Action Learning

IDEA Lab Alumna Returns for Fresh Ideas

Julie Lockner, EMBA '17

Julie Lockner, EMBA '17, came to MIT focused on gaining the skills she needed to launch a health tech company. Then, an Action Learning class on innovation, which included an example on the U.S. Navy, changed her mindset. "I'd never looked at innovation from the perspective of a large organization," says Lockner, who is now Director of Product Management at IBM in the Chief Product Office. "That was very eye-opening." 

Since then, Lockner has returned to speak to students in the same class—IDEA Lab (the acronym stands for Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurial Advantage)—about her experience founding her startup, 17 Minds, and about working at IBM. One of 20 Action learning labs, IDEA Lab—founded by Fiona Murray, the William Porter (1967) Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship—introduces students to key concepts in innovation-driven entrepreneurship and allows them to put their insights into practice with partner organizations or in their own startups. 

A software engineer and mother of four, Lockner founded 17 Minds with her IDEA Lab partner, Angela Jamerson, MBA '17. The business develops communication tools to support the care of children with special needs, including autism and other non-verbal learning disabilities, which affected one of Lockner's sons. She tells students that it is possible to launch a company while working at a demanding, full-time job. "If you are really motivated, you'll find the time," she says. While continuing to serve on the board of 17 Minds, Lockner now works to seed innovation internally at IBM. This spring, she turned to IDEA Lab for fresh ideas. Hosting a team gave Lockner a chance to reconnect with faculty and to network with up-and-comers in IDEA Lab, part of MIT Sloan's Executive MBA (EMBA) program for mid-career professionals. "I love staying in touch with Action Learning," she says. "It keeps me relevant and allows fresh thinking to influence our ideas at IBM." 

The IDEA Lab faculty partnered Lockner and her team of colleagues at IBM—several of whom were also MIT alumni—with a diverse team of students from various professional and personal backgrounds. One was a recruiter, one was in book publishing, one was in fintech, and one was rethinking his career path while in the EMBA program. 

Lockner charged the team of EMBAs—Angel Fu, Andrea Guendelman, Ryan Pugatch, and Yang Tang—with finding ways for IBM to improve its success rate in developing revenue-generating ideas for the software division. "I was able to outsource solving a problem, have it come with a credible source, and gain access to experienced, successful professionals from a variety of backgrounds," she says. "The IDEA Lab team was awesome."

The students conducted qualitative interviews with more than a dozen stakeholders at IBM to assess the company's existing innovation pathways. They then produced a set of recommendations, one of which advised IBM to build a training program to develop the entrepreneurial mindset internally. "I'm working with our team to do this," Lockner says, noting that the team's report directly contributed to strategy and budget planning materials delivered to IBM's top executives, including the CEO. 

Overall, Lockner says she relished the chance to leverage her MIT Sloan network and bring a number of new ideas back to IBM. "I am very much looking forward to hosting another Action Learning project!" she says. 

To learn more about hosting an IDEA Lab project, please contact Dr. Phil Budden. The application process is a rolling one, so please reach out to him ahead of fall 2021.