The Program on Creativity + Innovation (PCI) at NYU Shanghai is based on a mission to support aspiring NYU Shanghai entrepreneurs at every stage of the startup journey. 

The teaching methodologies prepare students, despite their entrepreneurial experience, to innovate, invent and implement solutions to problems. As such, they bridge the gap between theory and practice through studying cases, hearing guest speakers and becoming involved in frequent hands-on projects.

Creativity is key

Great innovations start from creativity. PCI strives to cultivate it in students to develop new perspectives and more effective ways to communicate ideas, a skill that is applicable across many disciplines. 

“I think a creative mindset is tremendously important. It goes well beyond students who are interested in startups. As much as I love startups, I think it’s a mindset that goes across all fields,” said Adam Brandenburger, Director of PCI.

Together with NYU Shanghai’s Vice Chancellor, Jeffrey Lehman, Adam co-teaches the course, “Creativity Considered” to help students develop a deeper understanding of the concept.

Adam believes that creativity starts with active questioning and challenging existing assumptions, exampled by Elon Musk and SpaceX.

“Elon Musk brings his science background to ask very specific questions about SpaceX. Even the status quo says that rockets launch on a fixed schedule, are paid for by the government, and use onetime rockets. He took each of those three assumptions and challenged them in a very systematic way,” said Adam.

Adam is also a contributor to Harvard Business Review, with such articles as “Strategy Needs Creativity” and “The Rules of Co-opetition”.

Creativity Considered is positioned as a conceptual course to prepare students to be entrepreneur-ready and equip them for other more hands-on courses. 

“I would say actually that one great benefit of the course is to give students time to think,” said Adam. 

By taking the course, students will be molded into an able individual strong enough to face the reality of the outside world with the skills to take different approaches to problems.

Creativity is not only important for entrepreneurs, but it is also highly relevant to the job market. Making sense of or communicating new ideas in an innovative and engaging way, approaching problems from fresh angles, and producing novel solutions are all traits which are highly sought after by employers. According to a survey by LinkedIn in 2020, creativity is the most in-demand soft-skill for the job market. 

What do students think about other PCI Courses?

Other conceptual courses offered at NYU Shanghai include “Design Thinking,” taught by Professor Yanyue Yuan, in which students learn to define problems and construct actionable questions and answers.

Design Thinking student Georgiou Nefeli said that until she took the course she never thought that problem identification could be done in a systematic way. She learned about the importance of understanding the voices of customers.  

“We are taught the importance of empathy and communication to create a detailed persona, we identify customer needs and look for solutions. We are taught the importance of brainstorming, learning to let go of ideas that do not work, and working in teams to create a prototype.”

Design Thinking also helps students engage with customers and provides them with the right environment to get a much broader understanding of the voice of the customer.

“I think the most important thing we learnt is how to draw insights and improvements based on peer review comments and comments from our interviewees,” Georgiou added.

Also, get the opportunity to work with a real company to gain first-hand ideation experience. 

In the Fall 2021 term, the Design Thinking course worked on project design with Xavor Corporation, a healthtech company. Students had the chance to experiment and prototype a product while receiving feedback. 

“We learned how to work under guidelines, and we met with them to present our progress,” Georgiou said. “They were really nice and not critical of our ideas which is definitely unrealistic in the outside world, but it was nice to be able to learn and experiment in a safe space where we were not afraid to pose stupid solutions.”

However, not everyone is inclined to be an entrepreneur, hence non-business students like Chengcheng Zhang think otherwise.

“As I am interested in humanities majors, more structured courses appeal to me more. On the contrary, entrepreneurship involves a lot of risk-taking,” she said.

Another reason for students not taking PCI courses includes their packed schedule.

“I would love to take PCI courses, but I don’t really have extra time as I have two minors on top of my major,” said Computer Science junior Daisy Huynh.

Practical courses for aspiring entrepreneurs

PCI does not stop at just cultivating the right mindsets. For a more practical course with more hands-on entrepreneurial experience, students can consider taking the “Entrepreneurship Experienced” course taught by Professor Gabrielle Chou, who is also founder and CEO of Allure Systems. 

Students will get an opportunity to explore the fundamental concepts, theories, and frameworks of entrepreneurship as well as bringing their ideas to life.

“Students start from the frustrations or pain they experienced on campus as they try to turn it into an opportunity for business,” said Gabrielle.

“Order With Me” was founded as a result of the frustration students experienced with the food quality on campus. It is a group delivery project that has done two rounds of group orders to date, offering dishes like apple pies and poke bowls to more than 60 students.

Jessica Lu, one of the students who led the group delivery order project, said the class changed her perspective and gave her further respect for those who choose to be entrepreneurs.

“Going into the course I knew absolutely nothing about entrepreneurship, so it always seemed like a terrifying and impossible thing. Through the course, and especially through doing things like the apple pie sales, I was pretty shocked at how far out of my comfort zone I was able to go to get it done,” said Jessica. 

Junior student Murphy Wang also shared her experience of taking the course in her freshman year in 2019. 

“The course has sparked many of my classmates’ interest in entrepreneurship and also provided us with the right tools and resources to prepare for our entrepreneurial journey ahead,” said Murphy.

 Industry professionals attended as judges the “Entrepreneurship Experienced” course’s final class presentation to stimulate a real pitching environment for students 
Professor Olivier Marin during the “Entrepreneurship Experienced” Q&A session

What lies ahead for students?

Professor Chou also encourages students interested in joining the annual InnoVention prototyping competition to seek support from PCI in addition to the workshops given to participants. 

“Students get exposure to international judges and will be competing for the $25,000 grand prize”, said Gabrielle. 

Another exciting opportunity PCI is offering students includes a new rapid prototyping course. 

Director Adam Brandenburger said PCI had recently hired experts for courses in VR or immersive storytelling from HAX, a world-famous hardware accelerator based in Shenzhen. 

PCI is no doubt very successful in delivering its mission, with data showing that over 900 students have taken courses to date. However, Adam would love to see more students from different majors. 

“This is really pushing the envelope of education and builds a very strong academic program at NYU Shanghai. We are definitely pushing at the edges, and we really welcome people’s participation, voice and opinion. It would take everybody to build something like this,” he said.