Aspen Urban Innovation Lab

Located within the famous Aspen Institute at D.C. Dupont Circle is the Aspen Urban Innovation Lab, an accelerator for so-called second stage social enterprises, originating from the network of Aspen entrepreneurs. The program being less than one year old I got a chance to catch up with Eric Lavin, Founding Manager of the Lab, and learn more about its mission.

Founded in 1950 as the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies, it promotes leadership and dialogue around today’s most critical issues through workshops, seminars, conferences, policy and leadership programs. One distinct characteristic of the Urban Innovation Lab is that participants are selected from a pool of innovators that have already gone through one of the Institute’s programs. Their social enterprises are already up and running; they join the Lab to scale urban innovation solutions. The upside to the Lab’s close affiliation with the Institute is the extensive network of professionals and seasoned entrepreneurs that are connected to Aspen through its variety of programs. The Lab leverages this network to recruit experts and mentors for their scaling social entrepreneurs. The cornerstones of the Lab are wrapped around this very network:   

  • Peer-learning (Aspen specific methods of facilitated discussion, workshops, team building, knowledge exchange)
  • Mentoring (from the Aspen network)
  • Connectivity (alignment with existing Aspen policy programs; facilitation of local communities of practice)
  • Elevation of the cause and work (highlight participants’ solutions using the Aspen platform, connections to policy makers)

Another distinct characteristic is that the agenda of the Lab is largely driven by its participants. “90% of what we do and work on is driven by what the entrepreneurs need and want at that point in time. We will not hold a two-hour accounting session for the whole cohort, simply because it is not relevant to all of them. The other 10% is made up by Aspen methods of value-based leadership.” says Eric.

Urban Innovation Lab Launch (August 27th, 2015)

Urban Innovation Lab Launch (August 27th, 2015)

All in all, the Innovation Lab runs for one year. As mentioned earlier, the Lab has been in operation for less than a year so it’s too early to start speculating about its impact or success quote. But that’s exactly why I’m excited about it – it’s new, it takes a different approach to founder-friendliness with their participant-driven content, and being located within the Aspen Institute it has great potential of plugging into the policy arena around its participants’ central challenge: urban innovation.


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