Incubating Innovation at Southern New Hampshire University

Online education pioneer Southern New Hampshire U is launching an innovation lab to look for the ideas that will catapult the institution into the future.


Many are familiar with the  Southern New Hampshire University story — how Paul LeBlanc, in the depths of the recession, transformed a financially troubled but otherwise unremarkable brick-and-mortar New England institution into one of the fastest growing not-for-profit online educators in the world.

However, LeBlanc, SNHU’s president, was not willing to stop there. He started an innovation lab called Pathways that eventually morphed into College for America, which provides low-cost, high-quality education for adults and became the first competency-based program to grant associate’s degrees eligible for federal financial aid in 2012. College for America was followed by the development of Motivis Learning, a new learning relationship management platform that is now a stand-alone startup.

Fast-forward to late 2015, and the ever-restless LeBlanc was ready for the next phase in Southern New Hampshire’s growth and development — which would be what?

Good question, and one he has hired Michelle Weise to help answer.

Weise is the former senior research fellow in higher education at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, where she co-authored, with the institute’s founder Clayton Christensen, Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization and the Workforce Revolution.

Last fall, Weise became executive director of SNHU’s Sandbox ColLABorative, the latest iteration of the innovation lab that over the last several fast-moving years has transformed that one-time sleepy university. The new entity will act as the research and development arm for SNHU, examining and testing new strategies and innovations, for both internal purposes (improving teaching methods or streamlining processes as needed) and external (finding and developing untapped markets and audiences for cutting-edge education).

“We’re trying to be an incubator,” said Weise. “If we do land on something that could be a new viable business model for education, the lab will incubate the idea until it’s ready to be pushed out on its own. Then the Sandbox will continue to incubate new ideas.”

Read the entire article by Michael Hart on Campus Technology at

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