Every day we see the potential of the Watson scholars to create our future. Whether it is the work of Tessa Zimmerman (USA) to transform the education system or the technology invented by Hussam Hassan (Sudan) which allows blind people to read e-books, it is clear that the future of our world is in their hands. Watson protects the courage of the scholars as they reach their potential to create positive change in the world – and by doing so we aim to set a model for higher education globally.

Watson University – 2016 Awardee

Watson, located in Boulder, Colorado, provides a refreshed model of higher education that focuses specifically on teaching leadership skills necessary for the next generation of global leaders.

The curriculum includes short master courses from the world’s foremost leaders, entrepreneurs, and thinkers (including a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, one of Time Magazine s 100 most influential people and more); intensive mentorship and coaching; and training in crucial entrepreneurial skills. Watson helps students develop and advance solutions to the toughest challenges facing the world.

Scholars can come to Watson for an accredited Bachelor’s degree through our collaboration with Lynn University and Naropa University or a semester program. Watson is supported by leading funders including Ashoka, Echoing Green, Halloran Philanthropies, and The Enlight Foundation.

Watson’s vision is to create a network of 50 campuses in key cities across the world so scholars can go through Watson’s degree bearing incubator while embedded in the communities of their choice.

The Watson experience consists of five elements:

  1. Training: in the entrepreneurial skills of rapid prototyping, team building, fundraising, ideation, finances, and scaling among others.
  2. Mentorship/Coaching: Scholars are paired with a team of highly experienced mentors relevant to their ventures and coaches who focus on both venture and personal development.
  3. The Lab: Scholars work with their peers and mentors in a co-working environment.
  4. Master Courses: Short ‘master courses’ and mentorship sessions with leading practitioners from across the world.
  5. Community: The community created among the scholars forges life-long friendships, protects their courage, and inducts the students into a global network of next generation changemakers.


As of March 2016, Watson has graduated 55 alumni from 23 countries from the semester program. The alumni have raised over $12.5 million and hired over 105 team members for the ventures they founded or co founded. The first students will graduate from the degree track in May 2016.

Watson receives strong ratings from the scholars:

  • When asked to rank the overall value of the Watson experience, scholars responded with an average of 9.0/10.
  • When asked how likely they would be to recommend Watson to another student in the right stage to attend Watson, scholars responded with an average of 9.9/10.

A few examples of Watson alumni:

Tessa Zimmerman (degree track): Tessa developed the ASSET model to help the 1 in 9 youth across the US (including herself) who suffer from severe anxiety. At Watson, Tessa has been hired by schools including the Denver School of Science and Technology (a top performing charter school) to implement the ASSET model, is being mentored by Terry McGraw, and recently signed a book contract.

Omotola Akinsola and Madelle Mbong (semester): After meeting as roommates at Watson, Madelle and Tola merged their organizations to create JumpStart Academy Africa (JSA), which develops the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Cameroon (their home countries). JumpStart works with 350 students and has increased the annual income of their students by 300%. Madelle was recently featured in Forbes and Tola received a $250,000 prize after being selected to join Who Deserves to Be a Millionaire Nigeria.


How can people get involved in or replicate your innovation?

There are several ways to get involved in replicating Watson’s mission:

Global Teams: As Watson expands the number of campuses, we are on the lookout for new team members to either launch a new campus or join an existing team. Email: Eric Watson with your interest.

Institutional Partnerships: Watson is working with several institutions to create majors or minors based on the Watson curriculum. If you and your institution are interested in learning more, email Eric Watson.

Mentorship: If you or a colleague are interested in becoming a master course teacher or mentor at Watson, we are always looking to build the mentor and master course teacher network. Email: Eric Watson with your interest and we will begin the vetting process.

Nominations: If you know of 18-23 year-old social entrepreneurs who could be a good fit for Watson, please nominate them here: ww.watsonuniversity.org/nominate. Or if you are interested in applying to become a scholar, our applications can be found at: www.watsonuniversity.org/apply.


Contact information

Eric Glustrom
Founder + President, Watson University
[email protected]

Cordes Innovation Awards

In partnership with Cordes Foundation, Ashoka U seeks to recognize globally relevant teaching, learning, and partnership practices that may be adapted and replicated across the field.