Breaking Through a Brick Wall with a Lightbulb? My Exploration Into Innovation (Without a Business Idea!) - Rankin Tran '24

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Innovation as an Invention:

Not too long ago, I merely thought of innovation as an invention of a new product. In my case, I always associated “innovation” with Thomas Edison and the lightbulb. When you think of the term “innovation”, what images form in your mind’s eye?

  • The printing press?
  • The sprawling expanse of the internet?
  • The life-changing discovery of Penicillin?
  • How about the momentous unveiling of the new iPhone by Steve Jobs?

All these inventions stand as testaments to some of humanity's greatest innovations, and yet, my own journey revealed to me that innovation holds a value beyond its surface as a new invention. At its core, innovation revolves around providing meaningful value to people.

Intro to Innovation:

In 2022, I enrolled in Joanna Sutton’s "Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Information Technology" class where we delved into the processes to launch a successful startup company. One day, she invited her son, Aaron, and past student, Kunal Gandhi, to share their student entrepreneurship story with our class. I was surprised at how down-to-earth and relatable they were.

Joanna 2I can vividly remember seeing them speak at the front of the room and daydreaming about myself in their position, delivering an inspiring speech to a room full of fellow college students. I was drawn in by their relatable demeanor and incredible story, but what truly ignited my enthusiasm for innovation and entrepreneurship was the sight of Joanna beaming with pride. She had a proud smile that spoke volumes while she silently observed her son and her student sharing their story. And when she turned back to our class, I noticed she had that same conviction, showing that she truly believed in our potential and was invested in our success. I wanted to learn more!


BIC 3The Big Idea Center entrance located on 3601 Forbes Ave


The first step was to get involved with the Big Idea Center, where big ideas become businesses. Knowing that I was supported in my journey, I was excited to take a deep dive into the world of innovation and entrepreneurship. However, there was just one problem... I instantly faceplanted.

I had no big idea. I was stuck in a stasis with no basis for a business. This was like writer’s block, but for a business. I was inspired to learn more, but I didn’t know how to overcome this. I was stuck at a brick wallbut I didn’t let that stop me!

I recognized that by participating in the "I+E Explore" events hosted by the Big Idea Center, I could acquire both experience and inspiration that would lead to unforeseen possibilities. I made an effort to attend as many Big Idea Center events as possible.


Personal Innovation from Involvement:

It was a journey of self-discovery and growth. Through events like EntrePIEneur Day and Trivia Night, I've been immersed in an atmosphere that cultivates creativity and collaboration between student startups and the systems that strive to support them. During the Corporate Innovation Speaker Series event featuring Sheetz's Chief Innovation Officer Mary Beth Green, I learned about bridging consumer needs with business needs for practical applications of innovative ideas. There, I was also able to connect with another student who had an interesting idea to improve cultural food representation in stores. From then on, we’ve continued to work together towards a shared long-term goal of uniting artists of dierent disciplines to create experimental and experiential art. As of now, this is the concept that has truly captured my heart. I truly believe in the power of collaboration to catalyze innovation. I never expected to be so involved in the art industry, but that’s just a result of innovating my own expectations!

The experiences I've gained from the Big Idea Center have pushed me beyond passive engagement. As my involvement continued with the Big Idea Center, I became more motivated to embrace more leadership roles and explore opportunities for collaborating in diverse extracurriculars. I now champion user-centric approaches, harmonizing user needs with business imperatives. My projects are guided by a commitment to enhancing user experiences and advocating for digital accessibility. I’m grateful that my experience with the Big Idea Center empowers my work with empathy and purpose.

So at this point, have I broken through the brick wall, yet? The answer is a resounding.... NO! Sorry if that wasn’t the answer you wanted, haha! Thanks to the Big Idea Center, I just found my own way around it to keep moving forward. I’m enchanted by the idea of collaborating with people to create experimental art that allows for unique articulation of complex concepts.

Rankin 4Rankin at the Big Idea Center's Student Innovation Showcase in April 2023



To my fellow students, I encourage you to take advantage of your status as a student and get involved with the systems designed to support your success. It's not just about attending events; it's about finding the people who are invested in your success and committed to your growth. Beyond events, these programs sculpt journeys of transformation, where personal evolution and innovation align seamlessly.

As I reflect on my journey, I realize that innovation is an ongoing saga. It's a force that propels us forward, urging us to embrace change and push boundaries to provide value to people. With the Big Idea Center as my guiding light(bulb), I'm excited to continue navigating the ever-evolving world of innovation.


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