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VCU da Vinci Center Adds European Accelerator to Master of Product Innovation Program

Richmond, VA (March 7, 2017) – Through a collaboration of VCU’s Schools of the Arts, Business, Engineering and College of Humanities and Sciences, the VCU da Vinci Center advances university innovation and entrepreneurship for students. One of its signature offerings is a Master of Product Innovation degree. The program is currently accepting applications for the next cohort, from July, 2017 through August, 2018.

We asked da Vinci Center Executive Director Garret Westlake, Ph.D., to tell us about the program and its new partnership with the European Innovation Academy, the world’s largest extreme entrepreneurship program.

What is VCU’s Master of Product Innovation program?
The program provides students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines a toolkit including human-centered design, lean methodology and approaches to innovation across arts, business and engineering. They hone those skills by working on externally sponsored projects for corporate partners, such as Pfizer, CodeVA and CarMax. Then they have the opportunity to work on their own product or to manage an existing product going through an innovation process.

Tell us about the European Innovation Academy (EIA).
All of our master’s students start the program with a three-week, international accelerator in Turin, Italy, where they work alongside 600 other top innovation students from all over the world. Students form cross-disciplinary teams that launch new technology companies. They receive mentorship from C-level folks at Google, IDEO, Amazon and other Silicon Valley-based companies. At the end of the experience, student teams pitch their technology ventures to international venture capitalists for potential funding.

How is the EIA incorporated into the Master of Product Innovation program?
This year, the VCU da Vinci Center became an academic partner with the European Innovation Academy, alongside University of California at Berkeley. Acceptance into the EIA is a highly competitive process, but students accepted into our master’s program are guaranteed admission to the EIA. Students earn six credits, including an elective in international innovation.

What makes this master’s program stand out?
The personalized nature of a small cohort coupled with the local, national and international partners working with the VCU da Vinci Center provides students and alumni access to investors, mentors and industry leaders. This is a degree that is relevant for today’s job market, in which there is a blurring of the line between business, technology and design.

Where do graduates of the program find jobs?
The number one employer is IBM Watson. Number two is a series of small start-up companies. Our students are able to jump right into an incredibly high-powered team at IBM Watson, as well as go wear a number of different hats for startup companies.

How does combining such far-flung disciplines foster innovation?
We like to say that innovation doesn’t happen in a silo. Innovation is often the result of a breadth of knowledge colliding together and abstract ideas coming from different disciplines, different domains, different cultures — that’s fertile ground for innovation.

We’re not trying to take an engineer and teach them more engineering. We’re trying to take an engineer and round out their skill set by offering these other competencies that set them apart from peers, such as the ability to move fluidly across teams. For us, this looks like an engineer who steps into a business development team meeting and can explain what the engineering team is doing using the lexicon and constructs familiar to the business team. We’re producing future leaders — whether they’re in business, engineering, humanities and sciences or design — trained in cross-discipline competencies.

Who should apply?
Students who should apply are creative, passionate, highly motivated and want to be on the cutting edge of what’s next in technology, industry and business. We accept students from all backgrounds based on their ability to engage fully in an innovation process.

Does this sound like you? To join the Summer/Fall 2017 cohort, apply by April 15. Click here to learn more.