Innovation Ambassadors are shifting the culture

Steve Anderson // Western News

One of Western's Innovation Ambassadors is Ting Lee, Medical Imaging at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and at Robarts Research Institute.

Entrepreneurship. Collaboration. Innovation. Knowledge.

In a milestone for the university, every faculty at Western now has at least one Innovation Ambassador whose job it is to help share and cultivate all these ideas and values.

“This is a culture we are trying to create across campus. We’re all here to make entrepreneurship great and silos are being broken down at that level,” said Lisa Cechetto, a member of the Western Entrepreneurship Team.

Innovation Ambassadors are an essential component of the Western Entrepreneurship ecosystem. Through their work in faculties and departments across campus, they are dedicated to developing and supporting an innovative mindset at Western.”

Cechetto added having Innovation Ambassadors throughout campus helps entrepreneurship and culture change take place among and across teams.

She is now trying to work on having an ambassador in every department within the next couple years.

“It’s not just about commercialization or entrepreneurship, we’re also very much into knowledge mobilization, information-sharing and interdisciplinary research, so our innovation ambassadors are charged with the mission to connect great ideas from their areas in the ecosystem,” she said.

“It’s about innovation and creativity. They (ambassadors) are not just connectors within their own faculty and departments, but connectors to other faculties and departments across campus.”

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Les Kalman (Restorative Dentistry) said the Innovation Ambassador program is such a great initiative that he knew he wanted to be part of it to interact, collaborate and share his experiences.

“The pathway to commercialization can be extremely varied, with no real GPS to guide you there. Sharing our risks and rewards is so important in helping others navigate their path,” said Kalman. “Each faculty has a very distinct landscape. By having an ambassador in each, it broadens the landscape and adds to the knowledge/experience base. If every department had one, that would be amazing. It would indicate Western is developing more and more faculty comfortable in the commercialization and entrepreneurship space,” Kalman said.

“It is so refreshing to see the culture changing at Western,” he added. “The impact of translating research to a commercialized product, or an entrepreneurship, has such a profound effect on students and colleagues.”

It’s exhilarating to be able to share that a product on the market has been ‘Made at Western.’ ” ~ Professor Les Kalman, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Cechetto said gatherings, such as the recent faculty interdisciplinary networking event (another is tentatively scheduled for Reading Week in February) allow faculty members to share their experience and insight with others they might not normally interact with.

“We think these Innovation Ambassadors can not only be great role models for their colleagues, but also for students. It’s about mentoring and getting engaged with students through their pitch competitions, but also others ways to bring more students into the ecosystem,” said Cechetto.

For example, the Graduate Student Innovation Scholars program, run twice a year, offers students in-class training on everything from intellectual property, business plans and investors to how to make pitches and commercialization’s. They receive the opportunity to work on real-life projectsWORLDiscoveries are looking to commercialize.

“This is really complementary skills the students are receiving. It gives them different viewpoints and perspectives,” said Cechetto. “When they get into their careers, rarely are you working with someone who has the same degree as you. This helps them see a bigger picture.”

Cechetto added work is ongoing in attracting more ambassadors to be part of that bigger picture on campus.

“We are going out and finding individuals who have experience, or expertise in their areas, and promoting them so they can be champions along with us,” she said. “It’s not just administrative people who are trying to create this culture but well-respected faculty members who have the experience and can be recognized as go-to people within their department and faculty to help spread the word.”