Last week, the IEI partnered with Vanguard’s Innovation Studio for the second installment in the Innovation Leaders Speaker Series, a program launched this past spring to highlight best-practices for innovation in corporate settings. The event featured Lisha Davis, Head of the Innovation Studio, who sat down with Professor Robert McNamee to discuss how the Studio operates alongside the larger Vanguard organization and best practices for accelerating innovation at the enterprise level.
The Studio itself is located on Chestnut Street in downtown Philadelphia, about 30 miles from Vanguard’s main headquarters in Malvern, PA. It features rows of open work stations, collaboration rooms, and a central space with colorful soft seating that Operations Manager, Colleen Evans, said is fondly called “the living room.” A nearly floor-to-ceiling blackboard highlights progress of the Studio’s donations towards Vanguard’s annual canned-goods drive, inspirational sayings, and a calendar listing national days of designation (National Smile Day, National Wine Day, National Bike to Work Day). It’s a fun, laid-back, high-energy space—not exactly what comes to mind when you think of an industry-leading investment-management firm. But the location of the Studio was intentional—it sits in the center of Philly’s entrepreneurial ecosystem of universities, startups, accelerators, and investors—and its funky design fosters the creativity needed to continually uncover new opportunities and solutions that move the company forward.
Despite geographic distance and a diversion from the traditional corporate environment, the Studio is every bit a part of Vanguard’s overarching mission. Innovation has long been a focus for Vanguard, which disrupted investment management as a startup many years ago. “I have been involved in department level innovation work for years,” said Davis, who was with Vanguard for several years before the Studio launched in 2017, “and innovation was always happening in pockets of the organization.”
Now the Studio offers a centralized place for this innovation to live, and their reasoning behind its launch—to explore the unknown, uncover opportunities to make strategic bets, launch new ventures, explore growth paths, and catalyze a movement at Vanguard—is brought to life by the 40-person, multidisciplinary team lead by Davis.
The Studio takes an exploratory approach to finding opportunities, during which Davis says that “finding the right problem to solve is half the battle.” But once they do, they’re “launching ventures,” Davis emphasizes—ones that can be scaled and rolled out across the enterprise to improve the organization, and, ultimately and most importantly to Vanguard, the client experience.
“Everything we do is for the client,” Davis shared.
Vanguard’s—and Davis’s—dedication to placing innovation at the forefront of the company’s strategic direction made for an ideal Innovation Leaders program partner.
“Showcasing innovation thought-leaders throughout the region is the goal of this series,” Professor McNamee shared. “We want to look at the intersection of innovation and entrepreneurship since that is where next generation innovation programs, structures, and processes are emerging. Vanguard’s Innovation Studio is just a phenomenal example of how large companies can incorporate approaches that originated with entrepreneurial ventures – approaches like lean startup and design thinking – and the impact this can have in an enterprise setting.”
The event was attended by Temple alumni (some now working at Vanguard), students, community professionals, and members of the Innovation Research Interchange—a worldwide network of cross-industry innovation leaders and a sponsoring partner of the Speaker Series.
“Some of the world’s most widely adopted models, such as ‘open innovation,’ ‘front end of innovation,’ and ‘stage-gate,’ were born from the work of Innovation Research Interchange (IRI) members,” said Gary Shiffres, Director of Membership Development & Partnerships for IRI. “IRI values strength in cooperation and partners with other organizations at the forefront of developments in innovation. These partnerships have created a hub for all to convene and contribute in an experimental, noncompetitive, and noncommercial environment. Working with Temple University and Vanguard’s Innovation Studio proved to be an excellent partnership and IRI members are looking forward to more from the Innovation Leaders Speaker Series.”
Davis’s insight and the success of the Vanguard Innovation Studio since its launch exemplify what the Series aims to showcase—that innovation is an imperative for today’s companies and entrepreneurs, and when leveraged in the right ways, can drive organizations—regardless of size or industry—to new levels of customer experience, competitive advantage, workplace culture, and overall success.
“From our earliest conversation I was incredibly impressed with Lisha and this accelerator program,” said Professor McNamee. “It struck me that a successful company like Vanguard could likely rely on incremental innovation for a number of years. However, the fact that they were putting this much focus on experimentation, learning, and disruptive innovation highlights why they are likely to remain leaders into the future.”
Stay tuned for details coming soon on the next installment of the Innovation Leaders series, featuring Todd Carmichael, Founder and CEO of La Colombe, happening Fall 2019.
Just one year into business, Jared Cannon, MS ’16, founder of the healthy eating startup Simply Good Jars (SGJ) is making a bold pivot away from individual food-in-jars subscriptions toward a smart refrigerator model that the company says will offer growth and sustainability.
“Over the summer, our waiting list grew to over 750 people,” said Cannon. “So we decided to shut down subscriptions and move to a vending model.”
The decision may seem strange given the popularity of meal subscription services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. However, customer loyalty and enthusiasm gave SGJ instant credibility in 2018, when Cannon was selected as a Philadelphia Inquirer Stellar Startup finalist and Independence Blue Cross named him a semifinalist for the Health Hero Challenge.
Cannon and his team are working on securing the capital needed to bring their jars to smart fridges. Plans include nearly 40 of these refrigerators in coworking spaces across Philadelphia. SGJ is already in locations that include WeWork, Pipeline and the Brandywine Liberty Trust corporate office. Business success will mean changing lunch culture at work by building a customer base that is willing to pay for the convenience of healthy, delicious breakfasts and lunches.
There’s a shift happening in the startup landscape, according to Cannon, an energy that is motivating entrepreneurs to solve problems in cities rather than vice versa. He feels a personal responsibility to serve as a part of the solution, something the northern Delaware native may have gained from an unlikely upbringing. Before the chef-turned-entrepreneur took off on his tasty endeavor, Cannon benefited from some unusual experiences.
“In seventh grade I enrolled at a Democratic Free School to learn as an individual,” he said. “There weren’t classes, report cards or standardized tests.”
Cannon attributes his unique perspective as a business owner to his self-governed education. He was given permission to develop differently and to dabble in things he may have never tried—like engineering, computer mechanics and construction. Food wasn’t a focus at the Free School, but at home Cannon learned to love the culinary arts. In their kitchen, the big Cannon family came together. They also instilled a general enthusiasm for the outdoors in their children, which shaped Jared’s value system.
“I think something that’s baked into my generation is an awareness about how our product choices affect the environment,” he said. “My parents taught me to value food and not to waste it—that’s something I’ve carried into my business model.”
Social enterprise is also shifting at SGJ. Instead of contributing meals to Philabundance, the company is now donating funds to help support the Philabundance Community Kitchen. Beyond financial help, Cannon’s team is engaging with the Community Kitchen’s job placement and internship program to offer jobs to their low-income participants and graduates who hope to begin careers in the culinary field.
“We’re young, we’re growing, and there’s nothing better than working on something that you’re passionate about,” said Cannon. “The human element behind a product is the powerful differentiator.”
Beyond the business pivot, there’s more big news for Cannon and the SGJ team. He’s an expecting father just two years out of Temple and a year into business. And beginning in November, SGJ will celebrate another first—a stall at Reading Terminal Market that will be open from Sunday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. A refrigerator will be on site, though it won’t be smart. Exclusive breakfast and lunch jars will be sold, created in collaboration with other Reading Terminal vendors like Old City Coffee, Martin’s Meats and Sausages, Iovine Brothers Produce, Godshall’s Poultry, Pequea Valley yogurt and Condiment.
“The most stressful thing right now is having all of these dynamic people around me who have bought in, and are taking the risk with me,” he said. “I’m learning how to be the fearless leader that I’m supposed to be, and I take it very seriously that it’s not just me anymore.”
When looking for a restaurant, bakery, plumber, or lawyer, you’re likely to visit sites like Yelp or Angie’s List to help make a choice. In fact, recent research shows that 78 percent of consumers in the United States will read online reviews prior to making a purchase or decision. Meanwhile, businesses can use these review sites to interact more directly with their customers, through tools like new owner response features.
How does this online interaction translate into real-world performance? Dr. Subodha Kumar, professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at the Fox School, conducted a study to find out.
Kumar examines the impact of the adoption of the business owner response feature within online review platforms in his paper, “Exit, Voice, and Response in Digital Platforms: An Empirical Investigation of Online Management Response Strategies,” which was accepted for publication in the Information Systems Research, an A-level journal.
Businesses that use the response features saw an increased number of mobile “check-ins” through sites like FourSquare and Facebook. Although the feature has been beneficial for businesses that use it, the key to consistent success resides in the need for companies to stay up-to-date with ways to connect with their consumers, both present and future.
“Overall, the new features supported through digital platforms will help businesses develop the right engagement strategy, improve consumer experience, and generate more reviews and consumer traffic, which will ultimately open more revenue generating opportunities for both the digital platforms and businesses,” said Kumar. This strategy will essentially drive higher website traffic and, if done well, enhance customer relations.
The study also found that use of the online response feature impacted the performance of nearby businesses. For example, in analyzing the performance of nearby restaurants in direct competition, businesses that directly engaged with customers online increased their number of check-ins, while businesses that did not use the features saw a decrease. This spillover effect suggests that businesses must be aware of how their neighbors and competitors are engaging with customers online in order to optimize their own digital strategies.
With the growth of mobile check-ins, social media, and online reviews, the research possibilities are evolving as well. “A future research direction is to examine which types of online management responses are more likely to attract consumers and enhance business performance,” said Kumar.
Dr. Subodha Kumar recently joined the Fox School. He will be a part of the Data Science Institute, an interdisciplinary body that connects multiple disciplinary perspectives to increase collaboration in the fields of computer science, math and statistics, and business knowledge.
Learn more about Fox School Research.
The global phenomena of startup accelerators, incubators, and university labs have started to take hold in Pakistan. With a growing recognition of entrepreneurship as a driver of economic growth and social change, more organizations are investing in sustainable and socially responsible programs.
And at the forefront of it all is Sumbal Bashir, Fulbright Scholar and student in the Master of Science in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship (MS-IME) program at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
Despite advances in and a growing acceptance of entrepreneurship in Pakistan, Bashir has seen firsthand that there exists a gap in the knowledge base and a need for skilled professionals in the country’s startup landscape. This is where she said she plans to make a difference.
“I will bring home my knowledge and experiences from the MS-IME program to fill in that gap and drive the growth of entrepreneurship in Pakistan,” she said.
To be fair, Bashir already has had quite an influential role in Pakistan’s startup scene. While earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from Lahore University of Management Science (LUMS) in Lahore, Pakistan, Bashir interned with Ernst & Young, Barclays, Shell, and Akhuwat.
SMSall, a small, Lahore-based tech startup working to improve mobile communications in Pakistan, hired Bashir immediately after she graduated. There, she worked in business development and contributed to some of the company’s most-noteworthy projects, including the launch of SMSall messaging app. The app went on to be featured in the APICTA Awards in Hong Kong and the BlackBox Connect accelerator program in Silicon Valley.
“The most challenging and rewarding project was the launch of SMSall’s messaging app,” she said. “It was the first mobile-based communication application developed in Pakistan.”
Much of Bashir’s interests lie in supporting other young, female entrepreneurs. During her internship with Akhuwat, one of the largest micro-financing organizations in Pakistan, Bashir interacted with female micro-entrepreneurs and came to realize how vital their financial earnings were to their families. At the same time, she participated in a Shell program to promote entrepreneurship in Pakistan. Again, she found herself consulting with female entrepreneurs.
“The one thing I learned from my experiences was that the women from low-income communities are really ambitious and talented, and very much into entrepreneurship,” she said. “The only thing they need is more training and access to capital and markets. I want to be a part of the process that takes out this constraint for them.”
Last year Bashir worked with The Citizens Foundation, a non-governmental organization in Pakistan that offers affordable schooling to students from low economic backgrounds. She spent her time providing educational and personal counseling to female students.
“At the end of the program, a number of students told us how life-changing the experience was for them, and that for me was a very rewarding moment,” she said.
Bashir is in the midst of her own life-changing experience now, as she completes her MS-IME degree program. She was drawn to the Fox School’s program by its holistic approach to teaching entrepreneurship — and the emphasis on real-time projects, internship opportunities, guest speakers, and personal coaching for students who want to start their own businesses.
Last semester, as part of her independent study project with Assistant Professor of Strategic Management Jane Frankel, Bashir interned with Dreamit Health Philadelphia, a 16-week boot camp for health-focused startups. Under Dreamit Health, Bashir worked with VizExcell, a startup that is developing a personalized breast cancer risk assessment platform for radiologists and their patients.
“It was one of the most-interesting experiences for me so far, as it provided me with an exposure to the startup accelerators environment and the healthcare ecosystem of the United States,” she said.
Bashir’s commitment to entrepreneurship and her potential to make a real-world impact have not gone unnoticed.
“She was able to provide extensive research and evaluation for the markets of her sponsoring company,” Frankel said of Bashir’s market research for VizExcell. “Her report was extremely comprehensive, well-organized and timely.”
“She really seemed to embrace the innovation strategies and tools being taught, and I was able to see her apply them to many real-world situations,” said Dr. Michael Rivera, Associate Professor of Strategic Management and Director of the Fox School’s Executive MBA program, who counted Bashir among his students in his Business Model Innovation and Innovation Adoption and Diffusion courses.
“She is on the path to future success.”
Do ethical entrepreneurs earn more?
“Yes,” said Bernard “Bernie” Marcus, answering the question that also served as the title of his lecture.
The co-founder and former CEO of The Home Depot, Marcus visited Temple University’s Fox School of Business Feb. 9 as the inaugural Warren V. “Pete” Musser Visiting Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Established in 2015, the Musser Professorship is an endowed term professorship filled by experienced and well-known practitioners who are interested in spending a term at the Fox School to mentor students in the early stages of their ventures.
A businessman and philanthropist, Marcus co-founded The Home Depot after he and coworker Arthur Blank lost their jobs with a California hardware store. The Home Depot went public in 1981 and has since become a billion-dollar, home-improvement empire. Marcus retired in 2001 to focus on philanthropy.
“Ethics are critically important,” Marcus told the standing-room only crowd at Alter Hall. “Everyone has that desperate moment in business when someone tries to break your conscience.”
Marcus’ “desperate moment” came when, at age 49 and unemployed, he decided to open The Home Depot. The former medical student hadn’t encountered the sometimes-unprincipled and amoral dealings that one can encounter with owning a business. Undaunted, Marcus refused to work with those who were dishonest and resolved that his business wouldn’t be about cutting corners or taking bribes.
“The Home Depot is the fastest-growing retail company in history, and it’s ethical in every way,” Marcus said.
Marcus elaborated. When Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast in 2012, The Home Depot opened its doors to all customers who had been located in the hurricane’s path, offering supplies to them free of charge. A year later, when a tornado ravaged Moore, Okla., Marcus said The Home Depot took note of the area’s numerous displaced pets and set up cages in its stores.
“We became a pet store,” Marcus said, of the nearly three weeks during which The Home Depot housed the lost animals. “We did that then, and we’ll do it today. That’s ethics. That’s how you treat people and get the culture at The Home Depot.”
Leveraging his wealth, Marcus supports autism advocacy group Autism Speaks, and supports veterans employed by The Home Depot and their families employed. For Marcus, the purpose of the company’s good deeds is not to garner media attention. Running a business with an end game of fame or fortune, he said, simply is not ethical.
In addition to its support of veterans, The Home Depot seeks to instill in each of its employees — from store managers to new hires — a sense of pride, charity and professional drive. After all, Marcus said, he wouldn’t be in the position he is today without the men and women who worked nights and weekends for the company he founded.
“People don’t have to be recognized for doing their jobs, but when they do something exceptional, you congratulate them,” Marcus said.
Similar to Marcus, entrepreneurship is a pillar at the Fox School of Business. Its undergraduate- and graduate-level Entrepreneurship programs are nationally ranked Nos. 8 and 10, respectively, by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine. Fox is also one of only five schools nationally to attain two top-10 rankings. And Fox’s Master of Science in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship degree program offers a course in Ethical Entrepreneurship.
For the students in attendance, Marcus discouraged them against compromising their values or giving up.
“Creative philanthropy is about hanging onto an idea, pursuing it, and not letting it get you down,” Marcus said. “You will win.”