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Quad Partnership pursues solutions to community issues 

Innovation through collaboration

click to enlarge ANNA SMITH
  • Anna Smith
In a brightly lit basement workspace under Loyal Coffee downtown, a diverse group of students from four local higher education institutions converse around tables, taking turns to report their findings from the past week. One group pitches ideas to solve a marketing problem for a local company. Dry-erase boards and post-it notes fill up with key-words like “problem” “gaps” and “value proposition.”

Gathered from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS), the Air Force Academy (AFA), Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC) and Colorado College (CC), these students have been tasked to help solve a list of issues brought forth by partnering agencies in the city.

This is all happening under the banner of the Quad Innovation Partnership, with plans to turn ideas into action and make positive change in the community through collaboration.

The Quad first formed in 2014, a collaborative brainchild itself, dreamed up by the four presidents representing each institution at the time. The goal was to focus on innovation entrepreneurship and community education, as well as graduate retention in the area.

“The idea actually came out of the notion that maybe there would be things we could do not only to support our students, but also our young alumni,” says PPCC president Lance Bolton.

“We wanted to make sure that the Air Force Academy was better embedded in the community of Colorado Springs,” adds Colonel Troy Harting, permanent professor and head of the Department of Management.

The Quad’s Assistant Director, Beka Adair, who graduated from CC and worked at the Colorado Springs Chamber & Economic Development Corporation, explains the framework as “getting students invested with this community while they are here for school, so that they stay forever.”

Two core Quad programs are designed to create that investment. The first, a summer intensive, will be in its fourth year this summer. The month-long program runs eight hours a day, five days a week, and immerses students in brainstorming, problem solving and interacting with the community.

“Each week was very dynamic and different,” says Alana Aamodt, a CC senior majoring in physics, who participated in 2017’s summer intensive. “You get to work with people who are very different than you, which is good because that’s how the real world is.”

Aamodt’s group project focused on humanizing homeless individuals in the Pikes Peak area through storytelling on a digital platform, a project that the group came up with on their own. The project culminated in a website that featured homeless individuals and their specific skills and passions, similar to the acclaimed “Humans of New York” photo blog. One of the biggest challenges for the group, she says, was going out and engaging homeless individuals in the community about their wants and needs — a key aspect of any Quad project.

Aamodt’s first week included team building and introduction to the problem, doing what is called a “Google Sprint,” or a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. The second week was for forming smaller groups and plans; the third for taking action; and the fourth encompassed finalizing the projects and deciding what the next step would or wouldn’t be.

Aamodt went on to use the skills she learned at The Quad to co-found a company called Momentix, which builds toy kits for children to engage them with science, technology, engineering and math. The company was recently was awarded $10,000 at Colorado College’s Big Idea startup pitch competition.

The second Quad program, the semester program, acts differently both in the time requirement, and when students apply, they apply for a specific project that interests them. 
John Moore, an Anthropology student at UCCS and a Colorado Springs native, chose a project involving public transportation and access to social services because of his interest in how people move through their local environment. His project is a partnership with the City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County. Currently, most social services in Colorado Springs are clustered on one side of town (the Northwest side) while most of the people who use them are clustered on the Southeast side. To fix this problem, Moore’s group proposes making public transportation ridership more efficient and more user-friendly.

During the semester program, groups of students spend about 10 hours per week working on their project, for which they receive a $1,200 stipend. The stipends are currently funded by the Colorado State Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The three projects this past semester involved a local clothing manufacturer called Janska, a software company by the name of Altia, and the City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

“It’s important to me to care about my city and where I live,” says Kaleigh O’Donnel, a PPCC student who’s currently working on that El Paso County and City of Colorado Springs project. “I applied because it sounded really attractive to effectively advocate for homeless people.”

In an email to the Indy, the City says the Quad team found opportunities to improve access to social services by consolidating the number of visits it takes to receive services, as well as relaying important information to those who need it more efficiently.

“With feedback, data, and insight from the City and County, the Quad team has taken a large, complex challenge in our community by designing a user-friendly mobile application/website that could [alleviate] significant barriers to accessing social services,” says Chelsea Gaylord, the City’s Economic Development Project Manager. “The City is pleased with the progress to date and impressed by the creative ideas and multi-disciplinary perspectives of the students selected for [The Access to Social Services project].”

O’Donnel hopes to run for public office in Colorado Springs one day and sees this as an opportunity to test the waters for enacting social change. For her, the hardest part of the program isn’t the time commitment on top of her class load, but finding time to address all of the issues at hand.

Maylin Cardoso Fuentes, a student at CC, and her team, are tasked with creating a new marketing plan for Janska, a company that creates clothing for people with mobility issues.

“I’d say a lot of the Quad programs are very student-driven,” says Cardoso Fuentes. “It’s not like your typical internship where you’re fetching coffee. Whatever you put in is what you get out.”

During one group meeting, Cardoso Fuentes speaks confidently with her peers and her advisors about the research she has done, and listens intently to her group members. She learned that it’s important to be particular with wording when making a marketing plan. The faculty advisors of her project — Sheridan Kalleta, the Entrepreneurship Initiative Coordinator at PPCC, and Jim Myers, Assistant Professor of Business at PPCC — give input and offer insight from their own experience, questioning the students when their propositions are unclear.

“We can pull subject matter experts from the faculty at the schools,” says Jacob Eichengreen, a graduate of Wesleyan University, Colorado Springs native, and the Quad’s first permanent staff member in 2016.

Eichengreen’s responsible for shaping the Quad’s summer intensive. He modeled it after a program he participated in as a fellow at Venture For America, a New York-based nonprofit which focuses on connecting recent graduates to meaningful positions at startups.

“Collectively, there is a faculty expert in almost anything, which lends us a lot of flexibility in terms of what projects we pursue each semester and each year,” he says.
Eichengreen and Assistant Director Adair’s main competition in attracting partnering agencies is not consulting firms, he says, but instead the educational institutions from which they pull. They hope to distinguish the Quad as made up of teams that will guarantee deliverables rather than a class simply wishing to chew on a problem.

So far, it’s working.

“Now we are at the point where people are starting to come to us for future projects so we have several projects lined up for next year that we didn’t have to [elicit],” says Eichengreen.

The reputation of the Quad is working for Quad alumni, too. Last year, the majority of career-ready students in the program were offered positions within a month of completing the program, says Eichengreen.

Jan Erickson from Janska Clothing, a partner of The Quad, says the students “really took the project seriously,” and ultimately completed all their stated goals. “It’s a win win for both sides — students and partnering agencies.”

Eichengreen presented the following project summaries during the Quad’s Demo Day on Wednesday, May 16:

Project 1: Social Services Access
Clients: City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County
Project Scope: Identify, design and test feasible interventions to improve access to social services
Summary: The first third of this project was dedicated to identifying barriers to access and root causes. The students found that it frequently takes 2-4 full days for an individual to begin receiving services from the Citizens Service Center once multiple in-person visit requirements and round trip public transportation times are factored in. They identified a streamlined UI/UX (user interface/user experience) as the most cost effective strategy for reducing service access times from four days to one or less. A technological interface that links with existing City, County and State systems to streamline appointment booking, application and verification tasks was deemed the most impactful, and subsequent project work will design this interface.

Project 2: Datacore Product Launch
Client: Altia
Project Scope: Identify target customers, test revenue streams and develop sophisticated business model to accelerate the launch of a new technology product.
Summary: The project team evaluated 5 potential customer segments and their associated business opportunities. Through market research, SWOT analysis, and other strategies the team identified the most viable target launch segment and specific customer. The team also modeled several unique monetization schemes and developed a sophisticated business model that combines revenue from four unique streams. Additionally, the team identified key components for and prototyped the customer-facing product webpage.

Project 3: Clothing that Comforts Market Strategy
Client: Janska
Project Scope: Develop product identity, marketing and sales strategy for Janska’s Clothing that Comforts social impact line.
Summary: The students conducted over 50 interviews with individuals representing four unique customer segments and identified customer needs, preferences and sales and marketing channels. The team worked from that information to develop brand insights, value statements and strategic recommendations for marketing and sales. They ultimately delivered a marketing strategy to Janska that includes innovative strategies to maximize digital and physical channels.

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