GW’s Culture of Innovation Continues to Expand

By the end of the current fiscal year, $54 million of Innovation Task Force funds will have been invested in faculty, research and academic programs.

Innovation Task Force
November 11, 2013

Record numbers of students are tapping into GW’s culture of innovation, as the Innovation Task Force (ITF) continues to engage a broad swath of the university community.

Dozens of innovation ideas poured in from GW students this semester in response to the ITF’s scholarship competition. The contest—open to all GW undergraduate and graduate students in degree programs—offers a year of free tuition to the student or group of students developing the winning plan to net the university $1 million annually, either through savings or new revenue opportunities.

“We received nearly 50 qualified applications for the competition by the Oct. 25 deadline and will be announcing the semifinalists on Nov. 25,” said Dave Lawlor, senior associate vice president for finance and the Innovation Task Force chairman. “We are delighted to see the tremendous involvement of our students, and appreciate the time and effort they have put into thinking about ways the university can enhance its operations and look for new revenue opportunities core to our academic mission. We look forward to awarding the $50,000 scholarship to the winner in April.”

Established by President Steven Knapp in October 2009, the ITF is charged with generating $60 million in annual, recurring savings and new revenue for reinvestment in the university’s top academic and research priorities. Six new innovation ideas are selected for implementation every six months. To date, more than 60 ITF initiatives have been green-lighted for implementation.

“From the inception of the ITF through the end of the current fiscal year, we will have cumulatively spent more than $54 million of ITF funds on the university’s core mission of faculty, research, and academic programs and support,” said Mr. Lawlor. “That total includes funding for 59 faculty members, researchers, advisers, graduate teaching assistants and research support.”

According to Mr. Lawlor, transparency and accountability are integral parts of the process. “We regularly brief the board, president, senior staff, deans and the community at large on our progress and on how the ITF investments are doing,” he said. “We also have twice per year initiative briefings where the champions of the sanctioned initiatives present progress reports to [Executive Vice President and Treasurer] Lou Katz and [Provost] Steve Lerman, and we provided a detailed ITF update to the Board of Trustees at their June retreat.”

Don Boselovic, a senior advisor at GW, is responsible for the financial tracking of “all things ITF,” Mr. Lawlor added. “Don works very closely with the budget office to ensure that the ITF totals are appropriately integrated with the budget planning for the university,” he said. “This has been a key focus of the ITF since its inception. Trackability is one of our core guiding principles. If initiatives cannot be tracked from a financial standpoint, they do not qualify to be ITF initiatives.”

Mr. Lawlor is quick to state that the ITF leadership “continually evaluates the estimated savings or revenue from each idea” as initiatives progress from concept to implementation. “The ITF, since its inception, has chartered 67 ideas, and three of those were withdrawn or canceled during the business planning stage because the merits were not what we initially thought,” he said. “We are also in the process of revising estimates for the digital community and executive education initiatives; they will subsequently be added back to our total.”

New ideas continue to surface, as the initiative moves through the phase seven exploration (idea-generation) stage, chaired by Ali Eskandarian, dean of the College of Professional Studies and the Virginia Science and Technology Campus. “Our theme this time around centers on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus,” Mr. Lawlor said. “We will wrap up the six-month exploration stage in the coming weeks, host our community-wide showcases the first week of December, and then brief the president and charter the new ideas.”

“University wide, we put a tremendous amount of rigor into the ITF process, and the collaboration and commitment to ITF is something special,” Mr. Lawlor concluded. “We are spending tens of millions of dollars more today than what we were spending pre-ITF on our core mission of faculty, research, academic programs and support. We can be very proud of how far we’ve come already. We urge everyone to continue to think of new ways to expand the envelope, as well as help us succeed in implementing the various initiatives underway, as we continue the culture of innovation at GW.”