Heinz Innovation Stories

ISI Community Innovation Project

The ISI Community Innovation Project works to positively affect the regional community by supporting local social enterprises. The program taps the knowledge and excitement of Heinz College students to help tackle issues your organization is facing. Four weeks of intensive work bring together an organization and a team of students to investigate and develop innovative solutions that have the potential to foster positive social change and encourage sustainable growth. The takeaway is a new perspective for the organization and a hands-on learning experience for students. Past projects in 2009-2010 include The Waffle Shop, Storehouse for Teachers, Mobile and Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies (MILLEE), City of Asylum/Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Social Enterprise Fund.

Common Thread

Common Thread is a social enterprise based on the intuition of joining skilled yet underemployed women with interested business partners and customers. Common Thread’s cooperative approach help to enfranchise entrepreneurial women by engaging their existing tailoring skills and enabling them to participate in computer literacy courses so they can maintain partnerships with foreign customers for their products.

The idea for the Common Thread cooperative was conceived when founder Kathryn Dickens was a Peace Corps volunteer in Maroua, the Extreme North Province of Cameroon. During conversations with community members, it become clear that a cooperative could serve as a way to promote economic development by increasing women’s participation in the formal market.

Kathryn joined forces with Jacob Hipps in 2007 to participate in a social enterprise business plan competition sponsored by the Institute for Social Innovation, which provided them with start-up capital. They continue as partners working towards increasing start-up funding to bring Common Thread products to retail stores.

Epic Change

Inspired by a volunteer trip to Tanzania, Heinz College alumna Stacey Monk, MAM 2000, and Sanjay Patel created Epic Change in 2007. They realized the power of the local stories they heard during their journey, and believed that they might be a potential means to raise funds to support the impoverished communities they visited and others like them across the globe. Epic Change helps people in need share their “epic” true stories in innovative, creative and profitable ways to help them acquire the financial resources they need to create positive “change” in their communities.

Read more about Epic Change and Stacey’s work.


GTECH, or Growth Through Energy and Community Health, began as a master's project for Andrew Butcher and Chris Koch, who were attending Heinz College. The company's unique strategy links urban redevelopment with environmental sustainability. GTECH aims to accomplish this lofty goal with a three-pronged approach: reclaiming blighted urban land, planting renewable bio-fuel crops, and providing community growth through job training.

The following video, From Blight to Bright: Reclaiming Marginalized Land in Pittsburgh by My Story, Our World Productions provides an overview of the GTECH's work.