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Is an innovation center the next step for growth on your campus?

June 19, 2018 Article 3 min read
Robert Stempien Plante Moran Realpoint

College students today are constantly searching for opportunities to collaborate and be innovative. Why not foster that collaboration on your college or university campus in an innovation center?

College students and a professor collaborating in an open innovation center with technology

What inspires innovation?

A need, a question, a contemplative moment in a lively tech lab, a spontaneous conversation over coffee … Given the right environment, innovation can happen anywhere. 

College students today are constantly searching for opportunities to collaborate and be innovative. Why not foster that collaboration on your college or university campus?

Why build an innovation center on campus?

Students’ potential for innovation hinges on collaboration with other students, faculty, and local businesses. Bringing these groups together in an innovation center allows students to solve real world problems, test theories, or facilitate product development — and do so in an open, collaborative environment where criticism is replaced with “what if” and “let’s try.”

Demand is coming directly from students who see value in the real-world experience, but institutions that have spearheaded innovations centers also benefit. A report by Educause Learning Initiative gives an in-depth summary of the benefits of an innovation center:

  • Improves your institution’s image, which could help when procuring state funds for entrepreneurial activities.
  • Attracts students looking for practical learning experiences, internships, and possible job opportunities.
  • Encourages interdisciplinary learning and offers ways to generate new research, curriculums, and courses.
  • Helps recruit talented faculty, who also benefit from the exposure to business opportunities and the chance to continue to develop their skills and teaching styles within the framework of the institution.
  • In some cases, the products, services, and businesses could contribute financially to the institution.

How to successfully build an innovation center

While the real potential lies in introducing students and faculty to businesses, innovation is unlikely to occur without the right space. The traditional square box with double-loaded corridors, which constitutes the majority of campus buildings, will need to be reimagined.

There are three components to keep in mind when designing innovation centers in higher education:

  • Allow for easy collaboration.
    Spaces should be open, mobile, and flexible, with a variety of rooms, reconfigurable furniture, and collapsible walls to accommodate various size groups and functions.
  • Integrate technology.
    Programming will necessitate technology-rich space like “maker spaces” with 3D printers or other modeling equipment to build and test products and “hacker spaces” that make tech applications, hardware, and computer labs available.
  • Make it accessible.
    Everything from video-conferencing-enabled conference space to dining areas should be included so users can engage at any time during the day and across borders.

It takes an entrepreneurial spirit to make innovation centers succeed.

5 questions to consider before launching an innovation center

Before you jump into the design and construction of an innovation center, consider these five questions first:

#1 Who will provide leadership and vision?

An innovation center can’t run like a traditional academic department. It takes an entrepreneurial spirit to make innovation centers succeed.

#2 How will you get buy-in from businesses, faculty, and others to develop opportunities?

Having the right people on staff to make those connections is crucial to the success of your innovation center. Support from local and national businesses is key.

#3 How can you market your innovation center to attract the best students and faculty to the program?

“If you build it they will come” won’t work for this kind of venture — you need a strong promotion strategy and a carefully planned program to entice people to join.

#4 Should you build new or renovate an existing building for the program?

Not all space is right for building an innovation center, so it’s important you assess your building capacities and options for renovating vs. building new.

#5 What’s a reasonable budget for this new innovative space?

Before hiring an architect or construction manager, synthesize your goals and program needs so these professionals can accurately assess commitment and costs for the project.

Fostering innovation at your institution

As the local or regional center for learning, your college or university is a genesis of potential. Student innovators are waiting — even expecting — the opportunity to create the next business start-up, must-have product, or business solution. When you build a collaborative space and make it available to like-minded interests who can share ideas, stretch norms, develop prototypes, and test theories, then your innovation center will inspire true innovation.

If you’re considering building an innovation center at your college or university, our owner’s representatives can help you think through your budget and space options. We’ve helped colleges throughout the Midwest make smart capital project planning decisions, and we would be happy to leverage our experience to help yours as well. Contact us today.

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