The Happening Hubs–Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Visit any large university in America and chances are, you might see a new building or center, or even a small office, devoted solely to technology and entrepreneurship–most often dubbed “Innovation Centers.” These well-funded spots began cropping up on campuses about five years ago, and their goal is to connect the worlds of business and technology with students and startup businesses, and in some cases larger companies. Often they are also maker, design, and co-working spaces, and in general, bring to life a trending concept: learning while doing.
Sacred Heart University now boasts an impressive high-tech innovation center, called the iHub, was created last year in partnership with Verizon. It’s the brainchild of Fairfield resident and Sacred Heart alumnus and member of the board of trustees John Vasquez, who also happens to be Verizon’s SVP, CSCO CPO, global head of supply chain and real estate. Vasquez wondered how Verizon could expand its 5G labs locally and joined forces with President John Petillo to bring it to fruition.
Unveiled last October, iHub is now open to SHU students and faculty, but also to the public. The 8,000-square-foot space, located in the old GE building on Park Avenue, offers hot desks, offices, conference rooms and amenities managed by full-time community manager Corey Wain. “We are here to host innovation teams from large and small companies; for entrepreneurs who want to test their ideas, grow their businesses and work collaboratively in a supportive environment; and for individual professionals who want to work in a dynamic office environment,” says Wain.
iHub already has several businesses renting space including local companies FaceChecks, Alliance Technologies, Real Grader, The Innovative CPA Group Real Intelligence LLC, Urban AD Lab, Forbes Digital Assets, BlockShop CT, and Mosa Mack Science. Al Walls of FaceChecks was the first outside business to set up shop at iHub. “We have been following the tremendous growth of SHU for years. We have a security system we developed at the University of Bridgeport that is focused on school security so we felt like we were a good fit to expand our business to SHU,” says Walls. FaceChecks.com is a security technology company that specializes in video analytics, AI, and robotics. “We have increased our network and professional connections tenfold, and even added a SHU intern to our team,” he says.
SHU’s and Verizon’s venture has proven to be a swift success. “It’s the first partnership that Verizon has participated in on any on-campus facility,” says Verizon’s David Rothbard. “We created this to facilitate entrepreneurship and to grow new small businesses in the area, and it’s been so well-received.”
Students are also finding it a great asset for on-campus interviews, identifying internships, and to use for group study. The spaces are cleverly decorated with chalkboard and dry erase walls, huge life size photos of Europe, and there is even a café kitchen. “The students see the iHub as a convenient and innovative way for them to develop valuable work skills without having to leave campus. More and more students are stopping by to ask what kinds of companies are continuing to join the iHub community and checking on internship availability,” explains Wain.
Sacred Heart isn’t the only area university with a hub for the entrepreneurs and innovators. University of Bridgeport’s new Bauer Hall Innovation Center is 9,600 square feet inside a painstakingly restored 1893 mansion from Bridgeport’s Millionaire’s Row. UB’s Bauer Hall focuses on four areas: a core work space office setting rental space for local start-ups with an emphasis on technology companies, a Student Entrepreneur Center, design services where students assist local companies with branding, design, and prototyping services, and engineering and design maker spaces for robotics, artificial intelligence, and other emerging areas of technology.
Of these four, the Student Entrepreneur Center is the oldest, started three years ago and moved to Bauer Hall to be able to take advantage of the maker space and the Technology Transfer Office that specializes in intellectual property. UB encourages student entrepreneurs to submit a business idea through an application on the website. People are then contacted to come in for an interview where the candidate meets an Ernest C. Trefz School of Business Entrepreneur-In-Residence who helps the applicant through the process of becoming a member of the company at the Center. Both centers are open to students in any major and foster collaboration across disciplines.