Student Perspective: Incubating and Accelerating Innovation

Wharton student Celia Lewis discusses her summer experience as a WSII intern. 

What resources, skills and leadership are necessary to take an idea in social impact, build a business model around it, and scale it? The short answer: a lot of time, whiteboard sketches, and plenty of dark chocolate.

After working with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative for the past year, I have watched and led the evolution of projects from whiteboard brainstorms, to proposals, to regular activities and programs. WSII’s growing undergraduate and MBA Fellows programs, as well as our work with local organizations like SPARK and institutions like the City of Philadelphia are just a few of the many examples of these kinds of projects.

CL Pic for WSII Blog

What has been most exciting to me is watching the evolution of WSII’s experimental approach to incubating and accelerating innovations in business models, processes, and partnerships.

WSII and its team of faculty, staff and students are “intrapreneurs” – leaders within an institution who design, build and promote innovative models and products.

As intrapreneurs, our goals are nearly identical to those of a typical entrepreneur – to design, build and scale high value, high impact models, processes, and partnerships.

WSII’s ideal portfolio of projects will be divided between those in Incubation and those in Acceleration. This distinction is a clear and important way of framing the work that we do.

  • Projects in the Incubation stage are those that are in the process of being designed, built and tested. This involves the articulation of a business plan AND its execution, which must consist of impact-generating activities that engage its key stakeholders.
  • Projects in the Acceleration stage include those models, processes and partnerships that have graduated successfully from the Incubation stage. These projects are ready to be scaled and replicated, whether that means engaging more stakeholders in the immediate Penn and/or Philadelphia community, connecting with other institutions and organizations to share the innovation, or some combination of the two.

With the majority of our projects in various phases of Incubation, WSII’s portfolio of innovative business models and processes will continue to grow and expand as we evolve projects from Incubation and move them into Acceleration.

With the school year just around the corner, I look forward to working with our growing team to continue develop and accelerate awesome potential into sustainable, high value impact, for Philadelphia and the world at large.