Resource:How to build and outfit an on-campus innovation space

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Creating a new design or innovation space on campus may seem like a daunting task. Space creation involves manpower, money, hours of time, and a zealous passion for making an impact on campus. Instead of talking about a blueprint of how to build an on campus innovation space, it is important to understand exactly what it means to bring a design and innovation space to campus. Why and how this space can be used to empower students to generate their own vision and execute their own ideas?

University Innovation Fellow Jared Karp, co-founder of the Design Engineering Collaborative at UC Berkeley, responded to these questions, discussing how to really transform a design and innovation space from an idea into a reality. During the interview, Jared gave many interesting tips on helping to start up an innovation space. However, talking to him also showed that creating an innovation space is much more than fitting a set model into a new campus. The action of creating this space takes entrepreneurial spirit itself! Nevertheless, the enormous positive impact an innovative space can have on student entrepreneurs was quickly realized. The goal of this space is not only to ideate, tinker and network but also to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs. Through this how to guide, you should gain a sense of not just what is going on within this space and how to built it, but WHY it is absolutely necessary for your campus. 

Need and Goals

The need for this type of space comes from students wanting to collaborate and work together in a forward thinking, creative and innovative environment. On-campus innovation space creates a place where students can aggregate around the common interest of being curious or passionate about an idea. Many campuses, especially Wake Forest University, have a number of entrepreneurs; however, they have minimal interaction with each other. This is where the need fills an important gap. Bringing these students together creates a supportive environment allowing team formation, the collection of resources and campus-wide networking. Students have the ability to motivate each other and push through set backs throughout the ideation process. The need that an innovation space fundamentally fills is that of a collaborative work environment for students. To access this need, surveys or questionnaires developed for students can be implemented, even focus groups or interviews. Simultaneously, student leaders can see the growing need and attempt to tackle the challenge of implementing an on-campus innovation space.

The goal of building an on-campus innovation space is to fulfill a vision of student entrepreneurs working together from across many disciplines to solve common problems. Building a physical space also gives student entrepreneurs a location, face and identity on-campus, which can be lost in the mix of other influential organizations. An additional goal is to allow students to think and work outside the classroom. This real life hands on experience is invaluable for student entrepreneurs entering into post graduation life. 

Academic Permission

Academic permission is the tough part of creating an on-campus innovation space. This process is also difficult to write an exact how-to guide because each campus has a different process and approval steps. While interviewing Jared Karp, he identified ways to overcome this hurdle. Jared first stated that you should find the person that can say yes. By this, he means that universities are filled with people who will love your idea and tell you to reach for the stars; however, very few of them have the authority to sign off and say, "YES!" It is important to find this person, or find someone who can introduce you to this person.

Jared also suggests to be prepared for your first conversation or meeting with all the materials you would need to show that an on-campus innovation space is NEEDED and it is VIABLE. These are key points that anyone will want to know before signing off on this endeavor. Hard evidence, like your market research and cost analysis, will go a long way towards a signature. Furthermore, you must emanate a feeling of infectious excitement, enthusiasm and passion for what you are doing/about to do. Your passion needs to be contagious, making most people unable to say "No."

Lastly, as Jared says, "Do everything with a smile." If you are passionate about changing your campus, making an impact and have a vision, then you definitely have something to smile about.   


Support is an interesting part of the how-to guide. Most of us think of support as financial backing, advisors, teachers, etc. In designing on-campus innovation space, support really needs to stem from a critical mass of passionate students. The most important part of this, which also leads to academic permission, is the university administration wanting a large number of students interested in this space. The ideal goal would be to form a team of students who you closely work with to get this idea rolling. You then need to gather as many students as possible to also get behind this movement, somewhat like a nuclear chain reaction, you must reach critical mass. This is to be a point where the administration has to listen to the student body. In Jared's case, he developed the idea from a place called IDEO and also saw what Stanford was doing with their d-school. He knew UC Berkeley could use the same type of space on campus. Jared organized a team, and then student leaders from all related groups, and formed a large movement on campus. 


Location is an important aspect of your on-campus innovation space. The ideal place for a design location is somewhere centrally located on campus. This space will be somewhere students can stop by for 10 minutes or hours at a time. This central location also breaks the idea that only science, business or engineering students can use this space. In fact, it should be somewhere on campus where every students interacts with one another. Unfortunately, not all campuses have been designed with the idea of a centrally located on-campus innovation space in mind. In the end, any place must do and that is exactly what Jared found. While wandering around campus one day, he found himself in a building that had several unused classrooms. Jared found the person in charge of the empty rooms, and was able to get privileges to renovate the space. He has now turned this location into his campus' innovation space - which he calls the Student Hub for Engineering and Design (SHED). 



There are a number of activities that can occur in an on-campus innovation space. Students can come together and work collaboratively, or also individually, on ideas that spark curiosity. Innovation spaces allow students to create ideas, using white board space, and then take their ideas and begin creating rudimentary prototypes. Furthermore, this space provides teachers with an area to teach innovation through design and engineering. Classes can be taught to facilitate students in the entrepreneurial process as they create plans for their venture. In addition, meetings for groups can be held in this space. "The SHED at UC Berkeley is used for all of these things, including weekly meetings," Jared explained. He said that each week they come together and do an ICE breaker activity, a creative/innovative activity and also have presentations by individuals wishing to form teams. To join this group, Jared implemented an application process along with a membership fee. This allows them to get small supplies that support the group, as well as get the students invested in the space. Overall, the activities can consist of a limitless amount of ideas the members of its community wish to hold.


Materials to outfit an on-campus innovation space consist of simple tools, a few electronics, computers (occasionally), lounging space, whiteboards and building materials. Anything that would be needed to do some simple tinkering and getting an idea off the ground. Jared stressed that materials could start out being as little as markers and whiteboards. It is more about the space and people than the materials within it.

Prototyping Rack

Consider building a rack of materials that can move from place to place. This tactic enables a mobile innovation space that can be taken outside the room if desired, or reconfigured within the room.

List of things to consider buying:

  • Craft paper / construction paper
  • Cardboard (corrugated)
  • Sharpies (black, colored, variety)
  • Index cards
  • Wrapping paper
  • Foil
  • Cellophane
  • Envelopes
  • Fabric
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Feathers
  • Felt
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Toothpicks
  • Rubber bands
  • Twist ties
  • Binder clips
  • Plastic bags
  • Pegs
  • Velcro
  • Colored markers
  • Stickers - dots, stars, letters, numbers
  • Buttons
  • Ribbon
  • String
  • Plastic cups
  • Egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, etc.
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • Tape
  • Stapler
  • Hole punches
  • Clay
  • Yarn
  • Straws
  • Balsa wood
  • Paper clips
  • Rulers


Some possible vendors of rolling racks (no endorsement is given to any of the following - they were just challenging to find):


Management of an on-campus innovation space can vary depending on the desires of the members. The area is managed by the group and is thought of as group owned. The space is an atmosphere of respect for each other and the tools that belong in that space. Sometimes groups have an elected "space captain," as Jared called it, to oversee the area and make sure tools are functioning properly. The key point is community and wanting to build, innovate and create together in one space. Mutual respect for one another and unification under a common vision are all keys to effectively managing an on-campus innovation space. 


Jared described the launch of the Design Engineer Collaborative as big, flashy, and making a statement. His underlying message is that this needs to be something everyone on campus knows about. Start by word of mouth across campus, use social media, make presentations, run through your academic quad like a wild banshee, or whatever else it takes to get your message out there. Make sure that your launch is active and shows that you are really passionate about the space, the organization and the people. 

Lessons and Tips

Below is a summary of a few lessons Jared learned and, through conversation, taught: 

  1. Don't take no for an answer
  2. Be humble but be strong
  3. Create a vision 
  4. Believe in yourself and your vision
  5. Pay attention to how you brand yourself on campus
  6. Be clever and creative 
  7. Keep the momentum and foot on the accelerator 
  8. Don't be afraid to do something drastic 
  9. Care about what your doing and your involvement
  10. Have fun!

Design Engineer Collaborative: