August 12, 2016 chad

By Kendra Yoshinaga

As a virtual team, LAUNCH is able to work all over the world at the same time. But there’s nothing quite like sitting together, sharing chocolate, and allowing the sticky notes to flow and inspire. That’s why Monday found more than a dozen of us gathered on the shore of Tennessee Cove near Sausalito, California for our team retreat.

We got to the beach by hiking along the valley trail, where we each picked up a stone. We then each shared a concern we wanted to let go of during our time together. Then we symbolically “purged” those concerns by casting our stones into the sea.

Over the course of three days, we launched a global challenge on chemistry, we took field trips and met with experts who shared insights on everything from impact investment to elevator pitching and finding a voice. Led by LAUNCH co-Founder Jeff Hamaoui, we focused on articulating a collective vision for the future of LAUNCH. Our big insight as a team was that LAUNCH would only truly be successful if we could create an environment where the team and the entire network was given the agency to shape and use LAUNCH as a platform to change the world.


For six years, LAUNCH has worked across institutions to create collaborative innovation networks. This network-centered approach to innovation has allowed LAUNCH to explore a completely different way of doing public-private partnerships, using innovation as a means to inform, engage, and accelerate solutions on the way to market.


In the last year, we’ve also doubled down on storytelling. Fundamental to our theory of change is that some of the best solutions will come from unlikely places. This means we need to engage with a broad range of solvers from different backgrounds. A critical part of this is helping our audiences experience and share the reality of complex problems.


To that end, we’ve been exploring tools for civic engagement and participatory storytelling, including drone journalism and 360˚ capture. That’s why we spent part of Tuesday at Upload Collective, a San Francisco co-working space dedicated to virtual reality. As he showed us around, entrepreneur Sacha Tueni pointed to an archaeologist who was painstakingly recreating the immersive experience of walking through an ancient site. In an experimental green screen room, producer Azad Balabanian guided us through a life-sized temple rendered in Day-Glo colors by members of a Japanese artist collective called WHOLE9. Along the way, Balabanian wrote out “LAUNCH” in VR and joined our brainstorm session on how virtual reality storytelling could have an impact in the global development space.


On Wednesday, Phoenix Global Impact CEO Jenna Nicholas visited our office to give us a primer on drawing investment to socially conscious causes. One of her goals is to address and reverse the implicit bias that deters many traditional venture capitalists from investing in women- and minority-owned companies. In doing so, Nicholas might bring up data points to illustrate the long-range financial incentives for investing in women-owned businesses. Or she might talk about examples where having people of color in leadership positions has helped a business expand. “Particularly in the U.S.,” she says, "the demographic is increasingly going to be non-white. How do we think about that [as we build] businesses in the future?”


At LAUNCH, we draw inspiration from the wealth of experiences between ourselves, our communities, our networks, and our partners. At no point is that inspiration more contagious than the rare times when our whole team gets to be in a room together. As we wrapped up our retreat, our storytelling team, led by NPR veteran Davar Ardalan and including digital storyteller Matt Scott, boarded a plane to Nebraska where today we are attending a drone journalism bootcamp with Google and the University of Nebraska. All the LAUNCH team parted ways with a renewed commitment to illuminating the essence of LAUNCH as we explore in new storytelling frontiers.