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CEDAR RAPIDS — For years, NewBoCo's Intrapreneur Academy has encouraged participants to innovate and embrace change.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many to shut down, Academy staff realized they'd have to rely on their principles to keep going.
'We couldn't just move everything into daylong Zoom lectures and leave it at that,' said Jennifer Murphy, NewBoCo's director of Innovation Services. 'We knew we'd have to be far more creative.'
Intrapreneur Academy trains emerging leaders on innovation practices, methods and strategies supporting faster company growth. The yearlong program includes daylong training sessions, experiences and guest speakers, with each month focusing on a different theme.
According to NewBoCo Chief Relationship Officer David Tominsky, the Academy is designed to use the same concepts that drive entrepreneurs, but apply them to long-standing businesses rather than brand-new ones.
'You don't have to be an entrepreneur to have an entrepreneurial mindset,' Tominsky said. 'We realized that what we were doing at NewBoCo with entrepreneurs and start-ups was very much relevant to people that worked in existing businesses as well.'
Since 2017, NewBoCo has graduated three groups from the Academy program. Past business participants have included Van Meter, UnityPoint Health, Brucemore, Linn County Auditor's Office, Eco Lips, AbbeHealth Aging Services, United Way of Eastern Iowa, Grinnell Mutual, Woodward Communications, Marion Process Solutions, Woofables Bakery, Frontier Co-op and NewBoCo.
Sessions traditionally took place in person in the Geonetric Building, 415 12th Ave SE.
When the pandemic struck, however, it forced the Academy to reinvent itself. Simply recruiting another class, and doing its usual sessions in a virtual setting, quickly was ruled out.
'It's entirely too easy to just mentally check out during a Zoom session,' Murphy said. 'We needed to think beyond traditional classroom-style delivery. We needed to find a way to be more interactive.'
First, Murphy attended as many other virtual sessions as she could to learn what tools other people were using, including Asana boards, Miro visual collaboration software, Mentimeter and Google jam boards.
At the same time, NewBoCo launched a Virtual Innovation Coffee program, inviting people to share what they were dealing with as the pandemic was happening.
'We were just trying just experiment and see what works,' Murphy said.
'Things like having an agile mindset, being willing to fail and being willing to experiment are all things we focus on in Academy. I would say to our classes, and to Innovation Coffee participants, that we're trying to ‘practice what we teach.''
Along the way, Murphy realized the Academy should rethink its entire setup. Rather than focusing on bringing teams from multiple businesses together in a class, the Academy opted to focus on one single company for its 2020-21 cohort, working intensively with team members from that company.
The company chosen was Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids. Collins has gone through several major changes of its own in recent years, from acquisition to spinoffs to dealing with the impact of the pandemic and major weather events.
Jack Jordan, senior systems engineer in Advanced Systems, has been the lead coordinator on behalf of Collins Aerospace. Jordan previously had attended the Academy as part of its first group, and was eager to bring more teammates back with him.
'Intrapreneur Academy has been critical in shaping my mentality in everyday life as well as my work life,' Jordan said. 'It taught me that being innovative does not necessarily mean inventing the next, biggest breakthrough every day.
'There are mentalities that have to be kindled and maintained in order to drive innovative thinking forward.'
Murphy notes the change in approach allowed her and the Academy to dive deeper into topics specific to Collins as an organization.
'We can collaborate to focus on specific areas of development as their team progresses,' she said.
As Intrapreneur Academy moves forward, it's hard to say how the next class will be handled. It's entirely possible that the Academy will reinvent itself yet again for 2021.
'Innovation isn't a one-size-fits-all approach,' Tominsky said.
'With each class, we have to ask, ‘How do we partner and collaborate so that we can go further and faster together?' We keep asking those questions, and I think it informs us how to do our own job better.'
Rob Merritt is NewBoCo director of communications.