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Innovation Hour invites students to pitch their business ideas

Last updated August 13, 2019

By News administrator

The Literacy Corner, a four-week tutoring program led by graduate-level, certified teachers in Furman’s Master of Arts in Education program, has been sending kids home with stronger reading and writing skills for 10 years. When the 2019 edition wrapped up on July 3, however, there was something else in the students’ backpacks, compliments of the first annual Innovation Hour.

“Thanks to the support of the OLLI community and Furman, we were able to do even more this year by purchasing books that children could keep and read over the summer,” said Erikah Haavie, Education Department and Literacy Corner program assistant.

The Literacy Corner was awarded a $1,500 grant for being voted overall winner at Innovation Hour, an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) course organized by the Furman Creative Collaborative and offered for the first time in the fall of 2018. Inspired by the popular show “Shark Tank,” students, faculty and staff pitched their innovative ideas to the senior adults – many of whom are retired professionals with a lifetime of business experience.

David Johnson, a member of the OLLI administrative council, worked closely with Payton Isner ’19 to bring Innovation Hour to life. He said The Literacy Corner’s focus on children resonated with group.

OLLI administrative council member David Johnson.

OLLI administrative council member David Johnson.

“It reached out to elementary school kids who really needed help,” Johnson said. “The OLLI members all recognize if you’re a first- or second-grader and you can’t read and you get off to a bad start, your chances of succeeding academically are limited. So that touched everybody.”

The student-run Furman Creative Collaborative is also responsible for bringing the annual TEDxFurmanU conference to campus. Isner said credit for the Innovation Hour idea goes to the group’s faculty advisor, Associate Professor of Communications Studies Brandon Inabinet. The Collaborative also received guidance – and some grant award money – from Anthony Herrera of the Furman Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“We wanted to kind of branch out a little bit, so Dr. Inabinet came to us with this idea,” Isner, a native of Asheville, North Carolina, said. “One of the most beneficial things that came out of this that we weren’t expecting is it connected the Furman students and the staff to OLLI. We’re on the same campus and we’re all a part of Furman, but it’s such a different world over there.”

Top Student and Top Faculty/Staff winners were also named. Natalie Tikhonovsy ’20 was the Top Student for Booth Without Cause, a nonprofit she developed to help refugee women afford entry costs into local craft fairs and farmers markets in order to sell their merchandise. Associate Professor of Health Sciences Meghan Slining was Top Faculty/Staff for Sweet Tea Cancer Connections, a nonprofit app developed to connect parents of children with pediatric cancer.

Isner, who graduated in May with a history degree, has handed the Innovation Hour reins over to Amelia Davidson ’20. Feedback from the OLLI students led to a significant change for the second Innovation Hour, which will begin Sept. 12.

“They would like to see more students,” Davidson said, “(so) we decided to take it a step further and make it all students … I am really thrilled to be a part of this program. Payton Isner has paved a wonderful pathway to follow.”

There are still spots open for the Innovation Hour pitch competition. For more information or an application, visit or contact Davidson at

Below is a promotional video for Innovation Hour produced by Matt Weir ’22. Learn more about the Furman Creative Collaborative by visiting its Facebook page.


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