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Merging Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and the Environment

Launching this spring, Innovate for Climate will challenge students to develop novel solutions to real problems affecting the Great Lakes

A new experiential class at the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation offers students an opportunity to tackle an environmental challenge and influence other areas of climate, sustainability, and social impact in the process.

Debuting this spring, ENTREP 340: Innovate for Climate will empower students to apply entrepreneurial skills to develop new products, services, or technologies to address issues affecting the Great Lakes ecosystem, which includes the Lake Michigan waters bordering Northwestern University’s Evanston campus. 

Hayes Ferguson, Ryan Jeffery“There’s a tremendous interest among Northwestern students to solve problems facing our planet,” said Farley Center director Hayes Ferguson, who will lead the new course alongside veteran entrepreneur Ryan Jeffery. “Innovate for Climate provides students a hands-on opportunity to help solve environmental challenges right in our own backyard.”

While Northwestern offers numerous classes focused on climate change, the new Farley Center course flips the traditional model through a collaboration with the Common Mission Project (CMP) and its acclaimed “Hacking for …” program, which works with universities and student entrepreneurs to address critical challenges in society.

Together, CMP and the Farley Center will identify engaged sponsors that can present Innovate for Climate’s student teams unique problems associated with the Great Lakes – the five North American lakes representing the planet’s largest connected area of fresh water. Over the 10-week quarter, the teams will work with their external partner to discover the intricacies of their specific climate issue before employing lean startup methodology to craft a relevant, practical solution.

Committed sponsors include Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Lake Erie Islands Nature & Wildlife Center.

“Rather than tasking students with finding a problem, we will provide them with carefully curated problems that established organizations are grappling with,” Ferguson said. “The program is rooted in the idea that we can serve the common good by applying entrepreneurial skills to existing problems.”

Both Ferguson and Jeffery are capable guides to this end.

While Ferguson possesses extensive experience teaching entrepreneurship and innovation classes at Farley and doubles as a faculty affiliate at Northwestern’s Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy, Jeffery brings deep expertise in the sustainability field. As the managing director for the sustainability program at gener8tor, a venture capital firm and accelerator, he provides coaching, capital, and connections to propel cutting-edge sustainability and climate tech startups to market.

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