Innovation Pathways: Jacob Rieber on Student Projects That Make a Real Impact

To help illustrate where the pursuit of innovation management can lead, our Innovation Pathways series asks our current students, recent graduates, and established alumni to describe their journeys. This post features Jacob Rieber, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in economics and expects to graduate in 2020.

What interests you about studying/practicing innovation management?

Innovation management is both about reimagining the old and embracing the new in order to add value to the world around you. It’s an inherently exciting practice because it requires divergent thinking, risk-taking, and an acceptance of the unexpected, for you never know what’s around the corner. To me, it’s this intersection of creativity, problem-solving, and novelty that motivates me to study innovation management.

Describe how you have been involved with the Mack Institute.

My primary involvement with the Mack Institute is through its Collaborative Innovation Program (CIP). I was able to work alongside an amazing group of students across the Penn’s various academic programs (The College of Arts & Sciences, Engineering, and Wharton), and with the support of the Mack Institute’s faculty, we were able to help a multinational technology conglomerate launch one of the first 5G phones to hit the market. Even more, we were able to meet and present to our client in person!

This is an opportunity I wouldn’t be able to have if I were an undergraduate student elsewhere, for we were able to work on a hands-on, leading-edge project that made a real impact. I met amazing people and learned so much more than what a traditional classroom could allow. It was great!

Jacob Rieber
Jacob Rieber

What steps have you have taken at Penn to prepare you for managing innovation in your career?

This summer I’m working on the commercial banking transformation team for JPMorgan Chase & Co. The team is in charge of creating the five-year future-state strategy for JPMorgan’s Commercial Bank, so it has required a lot of problem-solving and creative thinking. Also, it’s been tons of fun!

On campus, I’ve also been able to work on some exciting and innovative projects through several of Penn’s consulting clubs. As the director of Global Impact Collaborative, a social-sector consulting club, I’ve been given the opportunity to help launch a Nairobi-based smart water meter startup and aid in the development of a microfinance lending program in Nicaragua. Additionally, I’m a project leader for Innovation Acceleration Group, a group aimed at educating students interested in consulting. Innovation Acceleration Group is partnered with the Mack Institute, and it’s through this that I was able to participate in CIP.

What are the biggest lessons you learned in the Collaborative Innovation Program?

1. Defining the problem is half the battle.

At the start of a CIP project, it can be a lot to take in: You have to learn about a new field and develop a framework to address the issue at hand. It’s not nearly as cut-and-dried as the business cases you read about in your marketing classes. My CIP experience was one of my first experiences trying to fully scope a project. However, with the help of the Mack Institute faculty and conversations with the client, my team and I were able to develop a plan for our engagement, settle on the project scope, and concretely determine the deliverables for our project.

2. Successful innovation requires thinking outside the box before applying constraints.

The key to successful innovation management is to not let constraints limit your team’s creative thinking. When ideating use cases for 5G technology, we found we were most successful at developing unique, effective ideas when we initially ignored worries over use case feasibility and embraced daring concepts. Only after thinking without constraints, did we apply limitations and ground our ideas.

Where are you hoping that your career will take you in the next 10 years?

Yikes — good question! I’m not sure of the specifics, but I’d like to work in either business strategy or help with product launches.