Celebrating Innovation at Haverford

The first-ever Innovations Week showcased the creative entrepreneurial efforts of Haverford students.

From its inception, the Haverford Innovations Program (HIP) has encompassed a wide swath of creative thinkers and collaborators, from the computer science and engineering space to socially-conscience fashion and social media. With the support of the program, students across disciplines have created new solutions and opportunities— from incubation to implementation—developing entrepreneurial projects and new paths of learning.

Previously, though, their “innovations” were presented and/or celebrated as part of separate events throughout the academic year, and in a summer incubator program. But this year, Haverford’s first-ever “Innovations Week,’’ which ran Dec. 1 through 4, packaged several such events, combining talks with successful entrepreneurs from both inside and outside of the College community with the annual Haute fashion show and even a pop-up store.         

Innovations Week was the brainchild of Liana Wilson-Graff ’23, a 2021 HIP Summer Incubator Fellow, and came together through the talents and ideas of HIP’s eclectic group of technical- thinking, business-oriented student assistants.     

“What was really nice was being able to highlight together all the work that students have been doing,” says Associate Program Director for HIP Shayna Nickel. “And I think that there’s an opportunity to continue to do that in the future.”

A highlight of the 2022 series was a talk given by iconic luxury footwear designer Stuart Weitzman, who shared his experience of going from entrepreneur to global brand. The give-and-take session, attended by more than 50 members of the Haverford community, was followed by a dinner later in the day with a select group of HIP students. “[Stuart] loves working with and talking to young people, especially undergraduates,” says Alex Molot, Haverford’s director of strategic development, who facilitated Weitzman’s appearance.  The shoe designer spoke about the importance of taking informed risks, not being afraid of failure, and thinking strategically about how to get the right product into the right hands at the right time. Molot says that Weitzman was particularly inspiring on the subject of homing in on the intersection of big ideas and business acumen and that for 90 minutes the student audience was captivated by his passion and storytelling. “He was the most amazing raconteur I’ve heard in a long time,” Molot says.     

Also fascinating was the kickoff event on Dec. 1, a talk by Rebecca Fisher ’18, an alumnus and HIP incubator fellow who conjured up Philadelphia’s much-acclaimed Beyond the Bell Tours with classmate Joey Leroux ’18 while a student at Haverford. The Philadelphia company’s offerings include a “Badass Women’s Historical Tour of Philadelphia” and a “Gayborhood/LGBTQ History” tour. The aim: to create inclusive experiences highlighting marginalized communities, peoples, and histories that have shaped Philadelphia through movements, activism, and resistance. In her talk, Fisher, who was Haverford’s Tuttle Creative Resident during the fall semester, addressed the steps and challenges of turning an idea hatched during HIP’s summer incubator program into a business reality.

Saturday’s fashion show was presented by Haute, a digital platform developed by students who participated in the  HIP 2021 summer incubator. Dedicated to promoting sustainability and inclusivity, the platform seeks to promote emerging fashion designers of all backgrounds through immersive digital content and in-person events. The fashion show included regional designers beyond Haverford’s confines, such as like-minded Drexel University designers. “[Haute organizers] also connected with fashion designers across the country,” says Nickel. “They had our students here model the clothes; there were Bi-co student photographers; it was a fantastic success.”

A pop-up consignment store, dubbed “Ford’s Closet” by its creators Mimi Lavin ’24 and Allison Cubell ’24, capped off Innovations Week. Designed to encourage sustainable fashion and eliminate clothing waste, the store provided an opportunity for students to sell their no-longer-loved clothing to fellow students looking to add to their wardrobes. Ford’s Closet was created last spring and has continually been building momentum. “We were able to find student artisans on campus who sold some of their wares at the pop-up as well” says Nickel. “It all worked to lift up entrepreneurial-minded students, and that is really exciting.’’

Organizing and executing the event also served to consolidate the wide-ranging interests and talents of the students who comprise HIP. As Molot pointed out, “This was an opportunity to really pump up the volume about what the Haverford Innovations Program is doing on campus by marrying all these things together.’’

Says Nickel, “I think what has really been exciting is to see how these students have been working together and the ways in which their work intersects. [This year] there was big energy around fashion.” Going forward, she says, she’d love to mount another HIP week celebration and find another theme to explore. “I would love to do it again.’’