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​Embedding innovation into undergraduate education

November 9, 2015

by Kelly J Hodgins

Coordinator of the Feeding 9 Billion initiative at the University of Guelph

Undergraduate education is undergoing a significant shift, and the progressive institutions are worth paying attention to.

Recently, the
Provost at Purdue instigated a deep investigation into the need to embed innovation into undergraduate education. Here at home, RECODE works with universities and colleges across Canada to test ways to “re-code” undergraduate pedagogies. These efforts to disembark from the typical undergraduate textbook-lecture-exam-style of education signal that change within higher education is a serious priority for major thought leaders.

The questionable value of an undergraduate degree is not a new conversation. I grew up hearing it from my mum regarding her “never used” B.Sc., and my dad who stayed far from “that institution”. Twenty years later, my cousin debates the merit of
not returning to her B.A. every September. This conversation finds its way into articles ranging from student-run papers to national news outlets, though these days, the debate is far more nuanced. No longer are we debating bachelor’s degree vs. no bachelor’s degree. Instead, we are asking how can the bachelor’s degree be different?

At the University of Guelph, we are experimenting with new ways of learning. Our work around experiential learning and innovation takes a food-security focus—attracting students who are tired of learning about food-systems problems, and interested in
doing something about them.

Fueling a movement

November 4, 2015

by Mark Surman

Executive Director, Mozilla

NOTE: This article was originally published here and has been cross-posted with the permission of the author.

Mozilla was born from the free and open source software movement. And, as a part of this larger movement, Mozilla helped make open mainstream. We toppled a monopoly, got the web back on an open track, and put open source software into the hands of hundreds of millions of people.

It’s time for us to do this again. Which brings me to this blog’s topic:
where should Mozilla Foundation focus its effort over the next five years?

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know
the answer we gave to this question back in June was ‘web literacy’. We dug deep into this thinking over the summer and early fall. As we did, we realized: we need to think more broadly. We need to champion web literacy, but we also need to champion privacy and tinkering and the health of the public internet. We need to fully embrace the movement of people who are trying to make open mainstream again, and add fuel to it. Building on a Mozilla strategy town hall talk I gave last week (see: video and slides), this post describes how we came to this conclusion and where we’re headed with our thinking.

The Ultimate Guide to Competitive Analysis

October 15, 2015

by Alex Shee & Ella Sibio


NOTE: This article was originally published on the FounderFuel website, and has been cross-posted with permission.

How will your business compete?

The purpose of performing a competitive analysis is to answer this question and provide you with the tools to blow your competition away. If performed properly, you will establish how you are or can be unique, where your competitive advantage lies, and perhaps most importantly, it will build confidence with your investors. You will better understand the market, more aptly target customers, keep tabs on competition, make more practical decisions and ultimately, over time, track trends and market scenarios.

What follows is five case studies that exemplify the importance of performing a thorough competitive analysis. Following from these case studies is a detailed breakdown of how you can perform one of your own.


The question ‘what makes us human?’ fuelled a ten-year debate between
Marvel Comics and the United States Court of International Trade. Marvel argued that their action figures were toys (‘representations of nonhuman creatures’) rather than dolls (‘representations of humans’). While dolls were being taxed at a rate of 12%, toys were taxed at just 6.8%. Marvel’s research on this distinction would end up saving the company millions of dollars. Competitive analyses, like the one Marvel undoubtedly carried out, have the potential to reveal more than just direct competition. You’ll see why below.

What the Data Say About Women in Early Stage Entrepreneurship

October 14, 2015

by Sean Peters

Program Director of the Entrepreneurship Database, Emory University

NOTE: This article was originally published on the Unreasonable website, and has been cross-posted with permission.

Sean Peters is the Program Director of the Entrepreneurship Database, based out of Emory University in Atlanta. The database partners with accelerators around the world to help them measure the impact they have on the entrepreneurs they support. This blog accompanies their recent gender brief and highlights some key insights on women and early stage entrepreneurship.

At Unreasonable Group, we have a hypothesis that across markets, companies outperform other players in the market when they have more women in senior leadership and on their board of directors. And yet, these same companies seem to struggle in raising investment dollars relative to companies with more men on their teams. To this end, we have two questions: Do new ventures with women on their founding teams outperform their peers? And if a team has more women in roles of leadership, are they more or less likely to raise equity?

Earlier this year, we asked the Entrepreneurship Database program at Emory University if they had answers to these questions. Check out Program Director Sean Peters answer below.

We hear frequently that it is harder for
female entrepreneurs to raise money. We also hear (from organizations like the Girl Effect Accelerator, 10,000 Women (Goldman Sachs), 5by20 (Coca-Cola), Value for Women, and WeConnect International) that mixed-gender or female-led teams are generally stronger and under-recognized versus the all-male teams that typically get funding.

“Founding teams with women on them tend to have higher revenues than all-male teams.”

So, is it true? Do the statistics back this up?

Over the past two years, we have been gathering information from entrepreneurs around the world who apply to dozens of accelerator programs we partner with. We then track the data from all of these ventures over time to try to answer these kinds of questions. Although we don’t have all of the answers yet, here’s what we’re seeing so far.

1. Mixed teams do better than all-male teams

Looking at data from 2,352 ventures with an average age of just over a year, we see that founding teams with women on them tend to have higher revenues than all-male teams. Mixed teams with a male lead entrepreneur tend to have a slightly higher bump than mixed teams with a female entrepreneur. But regardless of who’s the lead entrepreneur, these mixed-gender teams do better than the all-male teams. We see similar trend lines in tracking number of employees.

RECODE: Co-Creating Impact Reporting

October 8, 2015

by Kathryn Meisner


Over the past 6 months,
GrantBook has partnered with Purpose Capital, to co-create RECODE’s digital strategy and real-time impact reporting with RECODE grantees. Through this unique, collaborative process, we are striving to tell the national story and impact of RECODE through intuitive reporting processes and publicly available data.

To begin the impact reporting design process, Purpose Capital, an impact investment advisory firm, worked alongside RECODE grantees, the
J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and GrantBook to develop a comprehensive measurement, evaluation, and learning framework. This co-designed framework captures trends and key insights within RECODE campuses and across the Canadian post-secondary institution (PSI) ecosystem.

The five impact areas that RECODE will measure and evaluate are:

1. Community Impact: Benefits to the local community where a PSI is located
2. Culture Shift: Increasing course content in social entrepreneurship (SE), social innovation (SI), or social finance (SF)
3. Social Ventures: Increasing support for student social ventures
4. Student Experience: More opportunities to attend events and workshops supporting SI/SE/SF
5. Resource Allocation: Leveraging of new sources of financial & in-kind support for SI/SE/SF

Read more about RECODE’s impact reporting methodology

Many Hands Make Light Work, Many Minds Make…

October 5, 2015

by Sara Taaffe

Co-founder of RECODE Collaborate

Sara Taaffe is a recent graduate from Renaissance College, the Faculty of Leadership Studies at the University of New Brunswick. Sara is passionate about solving complex problems and is manifesting that through the development of RECODE Collaborate.

As a student with a Bachelor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies, I can attest to the
importance and value of multidisciplinary collaboration. What I mean by multidisciplinary collaboration is drawing together individuals who all have different backgrounds to collectively work towards a commonly agreed outcome.

The story generally goes that a young person explores different subjects in primary education— science, social studies, english, math, arts, physical activity, drama, and music. From there, students are expected to choose one discipline: science, arts, engineering, or business, and are generally siloed into that discipline for their duration in it. Not only does this deter their natural sense of curiosity to explore other subjects, but it also limits co-creation across different disciplines and mentalities.
How are innovative and creative ideas born with only one mentality on the table?

I can confidently say that an engineer, business student, political science student, and english student can develop a much better solution to a problem, and learn a whole lot more in the process, than a group of four students from the same discipline or faculty.

With a multitude of complex problems, including climate change, food and water security, obesity, armed conflict, and poverty, the human race is situated in a very vulnerable position. Now is the time for brilliant minds to come together and develop meaningful solutions to these complex problems. And it’s time that post-secondary education enables students not only to learn, but to create meaningful action derived from teamwork, open-mindedness, and a willingness to collaborate across disciplines.


September 17, 2015

by AJ Tibando


Note: This piece was originally published on SoJo Stories. It has been posted here with permission from the author.

I am not a Founder. There I said it. If you’re so inclined you can stop reading now. Step away and click on the next story of budding genius and flashes of brilliance.

The Founder story is everywhere. Founders are mythologized and worshipped, even if all they do is start something. You might be thinking: “All they do is start something! Do you know how hard it is to start something?!!” Yes. Yes I do. And I have the utmost respect for it. But sometimes it seems like all we talk about is the glorious startup story, and not the perseverance and intelligence it takes to follow through to become successful. If we keep telling such one sided stories and we’re not careful, pretty soon we’ll find ourselves in a situation where nine out of every ten startups fail. Oh wait.

I am not a Founder, but I am the CEO of a startup. It wasn’t my idea. I could tell you a story of how the idea came to me, but I won’t because that would be lying. It’s a great idea, nonetheless, and one I found so compelling I was willing to quit my job – my big, well paying, government job – to work on it. More on that part in a minute.

I’m not much of a dreamer. I don’t like blank canvases. I was never the creative type who would paint vivid word pictures of grand dreams about the future. I’m not a fan of that kind of thinking — in fact, in my previous life as political advisor, a big part of my job was to protect my boss from getting swept up in that sort of thing. I’m the kind of person who would rather spend my time planning than dreaming. And while I’ve found some others like me, everyday I spend in startup world makes it clear that we’re the minority.

Or at least it feels that way. No one seems to be interested in what the second hire has to say. Or the third. Or the fourth. But everyone wants to hear from the Founder, hoping perhaps that if we hear enough founding stories, the genius will rub off on us.

Min Specs: Getting the best bang for your buck (and not the same old)

September 8, 2015

by Marilyn Struthers

Principal, M. Struthers & Co.

I recently took part in a RECODE adjudication panel for a major Canadian university. Our task was to assess faculty submissions and award $10,000 grants for projects that meet RECODE’s goal of creating an ecosystem that fosters social innovation. The experience provided lots of food for thought on just how we get from here to there in change-making in Canadian higher education.

I had many years of grant-making under my belt at the Ontario Trillium Foundation before I joined the university. Most of the $4M per year portfolio I managed was spent supporting innovation in the social service sector, so perhaps naturally, I approached my tasks on the adjudication panel as a funder. Assessing opportunity to invest in innovation is harder than you might think. Almost everything that happens in a post-secondary institution has the potential to support new and everyone can think their work is innovative – and perhaps they are right. The proof is in the pudding. Only after the work is delivered and the finished product sets in the bowl, can we know if we have bet on the right ingredients to meet granting goals.

This panel had great projects to choose from, but no prior agreement on what we would rank as innovative or on what activities build an ecosystem. Not at all unusual, the call for submissions was lightning fast, the panel assembled late in the process, and the applications were many. As with most panels of this nature, we had each read and ranked some of the submissions, but no one had read all of them, and the range of proposed activities was very wide.

There were the extremely well written applications – so well written that it wasn’t hard to see that they were recycled SSHRC applications. Funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council is, of course, the bread and butter of academic career development, but not necessarily key to the goal of RECODE. There were the exciting environmental ideas, and adjudicators quickly formed a shared opinion that environmental work could be linked to innovation. There were the intriguing, but not entirely well thought out great ideas — clearly conceptual works in progress that might be going somewhere interesting— but no one was certain of the capacity to implement. And there was a fabulous project or two where the budget lines for travel to remote conferences didn’t quite reconcile with the intent of the project. So, how to sort for the best potential—projects that meet both the university’s emerging picture of social innovation, and RECODE’s objectives?

SIX Global Council Ideas for the Future: A new mission for universities?

September 7, 2015

by Mark Anderson

Head of European Programmes at Glasgow Caledonian

NOTE: This article was originally published on July 2, 2015 on the Social Innovation Exchange website, and has been cross-posted with permission.This article is part of the SIX Global Council series on Ideas for the Future.

Universities’ defined mission has in recent decades been founded on a combination of three intrinsic elements: teaching, research and what has loosely been called knowledge exchange, the process by which universities innovate and externalize the knowledge that they generate. This latter element traditionally involves a combination of various processes including intellectual property management, spin-off creation, licensing, access to funding, entrepreneurship and consultancy. It depends on a supply chain that ‘is multi‐dimensional, it has to be sustainable, and it has to have quality, strength and resilience. These attributes can only be secured through close collaboration, partnership and understanding between business and universities.’ (
Wilson Review “A Review of Business-University Collaboration” – 2012). But if this is how universities orthodoxly support innovation, how do we support social innovation? Can universities do more to support social innovators and is there a way of structuring this support to make it more effective? Universities have certainly begun to adopt the terminology and embed it within their teaching and research programmes but how much is social innovation considered part of the third mission of universities, or should there be a fourth mission defined at an institutional level?

Back in 2010 the study on Social Innovation prepared by SIX and the
Young Foundation for the Bureau of European Policy Advisors underlined the problem: “Civil society and the grant economy have long been rich sources of social innovation, but they are not well-placed to develop rigorous methods for innovation, lack R&D capacity, and find it hard to spread risk.” The report categorized four key barriers to social innovation: Access to finance; Scaling models; Skills and formation; Networks and intermediaries. Clearly, universities represent ideal partners to help break down or at least mitigate against many of these barriers. Most importantly, they can serve as intermediaries between the subversive nature of SI and its need for institutional and political recognition. They can provide appropriate R&D for robust, empirical evaluations of the effectiveness of SI, offering an understanding of what can accelerate and scale-up SI, beyond the anecdotal. Just as technical expertise in specialized areas can support commercial businesses and give them the means to help grow and expand, the same technical expertise can be offered to social innovators. But in addition to this, Universities are providers of a range of logistical support to their community that can provide real added value to SI: through the exploitation of their tacit and codified knowledge (including Open Access); through capacity building, mentoring and training; through the use of specialized equipment; through the provision of real and virtual spaces for networking, hot-desking or more formal incubation facilities; through selection and evaluation expertise; through lobbying. Just as social innovation has existed as an ill-defined, undervalued phenomenon for decades, universities have always supported civil society through a variety of activities without necessarily being able to categorize them under a unified terminology. However, I believe there are two interrelated, fundamental characteristics of university support for social innovation that need to change: i) social innovation support activities tend to be ad hoc and largely altruistic, universities have not recognized or systemized a process to measure the social return on investment; ii) as a result, while commercial innovation is recognized and institutionally supported by well-established knowledge transfer offices, there is no professional support function within universities for supporting social innovation.

RECODE STORIES: Geography at Ryerson: Your Social Innovation Powerhouse

September 2, 2015

by Dr. Claus Rinner

Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson University

Originally posted on the GIS2 at Ryerson blog. Cross posted with permission from the author.

Innovation in higher education and scholarly research has always been a hallmark of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson. Recent faculty and student achievements underline our position as a social innovation powerhouse on campus.

In the competition for “RECODE at Ryerson University” grants, @RyersonGeo faculty are leading three of the eight successful applications. That is 37.5% of these social innovation projects across campus, a proportion even more impressive if you consider the competitive process with eight grants selected among 33 applications, a success rate of only 24%.

With her RECODE grant, Dr. Claire Oswald, in collaboration with Dr. Claus Rinner and 3D printing startup company Think To Thing, plans to use “A 3D elevation model of Toronto watersheds to promote citizen science in urban hydrology and water resources”. Undergraduate students from our Geographic Analysis and Environment and Urban Sustainability programs will help with processing geospatial data to create a tangible model of the Don River watershed.The model is to be used for school and community outreach on pressing urban water issues.

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