Sorenson Center for Discovery and Innovation


Why do we innovate in the Sandbox?

Failure is the raw material of innovation, and all of us who are creative inventors and innovators need a safe place to fail fast, frequently and frugally. The Sorenson Center for Discovery and Innovation has created the Sandbox as that safe place to fail, create, learn, invent and innovate. The Sandbox gives students access to the tools, supplies and resources needed to discover, ideate, explore and invent innovative technologies, solutions and business models. In the Sandbox we follow a design thinking approach through agile methodologies to quickly build MVPs (minimal viable products) and accelerate the speed to market.  We can then measure the market response, and learn from interaction with the market. The Sandbox also helps move value-creating novelties (aka innovations) across all phases of the Innovation Lifecycle as outlined in Professor Wasden’s book Ride the Innovation Cycle.

What industries and type of innovations do we focus on?

Utah and the University of Utah have some natural strengths that have led it to become nationally recognized leader in invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

In the Sandbox we leverage these strengths to focus on digital technology innovation across the following industries and use case applications:

• Out of doors – hiking, camping, hunting, etc.
• Fitness – biking, running, skiing, etc.
• Wellness – prevention, chronic disease, etc.
• Health – clinical, hospital, acute, etc.
• Media technology – gaming, IT, etc.
• Home – safety, security, automation, health, etc.
• Transportation – automobile, logistics, health, etc.

Digital technologies primarily fall under the four elements of SMAC: social, mobile, analytic and cloud technologies. These are at the forefront of radically transforming all aspects of our daily lives and every industry they touch.

What innovation capabilities do you develop in the Sandbox?

In the Sandbox we focus on helping students, faculty, inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs and business partners develop four distinct capabilities necessary to become a digital innovator. We do this through four different labs.

  • IoT Lab – the INTERNET of THINGS is transforming all industries by leveraging Social, Mobile, Analytic and Cloud technologies (SMAC) to enable new and radical business models. In this lab, we play with sensors, devices, and their associated apps, to collect and analyze data needed to digitize the physical world.
  • DaV Lab – the explosion of DATA arising from the IoT creates new opportunities for ANALYTICS, to identify and understand relationships, correlations, and patterns never before seen. Through vivid VISUALIZATION of this data and the patterns and trends it reveals,  we can draw new insights and build upon existing knowledge to create new feedback loops that will then result in changing human behavior.
  • SaG Lab – increased insights from DaV enables us to construct virtual worlds with agent based modeling and system dynamic SIMULATION. We can then add elements of GAMIFICATION to explore how consumers or customers would adopt our new inventions through novel business models. This business model simulation enables virtual pilots to fail fast, frequently and frugally before we launch our innovations in the real world.
  • RuX Lab – SaG virtual pilots can only take you so far. Viable ideas need to become tangible through RAPID PROTOTYPING and be explored through ethnographic research to learn from the USER EXPERIENCE of consumers or customers. We can then gain further insights based upon how they respond to the look, feel, and experience associated with our inventions.

Where do we innovate at the U?

As a leading innovation school, we see innovation across the campus occurring in nearly every discipline. As such, we invite all areas of the university to come play and collaborate with us in the Sandbox. With our digital and industry focus we have built close working relationships with the David Eccles School of Business, the School of Engineering and the Health Sciences. Additionally we incorporate the Sandbox and its labs into the curriculum of our innovation courses, executive education, and workshops. We also leverage the sandbox as we work with work with inventors, entrepreneurs and industries to help them develop capabilities needed to support their innovative passions and aspirations.

What are our flagship innovation events?

Our Games4Health Challenge consists of multiple events over the course of the year that help support students, faculty and industry in inventing new apps, devices, offerings and solutions across our focus areas outlined above.  Here is an outline of our events:

September – Games4Health Hackathon Kickoff – this is an ideation event that brings real world problems to the students to ideate and innovate in an intensive 24 hour period. Industry partners provide prizes for the best ideas in various categories.

October – Games4Health Frankenstein Quest – this event challenges students to identify the best innovations in specific categories for industry partners and create a hybrid proposed solution by stitching together the best elements of all the best apps in a category (a Frankenstein App). Industry partners provide prizes for the best ideas in various categories.

January – Games4Health Shark Tank – this event has experts providing rapid fire feedback to students about their inventions they plan to submit for the final challenge in March. This provides to the student teams some valuable feedback to help them prepare for the final event.

March – Games4Health Global Challenge – this is our flagship event and allows student teams to present their fully developed games or highly developed game storyboard video to demonstrate the game they have invented. This is a highly competitive event with over $25,000 of prize money awarded to winning teams.

How do we apply fast, frequent, frugal failure to innovate?

Great innovators apply disciplines that move them from the mindlessness of daily lives to the mindfulness necessary to liberate their creative genius. This disciplined approached to innovation is outlined in Professor Wasden’s book, Riding the Innovation Cycle.  This requires each of us to do three things:

- Becoming an innovator

  • Understanding our bias for mindlessness in our daily lives to enable greater mindful discovery and invention. This is the greatest tension within our daily lives as individuals and as organizations. We focus on harnessing this tension to power innovation.
  • Overcoming the 12 mindless myths of innovation that restrict our ability to liberate our creative genius. This enables us to create new mental maps to create a belief that we can become a creative genius.
  • Innovating with a focus on putting our brain in the ideal creative state to generate the best ideas and potential innovations. This requires an understanding of the mental maps that both limit and power our creative genius.  Learning to avoid mindlessly following existing mental maps and mindfully creating new ones.

- Knowing how to innovate

  • Organizations, teams and people don’t innovate, the brain innovates. We therefore must know how to harness the capabilities of the brain to drive our creative efforts. We call this BAG Time, because we provide the tools and techniques necessary to change our brain waves from Beta waves used in mindlessness to Alpha and Gamma waves necessary for innovation.
  • We all must understand the Innovation Cycle and how it powers innovation. This cycle starts with failures that create pain in a system. Great pain creates tensions that power the creative and adaptive capabilities of people and organizations to innovate and generate new sources of value.
  • Innovations follow a lifecycle with four distinct growth phases. They are born in Mindful Discovery that tests their feasibility, a few then advance to Incubation to remove technical risk. A small subset of these then moves forward to Acceleration to remove commercial risk. Just one in a thousand discoveries will make it to the final mindless state of scaled commercial innovation.

- Doing innovation successfully

  • To successfully discover potential innovations we must discipline serendipity. That is, we must have a disciplined approach to innovation that increases the volume, value, and velocity of happy accidents that reveal new opportunities. We do this by increasing the variety, interaction and selection of new ideas.
  • Those ideas with the most potential must be incubated to remove technical risk and prove that the invention can actually be created. Incubation must follow disciplined practices that support the creative process, by killing bad ideas quickly, pivoting to create better ideas, or persevering when we think ideas are on the right path.
  • All good ideas that are successfully incubated need the right business model to ensure commercial success. Business model innovation requires discipline to accelerate the innovation process and must develop all four dimensions of a business model: Stakeholders, Capabilities, Benefits, and Economics.
  • Without measuring our innovative activities across the entire Innovation Lifecycle we will never know how well we are doing nor can we manage our innovation operating model and apply the right discipline. Similar to the Six Sigma Lean discipline, if we don’t measure our Innovation Discipline we can’t manage it.