IOWA CITY — During a University of Iowa workshop with an international leader in design and innovation thinking, Iowa City Area Development Group President Mark Nolte in October shared a quote on social media: “When we fail to design, we design for failure.”
That leader, Bruce Mau, has been on campus recently to help the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business and Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center collaborate on a new “Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation.”
Demand is surging for space and support for entrepreneurs to learn new concepts and start new ventures, according to the university, which in turn has broad impact on economic development.
Illustrating the need for a new innovation center, College of Business Dean Sarah Fisher Gardial points to the UI’s Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory, which sits in a converted fraternity house. The lab includes 16 offices, a small co-working space and a conference room.
University programming in support of student entrepreneurship — like at the lab — has exploded in recent years, producing 60 to 80 student ventures in any given year. But the Bedell lab can accommodate only up to 25 teams at any given time.
“This year we had applications from 150 different student organizations that wanted space in that building,” she said. “We are bursting at the seams.”
Through public meetings and workshops, Mau has helped the university design a purpose, operating model, cultural program, educational experience and potential impact for a new center.
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The goal is to get the center functioning in some capacity in the next 18 months, Gardial said. Eventually, she said, plans will involve “bricks and mortar” — either in the form of a new building or repurposed campus space.
The initiative comes at a time of big change across higher education, driving institutions toward innovation on many fronts. University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld has urged faculty and student entrepreneurship and suggested changes to state regulations that would allow more collaboration between the campus and business partners.
Iowa State University is building an $84 million Student Innovation Center that will include classrooms, collaboration space, a test kitchen, student-run store and fabrication areas for electronics, woodworking and textiles.
At the UI, a new innovation center aims to connect campus interests, alumni and community organizations “to solve social, technical and business problems,” according to David Hensley, executive director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.
“The effort is being designed to align with the university’s efforts to explore increased opportunities for entrepreneurial education, new venture creation, technology transfer and innovation,” Hensley said. “We anticipate that the center and its related programs will serve as the hub for innovation-based activities across campus and better connect university assets with the external business community.”
The university hired Mau, with the Illinois-based Massive Change Network, this year to help design the center. The College of Business has paid him $250,000 from private donor funds. In fact, the entire project is intended to be paid for with gifts.
“The current plan is for any new facilities to be 100 percent privately funded through donor gifts,” Gardial said.
The university earlier this year listed a new $30 million entrepreneurial center among anticipated capital projects for 2018. It identified a possible site in a regents request to purchase properties at 109 E. Market St. and 128 N. Clinton St. for $2.7 million. That sale is set to close next summer.
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Gardial said although that land, across from the Pappajohn Business Building, was presented as a possible site, the “location selection has shifted and has become more fluid.”
“It is not at all clear at this time where it will be located,” she said.
Right now, the project’s key players are focused on designing the desired experience, which will in turn affect the architecture.
Key players include Gardial, Hensley and Nolte, along with UI honors professor David Gould as well as Iowa City business owner and entrepreneur Nate Kaeding; “serial” entrepreneur Don Schoen of Des Moines, who has owned six different companies in 35 years; Chuck Klasson, former president of CIVCO Medical Solutions in Coralville; Jennifer Daly, chief executive of Iowa’s Creative Corridor Economic Development Group; Kim Casko, Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce president; and Tara Cronbaugh, owner of the Java House, which grew out of her work as a UI student.
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