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The Curiosity Incubator at the Intellectual Forum: an 'Accelerator for Good'

On 24-25 January, Intellectual Forum Senior Research Associate Bridget Gildea held the pilot of her Curiosity Incubator, an 'Accelerator for Good' which, instead of testing business ideas or individual capabilities to make a profit, accelerates the testing of ideas for solutions to our biggest problems.

Intellectual Forum Director Dr Julian Huppert attended the Curiosity Incubator pilot, and shares his experience below.

Part of the mission of the Intellectual Forum is to make a positive difference in the world – a very broad and lofty aspiration! I was therefore delighted when one of our Senior Research Associates, Bridget Gildea – an experienced leadership trainer and educator, now a ‘Consultant for Good’ – suggested that we try running a new type of incubator and accelerator: one aimed at achieving positive social outcomes.

Cambridge is a globally-known centre of innovation, with pioneering companies such as Arm, CMR surgical, Raspberry Pi, and many others. It also benefits from a wonderful ecosystem of innovation centres such as Start Codon and O2h. These will help build a company – and especially a high-growth company – from any appropriate idea.

But what if your idea, or the problem you need to solve, isn’t addressed by creating a high-growth company? What if the answer is a new policy approach, or a new way of running your organisation, or making some ideas freely available so they can change the world?

That’s where Bridget’s concept comes in. The aim is to create an ‘Accelerator for Good’ that will help to develop transformational ideas, whether or not they lead to a profit-making company. The ideas and challenges might come from academics, or NGOs, or community organisations, or just about anyone who wants to make some part of our world better.

The first step, however, is to work out the questions. Too often, people and organisations leap straight from the title of the problem to trying to answer it, without really thinking through what the challenges actually are. So Bridget designed a Curiosity Incubator to help develop that part of the necessary thinking.

I was privileged to take part in and host the pilot of this Curiosity Incubator at the end of a cold January at Jesus College. It was a small but well-formed group, including Sir Tim Smit of the Eden Project; a senior Director from the Open Society Foundation; the Founder of the excitingly-named Gorilla Experiment Builder (‘a better survey monkey’); an expert on entrepreneurship working with the World Health Organisation; and others.

In a fairly short space of time – starting with lunch one day and finishing earlyish on the next – I learned a huge amount. We heard about behavioural science and what it tells us about how to think about identifying and solving problems, including real world examples. We reflected on how to unWEIRDify it – making sure there are approaches which don’t only work in Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic Societies. We interacted creatively as a team, having to express each other’s problems and challenges pictorially. I came away with a wide range of ideas for how to tackle my own personal challenge – how to help bridge the gap between academia and academics, and the real world and real problems.

This pilot was brilliant, and I’m delighted that Jesus College and the Intellectual Forum were able to catalyse such an excellent event, which on its own will make a difference. And it’s not over yet: we have more Curiosity Incubators to come – and then the full Accelerator!