Meet Our Heroes

Villanova University ICE Institute



Fueling student passions with a data-powered program.

Historically, colleges and universities were in the business of teaching the professional skills necessary for students to obtain a job with a respectable, established organization. But as the spirit of innovation, invention, and entrepreneurism has swept the country and, in particular, younger generations, colleges have responded by offering courses and resources to help students not just start a career, but start a company.

Villanova University’s ICE Institute was founded to be such a resource. Starting as a small center within the Business School in 2009 and expanding to its current status as a free-standing, cross-departmental institute in 2015, ICE is designed to provide educational and professional development opportunities focused on creativity and entrepreneurship to the entire Villanova community. Available to students from the Colleges of Professional Studies, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Nursing, Business, and Law, the institute allows students to learn from and lean on each other as they try their hand at new ideas, business plans, venture funding, and more. 

“It’s a multidisciplinary, cross-college resource that aims at helping students create innovation and take them into the entrepreneur space,” explains Ann Miller, the institute’s director. “We tackle everything around new ideas and igniting them; we want students to have that skill set.”

A tech foundation for expanding program offerings

As the ICE Institute grew, and its offerings increased, Miller and her staff quickly realized that setting up application-based programs on a flexible software system would be imperative. Miller turned to WizeHive for help, hoping to have all her programs on one platform and allowing her to collect and track data in a holistic way.

“The Innovation Fund was a brand new program; when I got here that was one of the first things I wanted to do,"  says Miller of the program that provides grant funding to students, faculty, and alumni looking to jump start a new business, social enterprise, or nonprofit. “It’s a program that’s at the top of the funnel. It was important that we built it on Zengine so we could access all those people. Not all the ICE programs are open to everyone, but having this fund available gives access and eyes to the whole campus.”

Other programs Miller is running and wanted to track in tandem included the Innovation Fellows--a group of students who may not be interested in starting a business, but want to learn about the other side of start-up culture and venture investing--and the Villanova Student Entrepreneurship Competition, or VSEC. A multi-stage pitch competition, VSEC allows students starting their companies the opportunity to get real-time feedback from investors and alumni and eventually vie for a $5000 seed grant, along with other perks.

“It’s a really great opportunity for us to engage alumni who want to help these entrepreneurs,” says Miller. “[Thanks to the Zengine review portal] they can do it from home or wherever they are, and they provide a tremendous amount of feedback. The alumni feel like they really helped and the students really learn.”

A data-centric approach

For Miller, it was imperative that she be able to see all her programs in one space, and see how students moved through those programs.

“We’re trying to collect data on the students that participate. We needed a platform where the data would be accessible, clean, and have an API so we can take it and make dashboards,” she says. “With a platform like Zengine, I can see when they quit, see why, reach out, and find out what needs to improve.”

In fact, Zengine’s open API was one of the biggest selling points for Miller. The fact that she had worked with WizeHive in her previous role with University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and that Villanova was using Zengine in other departments (we also power their Summer Grants Program) sealed the deal. 

Miller knows that while the submission portals, review portals, and administrative areas of Zengine are helping her and her team run smooth programs, the big payoff is all of the data she’s collecting.

“I like to be able to tell a story with data,” she says. “In the future we’ll use that data much more--we’ll be able to see every student that came through and where they are. In 10 years, today’s data from now will be even more important.”

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