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Category Archive for: ‘MPI’

Toys: Then, Now and Beyond!

Whether you were building spaceships with Legos, having tea parties with Barbie or neglecting your Tamagotchi – most of us can agree that it was these nostalgic toys and others that shaped our childhoods. But have you ever wondered what kids are equipped with now and how toys have evolved over time? [Feel old yet?]

Originating in 1959, the Barbie Doll has been a staple in many young girls’ lives. Offering a range of customizable looks from skin color to hairstyle to clothes and personas – one thing Barbie seems to have always lacked is offering different body types—until now! After complaints from parents, Mattel decided to take action by creating 3 new Barbie sizes including tall, petite, and curvy.

3d-glassesOLD3D Glasses
The progression from red and blue glasses to virtual reality is an obvious jump. But what might not be so obvious is that 3D “technology” originated as another one of da Vinci brilliant discoveries in the 16 th century. His studies in depth perception proved that he revealed the key to 3D technology long ago. Today, Oculus Rift leads the way in VR (virtual reality), applying these principles in the digital realm and changing the way we game and live.

Happy legoLego
Still an all time favorite, Lego has allowed us to build on our own imagination. We make ships, towers, villages, and robots while Lego creates future architects, artists, gamers in anyone who has a desire to make things. Their iconic bricks have evolved, offering endless fun for busy hands worldwide. Today, Lego’s newest products include NEXO KNIGHTS where they are “merging physical play with digital gaming” for next level creativity.

Digital age gamesThe Digital Age
Drones, Apps and Smart Tablets may not have been in our vocabulary as kids, but it’s become today’s norm. Games are abundant, advanced and accessible, making learning easy and creativity endless. Barbie can now recognize speech commands, AR (augmented reality) technology like Osmo is bridging the gap between physical play and digitization, and what better way to spy on your neighbor than with advanced remote control drones? The future has arrived my friends!

Post Written by Shannon Hood, Current MPI Student

B My Valentine

“I would rather someone give me a present ‘just because’ instead of because a card told them to.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard variations of this sentiment before. Whether it’s about Valentine’s Day or another holiday with similarly commercial overtones. But if you’ve ever googled the phrase “unique gift ideas”, chances are you have stumbled upon the website Uncommon Goods . If you have not visited the site, I highly suggest you go visit it after you finish reading this article of course as it tickles the maker in all of us.

But perhaps what makes Uncommon Goods unique is not simply their relentless pursuit of novel ideas, but their pursuit of creating a company that sees its “makers” as partners not an assembly line. In fact Uncommon Goods is a B Corp business. If you have never heard of the term B Corp, they are a type of for-profit company who have social, environmental, performance, and accountability goals written into their charters. This ensures that positive impact and transparency can occur at every level of the business. It’s an interesting concept, taking the values of nonprofits and infusing them into for profit business practices to create meaningful and measured impact in the lives of all employees and ecosystems a business

B Corps have been growing in popularity in the United States since 2010 when Maryland became the first state to pass what is known as Benefit Corporation Legislation. Since then about 30 states have followed suit. Virginia became one of those states in 2011, and currently is home to 19 B Corps with about half of them residing in Richmond.

Being a B Corp can mean a lot of different things, but perhaps what is the most inspiring is the culture of “changemaking” that B Corp employees exude and the ownership they take over making change happen for others. Becoming a B Corp is flexible in itself as the certification is a framework to create and build a business within rather than a prescription by which to make one. So this means a company in almost any industry has the capacity to become one. You can see the diverse spread by some of the companies they have on their roster: Method, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Warby Parker, and more.

B Labs, the nonprofit behind the B Corps Certification, have recently developed a more comprehensive method for companies to compare B Corporations. This method is called B Analytics, and was originally created to measure B Core values and how that impacts an investing portfolio, business network and even supply chain. Although the goal of B Analytics is primarily to help companies better target where they are shifting their impact and measure their success, it’s important to note that B Labs and B Corps don’t prescribe one way of tackling these problems. Rather, they provide a framework that enables businesses to innovate and continue to change as they grow. But no matter what type of company you are, new or old, a startup or a multinational there is a path for you to become a B Corporation too.

If you’re on the hunt for some innovation, motivation and inspiration check out some of the talks that founders of B Corps have given here:


Post Written by Milgo Yonis, Current MPI Student


What is CreateAthon?
If you haven’t heard about CreateAthon@VCU, you should definitely learn about this exciting event now! CreateAthon@VCU is a pro bono where students volunteer to creatively help non profit organizations in the RVA community. The exciting part about it is that it is done in a 24 hour period. Sounds intense, but all the fun activities and amazing people, make it a ton of fun!


2010 How do I get involved?
No matter who you are there is a way to get involved with CreateAthon. If you are a student you have the opportunity to become a Team Leader, Production Team Member, or Team Volunteer. If you are a member of the community at large or perhaps a graduate student and working professional you have the opportunity to become a Mentor. Each role is detailed below:

Team Leaders: Enrolled in a Non Profit Management Course (MASC 467) during the spring semester. Each team leader is then paired with a nonprofit organization and work with them on finding out their communication problems that need to be solved. During the event, after the teams are organized, the team leaders gather their knowledge on what they have learned and guide the team towards creating amazing work for the nonprofit organization.

Production Team: Enrolled in CreateAthon@VCU Production (MASC 491) during the spring semester. Their role is to make the entire program flow successfully. The students commit to specific roles such as, Product Manager, Public Relations, Event Coordinator, Sponsorship, Art Direction, Copywriting, Social Media, Photographer, and Videographer. Team Volunteers: Share their skills on an online application and sign up to be a part of this 24 hour marathon for the spring. The volunteers are made up of art directors, designers, photographers, videographers, audio video producers and editors, web strategists, UX designers, and app developers.

M2013entors: Professionals working in RVA that attend the event to meet and guide all the participants in the program.

How did CreateAthon start?
CreateAthon was originally founded by Teresa Coles and Cathy Monetti of Riggs Partners in Colombia, South Carolina in 1998. The first 24 hour national marathon event was held in 2002 and since then, CreateAthon has recruited more than 100 different partner organizations to host the probono marketing marathons in their community generating more than $20.5 million in pro bono marketing services! That’s a lot!

Former University of South Carolina Professor, Peyton Rowe, now the Executive and Creative Director of CreateAthon@VCU held the first CreateAthon@VCU event in 2007. Today CreateAthon is a competitive opportunity for nonprofit organizations in the Richmond area to gain access to high quality probono services.

The next CreateAthon@VCU event will be held over Spring Break on March 10th to 11th in the T. Edward Temple Building. If you are interested in being a mentor, contact the program through the website and complete the application. During the event you’ll have the opportunity to meet some interesting students, sponsors, and nonprofit organizations.

For more information on their past projects and sponsers check out their website. And if you want to constantly be inspired by what they do, follow them on their Social Media!



Twitter: @createathonvcu

Instagram: @createathonatvcu


Post Written by Swetha Gav, Current MPI Student

Diapers on Demand


Photo: Courtesy of Forbes

As a father of five, I’ve made more than my fair share of begrudgingly late night convenience store diaper runs. So when Amazon started shipping their Dash Buttons this week, they had my attention. Amazon’s Dash Replenishment service takes a literal approach to the push button economy. Most of us have become familiar with the wonders of Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping, but the latest approach places a product specific button precisely at the location you realize you need something. See that you’re out, or soon will be, and just press a button. Your home’s Wifi notifies Amazon of you’re looming unmet needs and poof, a box arrives at your doorstep. Now I can’t say that before Dash buttons I knew of the pain-point of not having to open my computer and use Amazon’s already awesome one-click ordering, but hey- if Huggies are available at the touch of a button, I’m in.

At $4.99 a button, I couldn’t resist choosing two highly sought after items in my house, razor blades and diapers. My first glance at the packaging left me so impressed that I didn’t want to open them. After all, this was the intersection of the doorbell and a mobile app, but I finally tore into them and setup the Wifi using my smart phone. Next up, peel and stick just at the place where you know you need something. The only thing left to do was run out, which lasted all of 30 seconds. I couldn’t resist, I had to push the button. And what happened as I signaled a warehouse hundreds of miles away of my pending need for new razors…? Nada, zip, not even a gratifying ding-dong to let me know satellites were tracking my instant gratifications. No more than a quick blink of a green LED and a nondescript cardboard box that should be on my porch in 1-2 days.

I couldn’t help but think that this technology felt like a bridge. You know, the innovation that comes out and isn’t so innovative, but more of a preview to upcoming tech. Its technology that falls between the cracks of two larger, even better ideas. So I’m a big fan of Amazon Prime and their free two-day shipping. But there’s something that seems a little antiquated about placing product-endorsed buttons all over my house. I want a smart washing machine that knows I’m low on detergent and orders it for me. If time is the new currency, then give me a smoke detector that automatically sends me batteries when they need replacing. I love what the Dash is attempting, but shouldn’t all of our devices be smarter? I don’t know if the Amazon Dash will grow to be considered a bridge or a conduit that drives innovation in smart devices. But for now I think I’ll hold out for the smart device and not the smart button. Until then, the so-called button of the push button economy will remain the click of my mouse.

Post Written by Blue Crump, Current MPI Student

Does this City work for Me?

johnbonanoWe often dream of faraway places we will one day travel to. We hope this travel will either help us attain the job of our dreams, the vacation we always hoped for, or provide the escape route that arrived in just the nick of time. But what happens when you finally arrive at your destination? What happens when you actually have to live in the city you always dreamed about?

That is something that one of our MPI Alumni John Bonano set out to discover.

Recently John made the decision to start over. But instead of choosing to simply relocate to a city he found a job in, he decided to take the cities he was curious about for a test-drive.

He told me, “there’s something about being in a new city, you immediately know whether or not you belong there.” John knows for him personally, that means living in a city that is close to nature. In the cities he has visited so far, he has seen how access to nature can dictate the culture of an area. But more importantly, he has found that access, or lackthereof, can affect your work/life balance.

As I am sure many of us can agree, “There needs to be more synchronization between what you do for pleasure and what you do for your career… People need to travel, get away from their jobs, take a break.” It can be disappointing if you relocate to a city and discover, you don’t have access to the kinds of things you are interested in. Or even access to the things or people you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

This can be tough to focus on especially straight out of school, or when you are trying to get to the next level of your career. John noted that this kind of tunnel vision can be dangerous, especially when, you don’t think about how “when you are doing all these amazing jobs, you also have to have a normal life.”

But while John stressed the importance of taking the time to figure out what you want, he also stressed the importance of taking a leap of faith and going outside your comfort zone. For him this trip has enabled him to learn how to be ok with the unknown, take risks, and focus on just the essentials.

He likes the fact that what he is doing now is similar to what he learned at the da Vinci Center because, “If you have the mindset of innovation, barriers do not exist. There are a million things you can do. You can create your own world, in your environment in anyway you want. What I am realizing now is, I can do anything I want to. I can go anywhere I want to.”

From MPI to IBM

“Innovation starts when all other avenues have been exhausted” according to Lauren Pleveich, a May 2015 graduate of the Masters of Product Innovation program. Lauren is now working as an Experience Architect at IBM Interactive Experience, but this wasn’t where she thought she was going to be initially.

A graduate of VCU Arts with a major in Painting and Printmaking, Lauren considered several career paths, including teaching and creative advertising. She initially started down that path by getting her Master of Fine Arts in Painting at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, but began to realize that was not the career she wanted to pursue.

Lauren’s decision to return to VCU for the MPI program was in part due to her experience in the certificate program as an undergraduate. Though she had worked on a project that she admitted to be less than glamorous in nature, she says that’s the experience to which she can trace her interest in product innovation.

“Between the team dynamics, the client rapport and working with users who were genuinely engaged, I found my passion for products. It took getting another masters in a different field to realize that though. Ah well, better late than never!”

Similar to her education, Lauren never expected to be working for IBM, nor had an interest in doing so at first. “I was very happy where I was working at the time, but decided to go to a talk by an IBM creative because I had no idea they even did creative stuff (don’t tell anyone).”

IBM Interactive Experience does just that, design user experiences, most notably for websites like the PGA Masters Tournament. As an Experience Architect, Lauren works between the research and design roles, allowing her to make use of the design thinking skills she gained through the master program.

In her work at Interactive Experience, she says she most enjoys figuring out the challenges formed by both the target users and the technologies used. “Technology has the power to change a lot of things. It just needs someone to provide the why.”

Three months into her new role at IBM, Lauren is very thankful to the master program for preparing her for the cross-functional work she does. “I’ve worked with engineers, business analysts, and other creatives and the one thing the da Vinci Center did very well was prepare me for that kind of situation.” Specifically, she’s been able to be confident in her own abilities, comfortable  not knowing “all the answers,” and instead pulling on the strengths of her teammates.

Thinking back to the master program, Lauren noted an odd difference between the first and second year of the program. “I think it’s a weird thing to show someone the importance of teamwork, but to then forgo a team project the last year.” She encouraged the incoming master students to listen, explore, experiment, and play, but most importantly, to “be productive with your time around smart people.”

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


MPI Graduate Jim Robb Featured on VCU News

Recent MPI graduate Jim Robb was featured in a recent article on VCU news highlighting his experience in the Master of Product Innovation program.

Learning to dream with the market in mind
da Vinci Center graduate student studies alarm fatigue and learns about himself

by Vincent Simone, University Public Affairs


Jim Robb. Photo courtesy of Gary Garbett

In 1987, Jim Robb moved out to the country near Farmville, built his own cabin – complete with solar panels – and lived Thoreau-style for two-and-a-half years, getting, as he described it, all the way back down to the basics.

Like his Transcendentalist inspiration, Robb is a dreamer – in the best sense of the word.

“I’ve always been an ideas person,” he said.

Read the full article here.

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