People & Partners

Harnessing the power of ideas to propel your organization forward.

Our people are the heart of our programs—and they’re dedicated to supporting you wherever you are in your innovation journey. 

Our distinguished multidisciplinary team consists of innovation leaders at top organizations, visionaries in the field, and leading innovation strategy consultants who combine the very best of knowledge and hands-on practice to bring you innovation programming that makes a lasting impact.

Faculty and Presenters

Dr. Nancy Tennant, Faculty

Dr. Nancy Tennant

Dr. Nancy Tennant is a practitioner, consultant, and best-selling author on innovation, leadership, and organizational change. She is one of the world’s foremost thought leaders in transforming businesses to achieve innovation from everyone and everywhere. In recognition of her unique contributions to the field, Businessweek named Nancy one of its 25 Champions of Innovation.

Nancy, who co-founded the Certified Innovation Mentor Program and the highly rated Innovation Action Boot Camp, is the Chief Innovation Officer Emeritus for Whirlpool Corporation. There, she received acclaim from publications such as Fast Company and Fortune for creating billions in new revenue from innovation. 

She is the co-author of numerous articles, including “The 5 Requirements of a Truly Innovative Company” with Gary Hamel (Harvard Business Review). She is also the co-author of the book Unleashing Innovation .

Steve Paladino, Facilitator

Steve Paladino

Steve Paladino is the Global Director of Innovation and Continuous Improvement for Baltimore Aircoil Company, the global leader of factory assembled evaporative heat rejection and thermal storage equipment. In this role, he is leading the company’s global effort to harness the collective genius of its teams and accelerate the improvement of its products, process and customer experiences. 

Steve has over 20 years manufacturing leadership and continuous improvement experience including serving as the Director of Operations for Plastic Omnium Automotive and the COO of HP Pelzer Automotive North America. Prior to working in manufacturing, Steve served for 10 years on active duty as a commissioned officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Clarkson University and is a graduate of the Notre Dame Certified Innovation Mentor Program.


Janna Sobel, Facilitator

Janna Sobel

Janna Sobel is a workshop designer and facilitator with a background in progressive education, creative group process, and performance psychology. A 17-year teacher of Improvisation and Storytelling, she has spent the last 10 years at The Second City in Chicago where she co-founded the Storytelling program and teaches Improvisation to comedians, educators, business leaders and litigators. Passionate about Improv’s origins in community-building work— and recognizing comedy as a fortunate biproduct— Janna loves using these powerful tools for their intended purposes: empowering groups to be healthy, happy and productive. 

Janna has designed and led Applied Improvisation & Storytelling workshops for The Booth School of Business at The University of Chicago, The Innovation Academy at The Stayer Center for Executive Education at Notre Dame, Moen, House of Rohl, Allstate, Cardinal Health, LinkedIn, NetSuite, The Chicago Cultural Center, The Cook County Public Defender’s office, and many other organizations seeking to foster healthy communication and inclusive, innovative climates.


Ray Tilkens, Facilitator

Ray Tilkens

Ray Tilkens joined Eastman in September 2017 as Innovation Project Leader. Ray is responsible for leading growth efforts in Eastman’s most strategic growth areas and working to ensure long-term innovation project leadership capability across Eastman through best practice sharing and coaching. 

Prior to joining Eastman, Ray worked for Greenheck as Director of Innovation and Collaboration leading the organization to develop and implement innovation. Prior to that Ray worked for John Deere in a similar role leading innovation across their global innovation network. Ray has also worked in Government Sales, Corporate Business Development and Technical Training over his 12-year tenure. Ray also served a combined 21 years in the US Army and Wisconsin Army National Guard, serving in Desert Storm in 1990-1991, and retiring as a MLRS battery executive officer in 2004.

Ray attended Marquette University in its manufacturing engineering program and received his Bachelor of Science degree in business and human resources from Cardinal Stritch University and a master’s degree in business administration from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. In addition, Ray has certifications from Scrum Alliance including CSM, CSPO and certified Scrum Professional, New Product Development Professional from PDMA and most importantly was the 1st graduate of the Certified Innovation Mentor Program from the University of Notre Dame.


Our History

Innovation Academy developed from an idea conceived by the University of Notre Dame and partners Whirlpool Corporation and Beacon Health System. Our initial collaboration became known as “iVia”—literally, “the way of innovation.” 

Our mission? To construct a comprehensive, unbiased, rigorous framework for innovation education. This framework would make sense of the fragmented theories of innovation in the marketplace and create a standard for innovation competency where none had previously existed.

Our partnership came together around a set of shared values:

  • Business is a force for good, and bigger thinking in business should lead to a better world.
  • Innovation is critical to an organization’s survival.
  • One size does not fit all when it comes to innovation. Each organization must find its own best solution.
  • The path to innovation is not a straight line. It’s dynamic and abstract—and, yes, often messy and uncomfortable. This is a fact organizations must embrace.
  • To succeed, you must apply a structured process to the dynamic energy of innovation. You must fuse the analytical and the creative.

These values led us to create our Unifying Innovation Methodology™, which is the core approach we teach in all our innovation programs. We also created our flagship offering, the Certified Innovation Mentor™ Program, to certify participants in this approach, identifying them as thought leaders and advanced practitioners in the field of innovation.

Content Partners

Our programs feature exclusive content from our network of innovation partners, who represent some of the best-known names in innovation and strategy consulting.