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How to create an off-campus incubator

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This article is constructed based on an interview with former UI fellow, Fletcher Richman, on his experience of starting an off-campus incubator, Spark Boulder, near the University of Colorado.

Contents

Introduction

Spark Boulder is a student created and designed co-working meets incubator space, architected to foster creativity, progress talent and accelerate innovative ideas. Spark Boulder is a student entrepreneurs playground that will allow Boulder and the University of Colorado to remain at the forefront of student innovation and entrepreneurship.

Spark Boulder is designed to provide a place for students to innovate new ideas, and work in an environment dedicated to forward progress. Spark Boulder was created by the very students that needed it most, ensuring Spark meets all the criteria required to give students the tools and opportunities they need to design, create and innovate ground-breaking ideas.

Spark Boulder is more than just a coworking space, it is a hub of innovation that combines top grade professional services, such as Archer Bay and Tuition Specialists, with some of CU's most talented and aspiring students. Spark Boulder offers its own server services, complete with SDK's, Master Suite, monitors, iPad's, iPhone's, and Android devices to give developers every tool they need to develop their projects.

Throughout the duration of the Spark Boulder project, the students made sure to stay true to their mission of helping  other students. Students have done everything from the business plan and finances, to the branding and marketing, and the design of the space itself.

Spark Boulder.PNG

Need and Goal

Incubator space is only a facilitator. Dedicated space needs entrepreneurs to thrive in order for the incubation space to be successful. If the students don't use the space, the existence of the space would be hard to maintain. This makes identifing the correct need, location, and space very important.

Richman was inspired by the phases of life cycles in Startup Community, which states, "Bringing entrepreneurs together will create a synergy that can accelerate the innovation process." By recognizing the 12 entrepreneurship-related student organizations on campus and school run programs, Richman found students to be in need of a working space in order to start their entrepreneurial pursuits. In Boulder, Colorado, one of the centers for entrepreneurship, the local community also greatly supports the idea of having a student incubator space.

"The goal of having an incubator space in Boulder," Richman said, "is not only limited to providing space for young student entrepreneurs, but also to give the opportunity to local investors to see some great work put out by the students."

Academic Permission

Paperwork may be required based on the type of collaborations that the incubator space provides between itself and the university. If the incubator space merely provides the space for extra-curriculum activities, obtaining the permission to collaborate with the school may be much easier. However, if the collaboration relates to student's credits or class work, this permission can be very restricted. This permission process is very individually based, meaning it differs at every university. Depending on the type of school and the level of support towards entrepreneurship, the permission varies a lot.

In the case of Spark Boulder, one of the problems that Richman faced was gaining support from the University of Colorado, even though students and lower level faculty members were in need and supported having a student incubator space to work on their entrepreneurial projects. Despite this roadblock, Richman persisted and chose another route. Instead of gaining support and collaborating with the University, he leveraged the local entrepreneurial community to create and provide the space to students. In the end, he didn't need permission fromthe University to fulfill his vision, but still provides space for student entrepreneurial organizations meetings and events.

Support

The success of Spark Boulder is largely because of the excessive support from the faculty, students, and local community.

At the University of Colorado Boulder there are over 12 student organizations, programs, and many more classes surrounding the topic of entrepreneurship. However, the school didn't have an incubator space for these organization and programs. The students very much supported opening an incubator space close to campus that would allow them to work on their own projects, or even start their own companies.

Although getting support from higher-level faculty or administrators proves to be difficult, the lower-level faculty are in love with the incubator space. Richman stated that there are many faculty members who are actually entrepreneurs themselves. An incubator space close to their office can also greatly help them develop their ideas and entrepreneurial pursuits.

Boulder is very entrepreneurial city. Hundreds of startups are located within the local community. A student incubator space has also provided these local startups a place to look for future collaborators, or even provide investors a place to invest in new projects.

Cost

Cost: the funding necessary to create and maintain the space, and how that funding was found/raised

In preparing Spark Boulder, Richman raised $140,000 to rent the 5400 square foot space and to renovate it for incubator use. However, he also stated that this project can be completed with a much lower budget depending on how many renovations need to happen. With sufficient support from the community, Richman was able to get enough funding to pay for full sets of furniture and include electricity and WiFi. If the budget allows, you can add additional assets and equipment.

Location

Spark Boulder is located very close to the main campus of University of Colorado Boulder. It is also surrounded by many local start-up offices. This location nicely matches the needs of both the students and the local community.

Activities

As a newly founded incubator space, Spark Boulder has not planned many activities for its residents. It mainly serves as a newly designed space for students to develop their ideas and meet with each other. Student organizations can hold their business competitions in this space as well. Richman also plans on bringing some third party start-up accelerator programs to the incubator space to help the student entrepreneurs.

Materials

Spark Boulder aims to provide a truly lean start-up opportunity for student entrepreneurs. In terms of essential materials provided, students will have fully covered electricity, WiFi and a fully furnished space. Since many of the new start-ups are related to application development, Richman plans to add monitors, a 3D printer, iPad and iPhones in place for the students to use.

After all, Richman emphasizes that, "The space is the thing!" If the space is available and affordable, it will help entrepreneurs.

Management

Spark Boulder is currently managed by students on the Board. A law firm provides a secretary for greeting guests. In the future, Richman would like to hire an Executive Director to aid in managing the space, but the space will always be mainly managed by students.

Lessons & Tips

  1. Just go for it. Don't ask for permission.
  2. Find a team. There are students and community members around you that will be a huge help! You can't do it alone, so go out and find some people with a variety of skills (architecture, legal, design, and finance, etc.)