Colombia Purdue Initiative — CPI

Improving Innovation Practices at Medellín Universities 


In recent years, the word innovation has become commonplace in Colombia – it is finding its way into everything from school classrooms to public policies. Medellín is a city that has led many efforts on this topic, including the creation of an innovation and business center named Ruta N in 2011 and a city brand and strategy named Medellinnovation in 2014. Higher education institutions are one of the main players in this strategy that aims to propel social and economic growth in the city with science, technology, and innovation. In order to enable and support robust innovation ecosystems, universities need to play leading roles in research and education, through basic and translational research in focused areas, innovative curriculum and instructional methods, and programs aimed at connecting to society and industry.  

Between 2015 and 2016 Purdue led a project, Management of Innovation in Higher Education Institutions (GIES).  Under this program, participating teams from 19 Medellín-area universities learned methodologies to identify and evaluate innovative projects, and then defined innovation projects for their campuses to help them boost their impact in regional economic performance.


Purdue and its team led the project that trained 400 people and structured innovation systems in 19 universities in Medellín. Photo depicts personnel from Purdue, WOMA and OPINNO as well as instructional staff for the course.


Purdue's GIES Program resulted from the city's culture of innovation and its goal to improve innovation practice. "Medellín's government was interested in improving the value added by its higher education institutions to the GDP. Also, universities needed to improve their support of the demands for social change promoted by businesses and government," says Liliana Gómez Diaz, Director of Colombian Partnerships and Engagement Office and the leader of the program in Colombia.

In 2015, Purdue competed in an open bid solicitation process and was awarded the grant funded by Sapiencia, Medellín's higher education agency, and managed by Ruta N. The principal investigator was Dr. David Janes, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Faculty Fellow in the Office of Corporate and Global Partnerships. For the universities, it enhanced their innovation cultures by facilitating integration of research, teaching, and extension initiatives. The participants generated a portfolio of projects which will ultimately enable them to increase their impact on the regional economy. "We were convinced that Purdue's ecosystem, and some of the strategies and programs that our Office has developed, could be tuned to be applicable for the Colombian context" said Janes. Results included projects for universities to enhance their engagement with industry and government, such as company-specific courses and collaborative research, and to develop innovation and entrepreneurship centers for their students.

Purdue and its two partners with local presence, WOMA, from Medellín and OPINNO, engaged over 400 rectors, vice-rectors, deans, professors, and administrative staff from area universities. The one-year project included the design of a one-semester program, selection of the participating institutions and their representatives, and the actual delivery of the 6-month course. In addition to providing training on some relevant tools, the team helped each university team structure the innovation system within their institution and identify two high-impact projects for their university to execute after the program ended.


GIES participants from each of the 19 universities were divided in 2 teams: Managers (of innovation) and Innovators. In this workshop, Managers analyzed the external forces that are redefining the education sector. Photo by WOMA.


Centered around leadership and communication, an innovation system defines a set of management tools and practices that help organizations innovate in a smooth, methodical, and strategic way. The high-impact projects are an expression of a Minimum Viable Innovation System (MVIS) that outlines the process to identify and execute a project with significant executive oversight using a standard venture capital investment model.

The training program included an Innovation Congress, 9 one-day workshops, and an online course. For the workshops, participants from each of the 19 universities were divided into 2 teams: Managers (of innovation) and Innovators, two versions of the workshop were produced tailoring the content to each role:

  • Managers defined the strategy and objectives for their own institution and
  • Innovators used this information to construct an innovation portfolio with twelve potential projects.

For their final assignment, each institution chose their two highest-priority projects and a team member selected at random from each team made their pitches to Rectors, Vice-Rectors, and Deans, who approved the projects of the MVIS.  "Currently, all 19 institutions are working on the two projects they chose for their MVIS" says Gómez Diaz.


Managers of the 19 universities built together a deep analysis on the external forces that are redefining the education sector. Photo by WOMA.


In the general assessment of the program, the overall value added to the institution received a rating of 4.7/5.0 and the institutional leaders provided high praise:

“The Program allowed us to validate and consolidate processes within the institution for the implementation of the University’s Innovation System.” 
Mauricio Alviar Ramírez, Rector at Universidad de Antioquia.

“One of the most positive aspects of the GIES Program was its strategic vision. It allowed us to connect our interests around educational innovation with social, scientific, economic, and productive interests of Medellín, Antioquia, and Colombia.”
Juan Luis Mejía, Rector at Universidad EAFIT.

“The GIES Program was an excellent space to network with other higher education institutions of the region. It allowed us to share experiences around each institution’s advances on innovation management. This experience served to identify good innovation practices and apply tools often used in the business sector.”
John William Branch, Vice Rector at Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Medellín.


Given the success in Antioquia, Purdue hopes to refine the model and develop similar funded projects in other regions of Colombia, in partnership with experts who ensure relevance in the local cultural context.  Aligned with Colombia’s strategic development plan the programs could promote, for instance, Innovation and Leadership in Bogotá, Innovation and Production in Cali, Innovation and Infrastructure in Barranquilla, and Innovation and Health in Bucaramanga.  As for the pilot GIES project, Purdue will facilitate the formation of networks of Colombian universities focused on related innovation initiatives, such as collaboration with industry on research, industry-inspired student projects, entrepreneurship programs, continuing education offerings, etc.  This follows the Networks of Excellence concept that came out of  the Colombia-Purdue workshop on the University of the Future for the Americas.  “It is a model of working with several hundred people from a couple dozen institutions at once that makes it feasible to scale Purdue’s impact across Colombia and then the Americas” said E. Daniel Hirleman, professor of Mechanical Engineering and Chief Corporate and Global Partnerships Officer for Purdue.  A Network of Excellence could focus on an advanced technology area, such as nanotechnology, biodiversity-inspired biotechnology, or aerospace.  Networks could also target institutional capacity building, for example instructional innovation, entrepreneurship, or industry-engagement programs.


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