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Scientist to scientist: Make time to try The OSAF Innovation School

Sarah Lukes, 2020 OSA Ambassador, Agile Focus Designs

The Innovation School powered by the OSA Foundation introduces intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial scientists to the nuances of business. I attended their first virtual school 12 - 17 July 2020, which included the same successful elements as their in-person schools and occurred as The Optical Society (OSA) transitioned many meetings and events to virtual programs.

Typically, large organizations do not possess the agility to pivot quickly, but OSA proved otherwise.Their ability to rapidly adapt and execute a virtual platform gave their school credibility from the start. OSA outshined the competition by using the Remo virtual conference platform. The screen layout helped make the school feel more like a traditional conference and less like a Zoom meeting.

The platform offered “whiteboards” at each “table” of participants, allowing us to virtually hop between tables to interact with various people. Their platform and innovative approach were key to making the virtual experience engaging.

Another crucial component to the success of their school was the strong leadership of their serial entrepreneur and educator, Eric Koester of Harvard University, USA. Eric led with inspiring enthusiasm and insight. Since he also works as a venture capitalist, I expected harsh criticism during mock customer interviews. At other entrepreneurship courses, I have witnessed instructors subscribe to a survival of the fittest mentality. Though I have conducted hundreds of interviews while creating my startup, Agile Focus Designs, putting myself out there and making cold calls still requires an internal pep talk.

From the perspective of an introvert who mainly associates with other introverts, Eric’s encouraging approach to person-to-person interaction, without harsh criticism of participant’s early communication efforts, resulted in impressive improvement among participants. His approach should be the model for all mentors guiding new students through customer interviews.

Lastly, while it may seem frivolous, I found the inclusion of designers at the event to be incredibly enlightening. The Innovation School hired two designers to help us improve our visual portrayal of information prior to our final pitches. I find that working to improve my visual communication always solidifies a deeper concept of my product and its value. All aspects of a visual depiction should reinforce the primary concepts of the product or the purpose of the software tool. Here is an example of how a designer can help accomplish this. Innovation School participants were assigned to a team to pitch an idea.

Since physical closeness is an indicator of relationship health, my team pitched a Fitbit-type device that tracks time one spends within 3 feet of their partner. My team suggested that as the couple reaches their daily goal, the app icon could depict a circle closing. The designer elevated our idea by suggesting the icon be a broken heart that comes together to reinforce the relationship and physical closeness concept of our product.

Making time for OSA’s Innovation School was unquestionably worthwhile. I was introduced to innovative online tools for collaboration and information sharing and gained immense entrepreneurship skills. I further developed my communication skills and made new long-lasting connections. Lastly, I left with reignited creativity for my own startup, Agile Focus Designs.

Image for keeping the session alive