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How to build a space and culture that encourages innovation

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Overview

So what is an innovation space? It is a platform of idea sharing between students of all different majors. It is a center for design thinking. It is a place where students from across the campus can come together to pitch and receive help on their entrepreneurial ideas. If your campus currently does not have such a facility, the steps outlined in this tutorial should provide an overview of the main steps and things to consider to make the space a reality.

Understand campus culture

First and foremost, it is essential to understand your campus culture and the attitude towards entrepreneurship and innovation. What resources are currently on your campus? Is an innovation space needed? Do students want (and would they actually use) such a space?

If it is determined that there is a student need for the space, then the next step is to determine the value proposition it provides for different groups of people on campus. These groups can include students, faculty, administrators, or even facility management. They will most likely all have differing value propositions, as they play different roles on campus and will play different roles within the space.

Recruit help

Once a need for an innovation space has been identified, it is essential to form a support system around the idea. Start by pitching the idea to your advisor or another faculty member, then move throughout the ranks of your university to gain momentum. 

An example might look like this:  Advisor > Department Chair > Dean of Engineering College & Dean of Business School > VP of Economic Development > VP of Research

When in meetings with university leaders, it is important to clearly state the purpose of the space and specifically how they can help. This can include information about the necessary funding and the types of roles they can play as a university leader once the space is created. Creating a business plan or a business canvas for these meetings can also be very beneficial.

Identify space location

Perhaps one of the most challenging parts about building an innovation space is determining its location. While it is advisable to have a centralized location that is accessible to all students, that might not be possible. One option is to start with an old lab or unused classroom within your respective college. This could allow you to test out the idea to see if and how students use the space. This will also enable you to determine the operations and logistics of the space on a smaller scale.

If you are able to secure a more centralized location, make sure all students are aware of and are invited to use the facility.

Ideally, the best case scenario would be to have a location that isn't affiliated with any department or college, such as the newly announced Watt Family Innovation Center at Clemson University.

Specifics of the space

While the specifics of innovation spaces can vary, it is important to include some key elements that help encourage design thinking when using the space. Whiteboard walls, moveable furniture, computers, and a projector or large tv for presentations should all be included when the space is planned. 

Operations and logistics

It is important to keep the main focus of the facility in mind when deciding how to handle the operations and logistics of the space. Something that has worked well for Clemson University is to have two student leads for the space - one from the engineering college and one from the business college. They work together to bring students into the space and to make sure it is being used correctly. There is also a faculty member that serves as an advisor to the students to advocate for them when issues arise.

Overall, the space should serve as a platform of idea sharing between students of all different majors. Students should be able to pitch ideas to their peers, form teams around those ideas, and work wirth advisors (both internal and external) to help figure out how to bring their idea to market. 

Materials and funding

Securing funding for an innovation space may seem like a daunting task, but it can be made easier if the right people in the university see the need for such a project. Talk to an advisor or another faculty member, and continue talking to the university leadership for different funding sources. If you are given money, make sure to spend it in a timely manner. Waiting too long gives the university more time to shift the funds to another department if monetary issues arise.