by Patience Salgado, features personal stories copied by hand onto the walls of one of the structures on the former GRTC headquarters property.

(via Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Altria boosts VCU’s da Vinci Center

From left, Georges Aguehounde, Luca Terziotti, Becky Moran, Christina Walinski, 
Samantha Testa and Ilijana Soldan work on a project at VCU’s da Vinci Center.By: JOHN REID BLACKWELL | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Published: September 17, 2012
Updated: September 17, 2012 – 9:02 PM

Virginia Commonwealth University engineering student Luca Terziotti is hoping to put his education to use designing innovative products for mountaineering and rock climbing, a passion of his.

Catherine Gellatly, a craft and material studies student and a VCU crew team member, wants to design better boating products. Samantha Testa, a business administration major, thinks she can bring innovative ideas to the hospitality industry.

All three are honing their skills at VCU’s da Vinci Center for Innovation, an interdisciplinary program that brings art, business and engineering students together to collaborate on projects, including solving problems for real-world businesses.

Now the da Vinci Center, established in 2007, has received a financial boost from corporate giant Altria Group Inc.

Henrico County-based Altria will donate $1.5 million to the center to help support and expand its mission of producing students who can think across disciplines and bring creative ideas and products to market.

The center “really develops students in a way that makes them attractive to any business — not just ours — because it makes them more well-rounded,” Jack Nelson, Altria’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said at an event at VCU to announce the donation Monday.

Altria is the parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest cigarette maker.

The da Vinci Center has 51 students enrolled in an undergraduate product design and innovation certificate program. Ten graduate students are enrolled in a master’s of product innovation program, the first such graduate program in the United States.

“Our intent is to continue to grow the program,” said Kenneth Kahn, a professor of marketing and director of the da Vinci Center. The donation “helps us to go from good, to great, to remarkable,” he said.

Kahn said the goal of the program is to create “T-shaped individuals,” or graduates who are well-anchored in their core subjects of business, arts or engineering, but who are also able to bridge the gap and communicate effectively in other disciplines.

The donation of $300,000 a year for five years will support plans to enroll more students and buy equipment, such as a 3-D printer for the center’s product design lab.

The donation also will support a program in which VCU students help to teach local middle schoolers about science, technology, engineering and math at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Nelson said Altria made the donation because it sees the da Vinci Center as a resource. The company recruits employees heavily from VCU, but it also sees the graduate program in product innovation as an opportunity for current employees, he said.

“It is a resource for our current employees who want to enhance their skills and capability, and it is also a resource for us to recruit employees,” he said.

Testa, the business student, said the da Vinci Center program is a “vacation away from my everyday grind,” studying administration and management.

“It is where I use my brain in completely different ways, working with engineers and artists,” she said. “I am getting a chance to not only work with other people, but to think like other people.” (804) 775-8123

Announcing the Winners of the 2012 Venture Creation Competition

The Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center for Innovation hosted the 2012 VCU Venture Creation Competition (VCC) and winners of the inaugural campus-wide competition were announced Friday, April 27, as part of VCU Student Research Week.

The competition began earlier this semester with 40 student teams submitting executive summaries of ideas, concepts and/or technologies for a business venture. These teams represented 87 individuals across nine of VCU’s schools. A panel of esteemed judges evaluated the summaries and selected 12 semifinalist teams, which then submitted business plans. Following another round of judging, five finalist teams gave 20-minute presentations to the judges on Friday.

The Quinn-Tyrell Corporation, comprising of VCU Brandcenter students Katie Acosta, Brian Jang, Jerry Roback and Mena Xiong, won $4,000 as the first place finisher in the 2012 competition. Their venture aims to elevate the in-home ice cream eating experience by introducing uniquely flavored ice cream cones.

CycleStay won $3,000 as the second place finisher. VCU School of Business students Austin Callwood, Justin Kauszler and Joshua Newton introduced a publicly accessible bicycle rack system with integrated locking, mobile communication and security features.

Fourpoint Art was the third place finisher winning $2,000. Led by a VCU School of the Arts graduate student, Owen Duffy introduced a virtual space and internet marketplace to help emerging artists showcase their work and connect with consumers worldwide.

Two other teams were awarded $1,000 each as finalists in the competition. Control, comprising of Brandcenter students Matt Fischer, Rajikumar Kuppuswamy, Anthony DiMarco, Jacqueline Rogers and School of Medicine student Jesse Swift, introduced a software and hardware system for helping asthmatics enjoy a more normal life. Gryffindor, comprising of School of the Arts students Angela Melito and Moria Pruefer, proposed a 24-hour art supply and print services store venture.

“The response to our inaugural VCU Venture Creation Competition has been very strong,” said Kenneth Kahn, director of VCU’s da Vinci Center and professor of Marketing. “It shows that there is truly an innovation and entrepreneurship spirit here in the VCU community. We aim to make the 2012 Competition the first of many annual VCU Venture Creation Competitions.”

Judges for the competition included the following individuals: Karen Adams, Chief Executive Officer of Hot Technology Holdings; Frank Ball, Managing Partner, New Dominion Angels; William Daughtrey, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Dominion Resources GreenTech Incubator; David Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer, Dominion Payroll Services; Darrell Jervey, Chief Executive Officer, Worth Products Group; Robert Lynch, President, Practice Management Associates; Mike McGinley, Managing Partner, New Dominion Angels; Dick Menendez, Chief Operating Officer, Motley’s Richmond Auto Auction; Tonya Mallory, Chief Executive Officer and President, Health Diagnostic Laboratory; Erik Milch, Partner, Cooley LLP; John Mills, Associate, Cooley LLP; Matt Rutherford, Associate Professor of Management, Virginia Commonwealth University; Brent Smith, Associate Professor of Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate, Virginia Commonwealth University; and Scott Tolleson, Head of Cable and Media Industries, Ericsson.

Premier sponsors for the event were the VCU Office of Research, VCU School of Business, MWV Foundation, and Motley’s Richmond Auto Auction.

VCU’s da Vinci Center for Innovation is a collaboration of VCU Schools of the Arts, Business, Engineering and Humanities and Sciences. Through its programs such as the undergraduate Certificate in Product Innovation and the Master of Product Innovation launching in fall 2012, the center catalyzes interdisciplinary innovation and entrepreneurship as it prepares students for the 21st Century workforce and supports development initiatives for partner organizations.

For more information, contact Kenneth Kahn at


InnoBlitz – Spring 2012

Implementing Innovation in 8 Hours

What could you come up with in only eight hours? On Saturday, February 4, two interdisciplinary teams of students from the VCU da Vinci Center will be participating in a 8-hour InnoBlitz at the Science Museum of Virginia. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., the students will be given two innovation projects on which to work. What will they create? Will they work together? Can they finish?

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Leading Through Innovation

VCU’s da Vinci Center, in partnership with VCU School of Business Foundation’s Center for Corporate Education, will host Leading Through Innovation, a one-day training course covering practical examples and industry case studies.

Led by Dr. Kenneth Kahn, Professor of Marketing and Director of VCU’s da Vinci Center, attendees will learn the importance of innovation, ways to spur innovation among teams and industry best practices.

When: Thursday, January 12, 2012 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Where: VCU School of Business, 301 W. Main Street, Richmond, VA

Course Outline:

  • 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. | Innovation Understanding
  • 10:30 – 10:45 a.m. | Break
  • 10:45 – noon | Innovation Culture
  • Noon – 1:00 | Lunch
  • 1:00 – 2:30 | Innovation Process
  • 2:30 – 2:45 | Break
  • 2:45 – 4:00 | Innovation Best Practices

Cost: $295 – includes meals, parking, course materials and copy of Dr. Kahn’s book Product Planning Essentials (ME Sharpe, 2011). Register on or before November 29 for complimentary parking; those registering after November 29 will be responsible for their own parking expenses.

Click here to register