University of Michigan’s Innovation in Action program set to join Acumen and the Rockefeller Foundation in the “Student Social Innovation Challenge”

This fall, Innovation in Action (IiA) is one of four university social innovation competitions selected to be a part of The Rockefeller Foundation-Acumen Student Social Innovation Challenge. The areas of focus for this challenge are Health, Food & Agriculture, Energy, Workforce Development, and Financial Inclusion.

The other three participants are the University of San Diego’s Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, Big Ideas at the University of California-Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) MIT Ideas.

IiA is a six-month co-curricular experience at the University of Michigan that culminates in an interdisciplinary, collaborative, team-based competition. Students of all disciplines and academic backgrounds at U-M come together to develop an innovator’s toolkit for tackling real-world challenges, as outlined by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

As part of The Rockefeller Foundation-Acumen Student Social Innovation Challenge, IiA has received funding and access to an exclusive set of student resources that leverage the experience of The Rockefeller Foundation and Acumen in building successful social enterprises.

“It is an honor to see this program grow from its inception seven years ago, to a thriving, campus-wide community of innovators. This partnership showcases the value IiA can offer to students, and we are very excited to see how student-teams put their newfound resources to work,” said Ann Verhey-Henke, Strategic Director of the Center for Socially Engaged Design (C-SED).

Ann Verhey-Henke founded IiA with the goal of providing a place for students to gain real-world skills by engaging with the issues that they were passionate about. As the current Strategic Director of C-SED, she has witnessed first-hand these skills providing a crucial foundation for students to gain confidence, tackle complex ideas, and develop as innovators and problem-solvers.

Canopy, a digital platform that helps families discuss, plan, and make end-of-life health-care decisions, were IiA’s Grand Prize Winners in 2017. As part of their journey from the ideation stage to developing a venture, Canopy’s team-members Elisabeth Michel, Ann Duong and Brandon Keelean noted that their experiences with IiA empowered them to confront big problems and conceive of innovative solutions in a collaborative, multidisciplinary way.

For students like me who didn’t see herself as an innovator (much less an entrepreneur), but had a passion for working on healthcare-driven issues, IiA provided the resources, skills and community that encouraged me to actually start doing things, talking to people, and learning to work as part of a team,” said Ann Duong, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Canopy.

Since IiA’s inception in 2013, 650+ students forming over 150 cross-disciplinary teams representing all nineteen schools and colleges at U-M, have participated in and completed the six-month program. Students receive support and guidance in team-building, problem delineation, idea development, design thinking, prototyping, storytelling, and creating an iterative process to seeking solutions. To date, student innovators have received over $200,000 in prize money towards ventures that help in creating impactful social change. 

Students on IiA’s finalist and winning teams this year will be sent an invitation to join Acumen’s Innovator Network, where they can connect with peer innovators and receive ongoing support.

 “When we were invited to apply to work with Acumen and the Rockefeller Foundation, we were particularly struck by the opportunity for student teams to connect to a larger network of innovators pursuing similar goals of social innovation. This partnership will allow students to continue their work while being bolstered by the incredible resources of these great organizations,” Ann Verhey-Henke said. 

Applications for the 2019-2020 cohort are still open.

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