The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Faculty entrepreneurs by design

May 22, 2019


The 2019 Chancellor’s Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop equipped UNC-Chapel Hill faculty with design thinking skills to help them solve commercial, scientific and social problems.

Melanie Livett, assistant professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and Shabbar Ranapurwala, assistant professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health

Why Innovators Care

Faculty entrepreneurs practice new skills to launch new programs, technologies, curricular methods, nonprofits and startup ventures.


faculty participants in 2019


schools and departments represented


faculty alumni since 2009

Carolina has a reputation for being highly multi-disciplinary and collaborative. Yet it can be challenging for researchers and faculty to connect with one another on their ideas. It’s not always easy to get a sense of the world-changing potential of their work and understand tools and resources that can help make ideas real. 


The 11th annual Chancellor’s Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop brought together many of Carolina’s most enterprising faculty for a deep dive on how to transform ideas into action through design thinking. The session was offered by Innovate Carolina and led by three expert instructors. The goal? Introduce faculty to a human-centered design approach they can use to create innovative solutions to the issues they’re passionate about.


Yue Wang, assistant professor at the School of Information and Library Science

“There are many different ways to be innovative and creative. This workshop is challenging each of you to find your creative self and maximally express it in the work that you do.”
Bob Blouin

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin

“Carolina is a leading, global public research university. We have to think about how we push the boundaries of everything that we do. Creating an entrepreneurial mindset for our faculty and our students is a big part of that mission.”

Kevin Guskiewicz, Interim Chancellor

Faculty innovations and inspirations

What do the ideas that faculty work on during the event ultimately turn into? The possibilities are limitless:

–Research initiatives that changes policy.

–Startup companies and non-profit organization.

–New programs aimed at solving a problem.

–Advances in technology.

–Novel approaches to curriculum and teaching.

Rahima Benhabbour

Assistant Professor, UNC/NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering

Rahima's idea:

Develop an innovative 3D-printed intravaginal ring as a platform technology for women's health indications

Her workshop insight:

“The workshop allowed the time to think and ideate with other faculty that likely would not have crossed paths otherwise.”

Travis Albritton

Clinical Associate Professor, School of Social Work

Travis' idea:

Design a system to integrate first-generation graduate students into the University community through workshops that address imposter syndrome, build professional networks and support financial planning.

His workshop insight:

“The most valuable aspect of this workshop was the opportunity to meet with and learn from faculty in other disciplines as we discussed and learned more about design thinking.”

Laura Moore

Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences

Laura's idea:

Develop a collaborative, trans-disciplinary network of researchers, practitioners and stakeholders who will collectively set research agendas and conduct research in support of the mutual resilience of coastal communities, ecosystems and landscapes

Her workshop insight:

“My eyes were opened to a world of support for innovation at Carolina that I had no idea existed – and to approaches that redefine the way we identify and describe problems and work toward solutions.”

John Bruno

Professor, UNC Department of Biology

John's idea:

Develop a non-profit that will test and certify vendors that accurately label their seafood

His workshop insight:

“The most valuable aspect of this amazing, life-changing workshop was the interactions with the Innovate Carolina team. I learned so much for them.”

Ilona Jaspers

Professor, School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics

Ilona's idea:

Improve science communication in environmental health by using short animation/cartoons to “translate” the main conclusions of primary research articles for the general public, policy makers and lawyers

Her workshop insight:

“The notion that empathy and freely voicing any idea without being judged can lead to very concrete ideas was extremely helpful.”

Maggie Melo

Assistant Professor, School of Information and Library Science

Maggie's idea:

Measure engagement within academic makerspaces related to women and other historically underrepresented users

Her workshop insight:

“The workshop provided a helpful methodology to think through research questions and ideas. It is an effective pathway to get ‘unstuck’ with research.”

Martina Gentzsch

Associate Professor, School of Medicine, Department of Cell Biology and Physiology

Martina's idea:

Precision medicine of cystic fibrosis and chronic lung disease patients that uses their own cells as biosensors to identify medications that work for them most efficiently

Her workshop insight:

“Design thinking outside-the-box and the non-judgmental environment is something I want to carry forward in my own everyday practice. Not being intimidated and stopping, but asking for resources and support will allow me to start a venture.”

Todd Jensen

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work

Todd's idea:

Work with the U.S. Air Force to develop and implement an assessment tool that will highlight areas of strength and vulnerability among active-duty members in terms of their risk of perpetrating family maltreatment

His workshop insight:

“It was very valuable being able to engage with other very smart and capable UNC faculty members across several disciplines. Different perspectives helped catalyze more creative ways of thinking.”

Derrick Matthews

Assistant Professor, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Derricks' idea:

Launch and "house" a space to intervene upon the HIV epidemic among black men who have sex with men (MSM)

His workshop insight:

“The most valuable thing about the workshop was idea generation and tangible strategies for giving myself 'permission' to not pre-judge my own ideas. Also focusing on and understanding about social ventures was incredibly useful.”

Courtney Rivard

Assistant Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature

Courtney' idea:

Create the Gaming Classroom – a class space for learning through and with games in the humanities

Her workshop insight:

“Connecting and working with other faculty from across the University was invaluable. Having honest and attentive help on my own ideas from other faculty was an incredible feeling.”

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