For a lot of people, coming up with a solution to a problem they’re facing can be a lengthy, stressful process. Thankfully, Tribe Innovation, the College of William and Mary’s new student-run business, is here to save the day. Tribe Innovation’s goal is to help organizations and students at the College find creative solutions to problems they face using the design thinking process.

For Tribe Innovation President Zach Ferry ’20, this all started with one interesting class.

“The business school launched a global business minor, and within that minor they offered a course on design thinking,” Ferry said. “A few of us really took well to the design thinking process, and we thrived in the classroom. [The professor] asked us to start this club back on campus called the Innovation and Design Thinking club. We were in love with the idea of innovation and design thinking in particular. After about a year, we realized there was a real need here on campus for a student organization to just generally solve problems, so we said ‘why don’t we draft up a business model?’ And that’s exactly what we did. So, it basically came about that the Innovation and Design Thinking club would become Tribe Innovation.”

According to Ferry, design thinking is a process that can be applied to many different types of issues that individuals may face at the College and out in the world.

“Design thinking is a creative problem-solving method,” Ferry said. “It is basically what designers use to solve problems. They focus more on the usability and the desirability of a product rather than the feasibility or the viability of a product. They take a human centric mindset when approaching a problem, doing customer research, asking, ‘What is the problem? Why is the problem happening? What insights can we draw from all of this data?’ and then designing according to that specific user.”

Tribe Innovation has services targeted toward both clubs on campus and students. It holds innovation sprints for students, where they can go through the design thinking process solving for a specific issue at the College. In these sprints, students can learn the skills and mindsets of innovators that can be very beneficial when you graduate.

SJ Rushforth ’20 is an innovation facilitator, which means she interacts with the clients of Tribe Innovation and brings people to the innovation sprints, as well as guides them through the design thinking process. Rushforth loves that design thinking is applicable to many different fields.

“We have a group of facilitators, like me, but we all have very varied interests,” Rushforth said. “Design thinking is usually associated with business, but most of us are not in the business school. I’m personally very interested in healthcare, but the person I’m training right now is very interested in international relations. So, depending on who the client is, they’ll come forward, and a facilitator will claim it.”

Dani Wallace ’19 is the graphic designer for Tribe Innovation, and loves the creativity involved with the business.

“It kind of reminds people that everyone can be creative,” Wallace said. “That was what started it with me, reinvigorating campus with a little bit of creativity no matter what discipline you’re a part of.”

Besides working with students and clubs at the College, Tribe Innovation also has a partnership with the Sustainability Office. The mission of the Sustainability Office is to support university-wide sustainability through environmental, social and economic responsibility. Tribe Innovation and its design thinking process helps the Office come up with ideas for that purpose.

Ferry himself is very passionate about sustainability and was really excited to take Tribe Innovation in a new direction.

“They provide us with the data, with a specific direction of the problem, and then we take that into our creative workshops and we allow students to come in and solve those workshops and create prototypes,”   Ferry   said.  “We  create   a  video explanation for each prototype,  having the creator interact with it,   and then we send that to the sustainability office where they review it for possible funding opportunities. We had one of our events catered to a specific sustainability problem. We yielded about six or seven prototypes for solving for food waste on campus, but we’re looking to have a different topic for our next event.”

For those who are interested in learning more, Ferry thinks it’s very important to experience the environment of the design thinking process by attending one of the innovation sprints. He said that working at Tribe Innovation requires a certain kind of person, and before being hired, a one-on-one meeting is held to discuss responsibilities in addition to schoolwork as well as the emotional demand of the job.

“We are a very empathetic organization, we don’t design anything for ourselves,” Ferry said. “When we work with clients, we practice empathy, we don’t take our own bias into account, hopefully at all, and not everyone can do that.”

Ferry, Rushford and Wallace believe everyone on campus should try and work with Tribe Innovation, whether by attending an innovation sprint or consulting with them in order to help solve a problem that a club has.

“I know what it’s like to run something that is out of your own volition, and it takes a lot of energy, and problems arise, and it’s your passion,” Rushford said. “My thing is, these problems are opportunities, and that’s kind of where we come in, they’re really opportunities for people to grow and for you to grow your passion. That’s where we come in, we’re here to solve the problem, whatever that is, we really just want to help people and help them innovate.”


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