Greater Washington Innovation AwardsTM Finalist Q&A

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Refraction
Community Impact Innovator of the Year Finalist
Rachael Stott, Director and Co-founder, Refraction 

In your opinion, what makes a company innovative? 
I think, and studies suggest, innovation is about connection. Connection to a problem, connection to your end users, connection to collaborators with skills different than yours, connection to the other stakeholders that your innovation will impact, and connection to the passion that made you want to change something in the first place. The more connected you are to these things, and the more willing you are to be uncomfortable, mistaken, and a student to these things the more likely you are to build something truly valuable and innovative. 
 
What makes your company innovative? 
Coworking is still an emerging industry, and yet the approaches to it remain strikingly similar; take a space, make it look and feel cool, sell memberships, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. We see coworking differently. Coworking to us, is a driver of economic development, ecosystem, and ultimately innovation. Refraction is a piece of the solution for sure, but we are not a complete solution, so we extensively consult and partner with internal and external stakeholders. Again, what that looks like from the outside is connection. 
 
The crux of our innovation in who we connect with and why, we are inherently non-competitive and inclusive. The more people working on building the culture and ecosystem of innovation in the region the better, and the more we can help them all the more innovative we become. Our member companies don’t need real estate, they need a space that flexes with their growing team and that helps their team collaborate - we built it with experts and architects. Our companies need interns and talent - so we are working with local high schools, community colleges and colleges not just to find students but to help those institutions understand what our startups need. Our companies need an environment that supports their growth, so we connect with legislators at a county and state level, advocating for the needs of startups.
 
What or who are some innovative companies or people that inspire you and your team? 
Thanks, for the softball question! The companies we are inspired by are our members, of course! We get front row seats to watch them build incredible companies, there is nothing more inspiring than that.
 
As for the companies that inspire and guide our work - the companies that inspire how we approach our work look very different to us. Think The Container Store, Pixar, Patagonia, Alphabet (Google), Kayak.
 
What are some publications, print or digital, you read daily or have read that help you stay on top of your game? 
I am a research fiend, and over the past 5 years have collected a library of over 600 journalistic and academic articles. For example, I read every business related paper that comes from the Standard Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. My go-to's are always evidenced based solutions, so I look to HBR and Bloomberg most frequently.
 
What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative in today’s business environment?
Diversity of thought will always deliver the most innovative solutions, the best outcomes. Ensure your team and your advisers don't resemble you too closely, surround yourself with those who have different backgrounds, expertise, experience, and perspectives. Where possible ensure your talented team resembles your stakeholders and end users, treat them well and leverage the best that they have to give - thats where the innovation is found.