Spin In-Life Lessons and Attaining Personal Goals
October 31, 2023 Written by Vanessa Spence
Somewhere between just finishing his MS in entrepreneurship and design in 2016 and about to start his MBA in healthcare administration, data analytics, and strategic leadership, Alex Brooks found himself in the right place at the right time. He was among classmates and friends at the Horn Entrepreneurship Venture Development Center. “I bluntly just jumped into the middle of a conversation and asked, ‘What is this all about? I want in!’” That is how he became a part of the Spin In Program. Brooks's classmate was graduating and was happy to introduce Brooks to the opportunity. For the next two years, Brooks worked with five Spin In teams and then took that experience to Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, as the Senior Administrative Director for OB/GYN.
“What attracted me to Spin In was the opportunity to work with students and entrepreneurs. It helped me with the goals I outlined for myself, and Spin In was my vehicle to home in on consulting skills.” Brooks elaborated, “It presented a great fit for business development and leadership experience. A plus was the chance to coach a whole team of students as a functional, interdisciplinary team. It just seemed fascinating and exciting to me.”
Each Spin In team worked closely with a local entrepreneur and helped to provide value in various ways. Most engagements were a combination of market fit assessment and prototype development. Brooks drew on his own classroom and practical experience, especially from his entrepreneurial and design background, to help facilitate the process and allow the team to explore options, share information, and come to sound suggestions for the entrepreneur. Brooks saw his role as Project Manager as much of running interference between the sponsoring entrepreneur and the team to protect the team’s process and creativity by working directly with the entrepreneurs to provide updates frequently, the rationale behind key decisions, and setting/resetting project goals and expectations.
Giving back to students
Brooks was keen on helping students through the process. “Everyone comes at this with diverse backgrounds, and the adjustment from classroom to practical application can sometimes separate you from the team’s forward motion. I had to be attentive to individual needs within the group. Helping them organize, focus, or learn is different for everyone. It was a “leave no one behind” approach.” Brooks found that creating accountability within the team was one tool that helped students to bond and excel; another was leaning into the interdisciplinary experience. Brooks almost immediately recognized how non-technical students overcame their own barriers to begin understanding technical jargon. The engineering students would ask what is important for the end user. It helped to build team confidence and camaraderie when everyone can work in the same realm of understanding where everyone can contribute.
Brooks was glad to reflect on his time at UD (University of Delaware) with a few questions on his experiences during his Spin In Team experiences.
Can you speak more about the interdisciplinary process and how students arrive there?
A gap between our artistic teammates and technical teammates does exist at first. You must interplay between them and help them understand what is happening for both sides before moving to a market strategy and building a product or offering. Each side tends to tackle the work from their own point of view before arriving at a common language. It comes about naturally, and in a few weeks, once you pull them together a few times and provide for each student's personal learning and discovery standpoint, it was great to see.
Everyone can see their contribution when they spin out something viable and valuable. Being part of a multidisciplinary team speaks volumes to a student’s intensity for learning and abilities in future work.
Can you tell us more about the projects?
At the conclusion of each school year, there is a showcase where the students, entrepreneurs, and interested UD staff and administrators collectively make up the viewing audience. The Showcase is a chance for the students to present their work, sometimes show prototypes or other displays, and answer questions about their decisions and thoughts for the entrepreneur’s idea going forward. [For the 2016 Spin in Showcase, four of the teams Brooks worked with were participants.]
STF Technologies Spin In® project was a multi-step process that started with intense market research to determine a new application or earth-based use for a technology that had been used in space applications. We compared the material to a Kevlar type, so we introduced the idea of gloves to Longwood Gardens staff and garbage collection companies.
Shrike Mounts was about market penetration and validation, which went deep into who will buy this thing! We learned strategies, how to interview, conduct cold calls, and communicate values quickly.
SeaHawk, a project with RAAD360, was led by CEO and entrepreneur Michael Loveless. We worked on an algorithm for an app and a new concept. I still use some of his tactics to encourage ideation today with my staff at the hospital. His project was just a great relationship, and he loved interacting with the team.
The Sassafras River Association Project primarily focused on market research to determine improved communications with the nonprofit’s members and community living around the Sassafras River. In the end, the team delivered a new website and detailed recommendations to enhance the Association’s presence and function in the community.
Tree Butler came in as a product with the need for a go-to-market plan. The team conducted its market research and delivered an innovative design that reduced costs, along with new business and marketing ideas for the company.
How did the work ethic of the students contribute to the team?
Madi Mucha, a past student, is a notable example. She was in a marketing design role and was timid at first but grew by being truly dedicated to the team and understanding how accountability for everyone helped her progress continue week to week. She was part of the STF Technologies and Seahawk projects with Brooks.
Mucha, after completing several years in advertising with a New York City-based company, now travels globally as a certified life and health coach. Mucha specializes in manifestation practices, helping clients reach their full potential. She recalled how Spin In influenced where she is today,
“It was eye-opening! Spin In helped me grow into the self-starter I am today. Spin In taught me that what you put into a project or vision, you will get out of it. Spin In gave me one of my first glimpses into the beautiful world of entrepreneurship, and I will be forever grateful for the foundation that the program set for me."
Brooks also spoke of Danielle Dubay-Betters. Her major was in the fashion industry, but entrepreneurship, she learned, made things possible. She was part of the STF Technologies project team along with Brooks.
She shared a moment of her first day on that team. She sat with engineers and students of different majors she had never interacted with before. She quickly realized how her fashion major could contribute. Her knowledge of fabrics and material functions played an influential role in product development.
“I learned to be flexible, adaptable, and take on unexpected roles. I learned to approach design differently and changed my ability to communicate ideas across disciplines effectively. While living in Sweden, I used those skills to take a marketing role for an education company providing its public-facing English materials. I eventually turned a hobby into a business when I opened a bakery, where I handled brand design, communication, and baking. Now, I am in Barcelona and a freelance copywriter for small, creative brands who are communicating their story. Spin In absolutely helped me to uncover the powers I had.”
Spin In is a unique UD offering funded by NSF (National Science Foundation) EPSCoR and the U.S. Economic Development Administration to advance workforce development in the state and region.
Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) is an economic development portal that connects outside entities to university knowledge-based assets to stimulate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among UD students, faculty, and partners to contribute to the state and region’s social and economic development. OEIP acts as a focal point for resources and advisory services to support the cultivation of early-stage companies and industry partnerships. With a focus on discovery, OEIP assists in the development and commercialization of intellectual property assets into marketable opportunities and/or new businesses. OEIP offers the Spin In® program that stimulates innovation and entrepreneurship and provides workforce development opportunities for qualified students. OEIP’s units include the University’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO), Delaware Small Business Development Center (DSBDC), and APEX Accelerator Delaware (formally PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center)). These units perform as an integrated ecosystem to meet the technology and business needs of the University, the state, and the region.