Author: Jenna Watson
“The team consisted of some of the smartest students that I’ve worked with across multiple universities. Not only are they talented, but also have a strong heart and desire to lead.” —Julian Cheng, Gen 1 Capital
The CFI Innovation Lab (iLab) is at the heart of CFI. It forms the core of the Innovation Scholars experience and is one of the most important ways we engage with organizations. Through consulting teams composed of passionate students from a variety of disciplines, CFI faculty experts, and experienced marketplace leaders, the iLab brings economically sustainable social change to organizations by drawing together rigorous research, the wisdom of the liberal arts, and marketplace expertise.
The iLab approaches each project as an opportunity to practice faith-centered design. Faith-centered design starts with the insight that ideas for alternative solutions come from somewhere. As Christians, we want our ideas to come from kingdom-saturated imagination for the world. Our imaginations are shaped by all kinds of forces, and if we aren’t intentional, there are plenty of forces, industries, even companies who are eager to shape them for us. Instead, as Christians, we have to intentionally abide in the Word, engage in spiritual practices, and think critically about what the Lord wants from societies and individuals. These practices cultivate an imagination that can produce innovative solutions to complex problems with kingdom impact. Each iLab project is an opportunity to practice faith-centered design through applying and cultivating kingdom-saturated imaginations, together as a team.
iLab teams are composed of students from across the spectrum of disciplines. This draws on the insight that cross-functional teams have been shown to be uniquely equipped to address difficult problems, and it brings the value of a liberal arts education to an applied business problem. Any given iLab team might be composed of students studying Anthropology, Sociology, English, Art, History, Philosophy, or Foreign Languages. The Anthropology/Sociology students provide unique insights into understanding customers and clients. Art students help their teams design products, packaging, and advertising. English students can help their teams frame and refine written and verbal communication throughout the project. Students of foreign languages offer insights into the use of language and cultural intelligence to establish relationships across cultures. Each of these disciplines also provides a solid foundation in critical thinking and communication, making cross-functional groups of liberal arts students one of the richest resources available for solving complex business problems.
Last Fall, despite the unique challenges of COVID-19, the iLab successfully completed four consulting projects. Each team was composed of 4-5 students (1 Project Lead, 1 Team Manager, and 2-3 Research Developers), 1 faculty coach, and 1-2 organizational liaisons. Here’s a roundup of the process and deliverables that each team presented to their organization, as well as reflections from some of the team leaders.
Gen 1 Capital is a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage technology startups that solve complex problems in diverse industries and large markets. By leveraging their strong ties with local technology ecosystems, corporate partners, and universities, they help founders and startups understand their greatest challenges and opportunities in technology transformation. The team that worked with Gen 1 received a rich education in venture capital. We appreciated the chance to learn alongside such a great fund with a compelling vision of the future.
James Ocenasek, Product Lead: “Last semester, we created a content strategy for Gen 1 Capital based in Chicago. Gen 1 asked us for ideas to establish their brand presence and discern what content they should post in order to advance organizational goals and meet customer needs. To meet this need, our team developed customer personas based on market research and provided various pieces of content that tailored to the needs of these personas.”
Tess Sutton, Team Manager: “During our team’s time working with Gen 1 Capital, I clearly saw the strengths of each team member shine through at different points in our project. It grew me so much as both a leader and a person to see the unique gifts and talents God gives to us.”
Urban Ministries, Inc. is the largest independent, African-American owned and operated Christian media company, serving 30% of all African-American churches. They publish Christian education resources, including Bible studies, Sunday School and VBS curriculum, books, movies, and websites. Working with UMI provided our team with a crash course in online publishing. Working with such an esteemed, leading publisher was an education and an honor.
Alex Mayer, Product Lead: “I had the privilege of working with Urban Ministries, Inc., the largest independent, African-American owned and operated Christian media company publishing Christian education resources. UMI was looking to expand their engagement with their Urban Faith brand, as well as exploring a new way to deliver their curriculum. Our team conducted multiple interviews, researched current market trends, and curated a final report displaying our findings.”
Christina Kantzer, Team Manager: “It was rewarding to watch our team overcome challenges together. Though we had some initial setbacks, we really got a chance to practice design thinking and come up with a new direction for our project. Our team was encouraging to one another, innovative, and hardworking, and I am confident that we each learned some very valuable skills through this experience.”
His Way at Work (HWAW) is a consulting company that helps organizations define Christian-founded core values and implement those cultures throughout their organization. Their mission is to inspire and empower business leaders to transform their workplaces with God’s love. The HWAW project team got to explore this foward-thinking organization, emerging from the project with new, practical insight into building impact metrics for similar organizations.
Ella Curry, Product Lead: “We worked with His Way at Work (HWAW) this past semester. Their need was someone to collect data from past clients to show prospective clients the success metrics. However, the clients we interviewed did not have any measures of success to provide because they did not keep any data to measure the HWAW program. As a solution/deliverable, we produced a survey to give to employees that would help those companies measure their core value implementation and effects of the program. It also provided an outline for the managerial team to fill in with their own data to calculate numbers of growth like employee turnover, revenue, new employees, etc. with formulas provided. Our second deliverable was a market value-proposition report for HWAW to give prospective companies based on 7 interviews of previous clients. Testimonials and key findings are presented from the interviews in our report.”
Genesis Orthopedics & Sports Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of its patience by offering advanced orthopedic and sports medicine care. They operate under a value-based care model, seeking to provide high-quality, ethically-priced orthopedic care that frees their patients to be more alive and athletic. The team that worked with Genesis Orthopedics & Sports Medicine learned more than they thought possible about orthopedics and value-based care. We found ourselves inspired by Genesis’ commitment to high-quality medical service and broader accessibility to those who might otherwise find that kind of care out of reach.
Samara Barwell, Product Lead: “Our team worked with Genesis Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, which operates under a value-based care model. They prioritize being the top quality, while also having ethical pricing that is fair and comprehensive. Given their model, our team worked to develop language and a business plan to communicate to different stakeholders the unique benefits of their medical care.”
Andy Eaton, Team Manager: “Working with Genesis Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, we learned a lot about the healthcare system and the opportunities surrounding more affordable health care in the U.S. I believe we grew a lot in responsive problem solving; each team member was flexible and always sought to solve the task at hand.”
After a semester working with the iLab, we asked our contacts from the organizations about their experience. The most consistent feedback was about the quality of student engagement. For example, Andrew Shadid of Genesis Orthopedics & Sports Medicine said that he most valued “engaging with students and thier ‘fresh eyes’ as they view an opportunity.” Julian Cheng of Gen 1 Capital summarized his experience:
“We had an outstanding experience working with Wheaton CFI iLab. The students were actively engaged, had inquisitive questions, helped us with our business, and produced an outstanding final deliverable. The team consisted of some of the smartest students that I’ve worked with across multiple universities. Not only are they talented, but also have a strong heart and desire to lead. I’m excited about the future and the impact that Wheaton CFI iLab will make on organizations across the world.”
For more information about the CFI iLab or to partner with us in a future iLab project, visit our website and reach out to our CFI Team.