A big question we hear a lot is, “Is it possible to hold an innovation session when we are all working remotely and we can not be together in person?” And the answer is YES and it is possible for it to be very successful. Check out this amazing story from our friend at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center.

The Raptor Center is a nonprofit organization, that relies 60% on philanthropy and 40% on earned revenue programs for its budget. They have had a highly successful outreach program, where they take their education birds (owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, vultures) out into the community to do paid programs to educate and inspire the public about raptors and the environment that they live in. 

With COVID-19, their main outreach programs were halted immediately, resulting in a crucial loss of earned revenue during their busiest outreach months (May, June, July). On top of revenue, the halting of the programs threatened their ability to carry out their organization’s mission.  On June 1 The Raptor Center announced the hiring of a new Endowed Faculty Chair in Raptor and Ecosystem Health at the University of MN, in charge of education and outreach efforts and she got to work. Below is her account of how Innovation Engineering is changing the way they work and gave them a new outlook on the future:

When I was brought on, we had the challenge of zero earned revenue for multiple months and the death threat of not being able to return to “normal” outreach programs anytime soon. I put the education team through the Innovation Jump Start badge course online, which drove us to the Create session. How do we change the way we think about how we deliver our mission, how do we create value on digital content that people will pay for, how else can we use our force for good in this crazy COVID world (free programs for first responders, morale-boosting opportunities), basically how do we reimagine our world with these new circumstances. 

The Create session gave people the “freedom” to not be rational for a moment, to put death threats aside and invent. What COULD we do, wouldn’t it be cool IF, etc. My organization is full of spectacular, passionate people, and the Create session let them step back, away from fears of budget challenges and COVID, and start creating what we should be doing as an organization. 

One of the first ideas to come out of it was Raptor Zoomies, created to add some fun, smiles, and education back into the world. The idea was for a Raptor (eagle, hawk, falcon, owl, vulture) to “crash” your meeting for 15 minutes. Oftentimes, this is a surprise someone has set up. For that 15minutes the raptor and it’s education naturalist human will be on camera up close and personal, doing its raptor thing- vocalizing, tearing up boxes, eating a snack, jumping in its pool- all while the naturalist answers questions and gives cool facts.

Empowering our communication head to “fail fast fail cheap” and think outside our box, resulting in an epic infomercial video for Facebook on the “are you tired of all the virtual meetings” problem that many of us are having in the virtual world. Because this video brought some fun into the world, it got picked up by multiple radio and TV stations in the area, bringing a flood of requests for Raptor Zoomies.

Today I’m happy to share that we’ve put 6 more ideas into the pipeline for discovery and everyone is excited about continuing to innovate with the awesome momentum that Zoomies has caused! An even bigger win with Zoomies The Raptor Center is able to make more an hour than they were able to make with previous outreach programs and with less work. 

Virtual innovation sessions are better than you can imagine. Register to join the Eureka! Ranch team online on Thursday, August 20th as we host a 1-hour mini session to invent solutions to solve the hunger crisis in American amongst college students. Not only will you be donating your time to an amazing cause, but you will experience how a session could help you and your team come up with solutions to your current challenges.