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i3 sweetgrass squareThe inaugural i3 incubator kicked off this January, and the two selected teams are already making headway on their goals to improve their communities. Spearheaded by CoSW professor Robert Hock, i3, the “Innovative Intervention Incubator,” enables organizations in the social sector to develop new initiatives that solve an existing problem in the community. The incubator is a year-long program, taking on new applicants each fall. Eleven teams applied for this first incubator, but only two were selected: Autism Academy of South Carolina and the Richland County Public Defender’s Office.

So far, the two teams have worked through the idea refinement phase, during which “teams are presenting their ideas and approaching the problems and the people they’re serving in different and creative ways,” says Hock. Currently, the teams are in the prototyping phase, performing pilot-testing and eventually launching their ideas. The teams are already making an impact with the incubator’s assistance: the Richland County Public Defender’s Office recently collaborated with The Nickelodeon Theatre for a showing of the film Paper Tigers, and the Autism Academy has submitted two grant proposals.

i3 1 12 2017AWorking with these two teams allows Hock and the rest of the i3 team to learn “a lot about the characteristics of the teams and how they fit” with the aims of the incubator. As the first cohort, these teams are teaching the i3 crew more about how to serve various public and private entities and how to accommodate the different constraints and tight schedules of these busy professionals. The process has been incredibly rewarding so far: Hock has enjoyed “seeing them move from skepticism to application” as they adopt the skills honed in the incubator, as well as “seeing them getting excited about their ideas.”

Though these two teams are coming from different sectors, “through this process, we’re bringing people together who don’t run in the same circles, and that’s been really powerful,” says Hock. The incubator itself involves a variety of people from diverse backgrounds and skill sets. For example, CoSW students participate as paid staff or volunteers, writing literature reviews and providing research to the teams to ensure their projects are evidence-based. Faculty from across campus are also stepping in to consult with the teams—“with an hour of their time, they can really make a big impact,” notes Hock. Recently, teams met with faculty members who have research interests in common with the teams’ projects. These one-hour meetings over coffee were fun for everyone and an easy commitment for faculty looking to volunteer.

i3 story picIn addition to involving students and faculty as resources, i3 has enlisted community leaders from non-profits, government agencies, and local businesses as Innovation Advisors. One such advisor, Bob Amundson of Amundson Consulting Service, jumped at the chance to get involved. Amundson works as a consultant to non-profit organizations and currently serves on the Foster Care Review Board. Though his background is in child protection, he wanted to learn more about other ways to effect change in the community. Now, as an Innovation Advisor, Amundson consults with the two teams at every step of the process. Amundson explains that i3 is “working together to expand this idea of an incubator and reach critical mass to make change on a great scale.” When asked about his favorite part of the incubator, Amundson is quick to describe how he feels “this energy when walking out of meetings,” attributing it to the rush of working with “extremely intelligent folks dedicated to social change.”

The incubator offers a unique opportunity for many people to partner with the university, whether as Innovation Advisors or future applicants. Hock says the that i3 is always happy to involve people from the community who would like to provide advising or mentoring, and students and faculty from outside the CoSW are welcome to join the project as well. The i3 incubator is building up its infrastructure, too, seeking donors and sponsors to enable i3 to provide free consultations. “We have seen the value that even a single appointment or a couple of meetings can have,” Hock explains. “Sometimes when people have an idea, they just need a place to speak it and get some informed feedback and encouragement. I don’t think that can be underestimated.”

The i3 incubator is unlike anything else in the state, affording a special opportunity to bring together change-makers and make an immediate impact on our community. If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor of or volunteering for i3, please contact CoSW Development Officer Sarah Wells at 803.777.3902 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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