Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has named Donna Levin to the newly created position of Executive Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, strategically positioning the university to have a greater impact—socially and commercially—through innovations developed by faculty, students, and staff. Co-founder of Care.com and a social entrepreneur for nearly 20 years, Levin will be responsible for WPI’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center and for leading innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives at the university.
“This is the perfect time for Donna Levin to join WPI, and our community is ready for her particular brand of leadership,” said President Laurie Leshin. “WPI’s intense, hands-on curriculum is focused on addressing problems that don’t always have straightforward solutions and, as a result, students—and faculty and staff—learn to be intellectually nimble and fearless, and to innovate their way around challenges to develop applicable and sustainable solutions to those problems. We are very excited to have Donna coordinating existing programs and spearheading new initiatives to help us have an even greater impact.”
Levin joins WPI from MIT, where she is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and oversees the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Track at the Sloan School of Management, developing and teaching courses designed to introduce students to technological entrepreneurship. She was the founding manager of the Entrepreneurship Internship program, which matches undergrads with 10-week summer internships in early-stage, alumni-led companies; she helped secure a multimillion dollar endowment for the program in early 2018.
Levin will join WPI on July 1, 2018, and will report to President Leshin. She arrives as the university prepares to launch the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center in the new Foisie Innovation Studio and Messenger Residence Hall, the physical embodiment of the university’s commitment to experiential learning and entrepreneurial thinking. Facing the campus quad, the 78,000-square-foot classroom and residential building will open in early August and features active learning laboratories, technological suites, and a makerspace designed to foster collaboration and support product iteration and prototyping. The Center will also support faculty in developing courses and projects and will guide students along the path to forming new ventures.
Under Levin’s leadership, the Center will provide a more formalized structure to what has been an energetic and fluid system of entrepreneurial efforts both internally and externally. She will be responsible for more aggressively connecting WPI innovators to commercial and venture capital opportunities, and in identifying external partners who are seeking specific expertise to inform their own product development. Working with WPI faculty, staff, students, and alumni, Levin will align entrepreneurial activities across campus and across disciplines, including the sciences, engineering, business, and humanities. She will also actively explore ways to further stimulate innovation among the entire WPI community.
“The word I have heard most at WPI is ‘impact.’ I am excited to be part of a culture where people are keenly interested in using technological developments for the greatest impact, not simply for commercialization and profit,” Levin said. “I believe that everyone can be an innovator and have an entrepreneurial mindset in order to keep pace with the demands of a changing and challenging world—to think, ‘how can we take this technology we’re developing and find new ways to make an impact?’ That’s energizing.”
WPI has been expanding its focus on innovation and entrepreneurship education for several years, further integrating entrepreneurial thinking into its distinctive project-based curriculum that is centered on applying knowledge learned in the classroom to solve real-world problems in the field. The university has attracted significant grant funding in recent years to teach students to understand the broader context of problems and their solutions. An entrepreneurial mindset allows students to recognize opportunities and respond creatively with a focus on making an impact and creating value. (WPI offers undergraduate minors in entrepreneurship and in social entrepreneurship through the Foisie Business School.)
WPI has seen steady growth in the number of products and services developed on campus, as well as a rise in the number of start-ups affiliated with the university, and recently celebrated its most successful year for student patents and licenses: in the 2017–18 academic year, 42 students filed for patents and five licensed their patents.
Levin is co-founder of Care.com (CRCM), the world’s leading online site dedicated to helping families find and manage family care. When her newborn unexpectedly needed additional care due to a health issue, Levin found herself with limited options. “Suddenly I had to come up with a completely different care plan than I’d mapped out, and there were no easy solutions available,” she said. “But there’s a certain excitement to solving problems.” Care.com was launched in the U.S in 2007 and now has over 23 million members in 19 countries.
Previously, Levin was the vice president of operations for UPromise, an online service that helps families save money for college. “UPromise resonated with me because my mother was the first in her family to graduate from high school, let alone college. I grew up knowing I’d go to college but not knowing how we’d pay for it, so I really understood the mission and vision of UPromise.” She earned a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College and an Executive MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, where she mentored other students and launched a class on scaling entrepreneurial ventures, among others.
A passionate advocate for innovation and entrepreneurship, Levin is an advisor to several early stage start-ups and has mentored teams at MassChallenge, TechStars, SmarterInTheCity, and Project Entrepreneur. She serves on the Board of Directors of WBUR Boston; Zero to Three, a science based early childhood advocacy organization; and Partners Community Physicians Organization, a health care system committed to patient care, research, and service to the community.