Prototyping the future of higher education: Shift Retail Lab accepts Fast Company Innovation by Design Award
By Sarah Murphy
“We’re prototyping the future of higher education.”
That is how Lloyd Young, director of innovation and design at VCU da Vinci Center for Innovation, describes what she and her colleagues do every day at the Shift Retail Lab. Their work is turning heads, not just in Richmond, but nationwide.
Shift was named the winner of the Learning category in Fast Company’s 2023 Innovation By Design Awards. The award honors designers and businesses that are solving the most crucial problems of today and anticipating the pressing issues of tomorrow.
“We are so excited that Shift is recognized as a winner in the Learning category,” said Young. “At da Vinci, we are constantly prototyping the future of higher education in order to support and develop the next generation of problem solvers. This award is a great opportunity for our students to celebrate their creative work that makes Shift so successful.”
Shift is a real-world, brick-and-mortar space for budding entrepreneurs to sell their products and collect feedback from customers. Located at 1235 W. Broad Street, the Lab has welcomed more than 145 students and community members — a majority minority population — as “Shelfie” participants since its start in 2021. There are three rounds of the Shelfie Program each Fall and Spring semester. Each round has about a month to test their idea, product or service on the shelves at Shift.
More than 9,000 guests visited Shift in 2022.
In September, Young and Westlake attended the Fast Company award show in New York City to accept the recognition on behalf of Shift and its entire community of supporters.
“VCU is truly an uncommon university to be recognized among so many leading brands and innovative companies for our human-centered approach to design,” said Garret Westlake, associate vice provost in innovation and executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center for Innovation. “As an educator, it is rewarding to see recognition for educational innovation and design celebrated alongside traditional products and services.”
In addition to providing a learning space for entrepreneurs through the Shelfie program, Shift also works with students across all disciplines and backgrounds to create new opportunities for collaboration and innovation. This includes producing and publishing original content in Shift Magazine and partnering with undergraduate students studying advertising at The VCU Robertson School to create a boutique creative agency that serves the Shelfies with branding, marketing, and social media support.
“This gives Shelfies access to free services while providing the students with an audience to develop their client skills and build their portfolios,” said Lloyd.
Just like the Shelfie participants, Westlake, Lloyd and the entire Shift team are learning from their work in the Lab and continuously reexamining how they can evolve for today’s students.
“We are practitioners of human-centered design, which means continuing to engage users in how products and services can best meet their needs,” said Westlake. “We are excited to explore food innovation alongside our users as part of an expanded Shift Labs offering in the months ahead.”