Fostering a ‘culture of innovation’

Penn President Amy Gutmann opened McKinsey’s first-ever “Innovation Night,” held at the Penn Museum on Thursday, March 14. It’s a testament to the University’s critical, visionary role in Philadelphia.

The workday had ended, and bustling business leaders from Philadelphia flowed into the stunning Penn Museum—ready and willing to chat all things innovation. 

Addressing a crowd of distinguished entrepreneurs and investors, Penn’s President Amy Gutmann emphasized innovation as “an all-in game.”

Gutmann at Penn Museum speaking of innovation
Addressing a crowd of distinguished entrepreneurs and investors, Penn’s President Amy Gutmann emphasized innovation as “an all-in game.”

“It requires us to encourage creativity from all quarters,” she said.

Opening consulting firm McKinsey’s first-ever “Innovation Night” on Thursday evening was natural for Gutmann, as the idea of innovation—something she’s ingrained into the University’s vision—is at her core. She spoke of biotechnology startup Avisi Technologies, a recipient of a $100,000 President’s Innovation Prize, and the inspiring recent Penn graduates behind it who are working to bring long-lasting sight to tens of millions of people with glaucoma.

The creation of Avisi’s ocular implant VisiPlate, an ultra-thin device designed to relieve pressure within the eye, was initially developed and tested in labs on campus while the students were in school. They consulted with Penn ophthalmologists, physicians, and researchers, and participated in various startup competitions. Today, they still run their startup out of the Pennovation Center.

“I tell you this story because it offers a key insight,” Gutmann said. “To achieve innovation, you must not only have the strategic vision, you must also build the culture for it.”

The need for a “culture of innovation” was demonstrated in discussions the rest of the evening, including in an introduction by acclaimed Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov, who catered the event’s dinner; in a TED-style talk from McKinsey Global Institute’s Michael Chui; and during a panel moderated by McKinsey’s Global Managing Partner Kevin Sneader and featuring Crossbeam founder Bob Moore, who heads Philly Startup Leaders; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia CEO Madeline Bell; and Mike George, the CEO of Qurate Retail, home of QVC and HSN. 

“It’s not every place where a group of sophomores with an idea for a medical breakthrough can go on to graduate with a discovery in hand, as well as a plan to bring it to market,” Gutmann said. “That can only happen when you’re focused, top to bottom, on fostering a culture of innovation—whether it’s in higher education, or in business, or as importantly in the communities in which you live.”

innovation night at the penn museum
Consulting firm McKinsey’s first-ever “Innovation Night” took place at the stunning Penn Museum.

It was fitting, said entrepreneur and angel investor Vanessa Chan, a Penn Professor of Practice in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the undergraduate chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, for McKinsey to host its Innovation Night at Penn. Chan, who is a former McKinsey partner and one of the original consultants that established McKinsey’s Philadelphia office, explained how the University, with its diversity of talent, has the elements to be the “epicenter of Philadelphia’s innovation ecosystem.”

“At the heart of innovation, is talent and people, and Penn does an incredible job fostering students that go on to have impact in the Philadelphia community and beyond,” said Chan, who received her bachelor’s from Penn Engineering in 1994. 

“Events like this are bringing together all the critical pillars to make Philadelphia an amazing ecosystem for technology and innovation,” Chan said. “In one room we had leaders from our universities, health systems, and non-profits, as well as 50 CEOs, 50 CXOs across a wide range of startups and large corporations. 

It’s exciting, Chan added, to think of how this group will mobilize. 

“Because in Philadelphia, when we rally together, we really can have impact,” she said.

Photos by Avi Steinhardt.