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ISU Student Innovation Center will bring together students across campus

Iowa State University students will soon have a new space where they can interact, learn and collaborate with one another.

Set to open in January 2020, the Student Innovation Center will be the hands-on center for student collaboration all across campus.

Envisioned as a highly flexible, technology-rich and dynamic space, the Student Innovation Center will be a launch pad for student collaboration and a landmark building that promotes interdisciplinary learning, student projects and hands-on experiences.

Jim Oliver gives a tour of ISU’s Student Innovation Center.

“The whole goal of this is to experiment,” said Jim Oliver, Director of the Student Innovation Center. “And then, with the experiments that are successful, we can diffuse those out into campus and begin to change the culture of how we work. That’s the vision.”

Iowa State University named Oliver as the first director of the Student Innovation Center in January. Oliver was originally on the steering committee for the Student Innovation Center for almost three years before receiving the position as director.

As the inaugural director of the center, Oliver will provide leadership, vision and direction for the new facility. He will be in charge of planning and implementing the innovation center’s academic programming as well as fostering engagement among students.

Oliver says there are four different pillars he wants all students who use the center to be exposed to: an interdisciplinary scope, experiential learning, an entrepreneurial mindset and a global perspective.

“Those are the four things the innovation center is fostering,” said Oliver. “And with the unique way the center has been structured and the diversity of things that are in here, students are going to able to work together in ways that they just couldn’t before.”

All of the colleges will have a footprint in the building but the majority of the building, 60% says Oliver, will be defined as “shared space,” and be accessible to all students across campus.

The roughly 140,000 square-foot, five-story building will house an auditorium along with four classrooms. The space will also include a gaming lab, a media production suite, meeting rooms, fabrication areas — from electronics to woodworking to textiles — study and collaboration spaces, a cafe, a test kitchen and a student-run retail center.

Scattered throughout the building will also be offices for various student organizations.

“There are almost 800 student organizations on campus and we hope they all come and use the center and some way or another,” said Oliver.

Nearly half of the funding for the $84 million project will come from state appropriations, with the remainder of the money coming from private donations.

“This is a labor of love for a lot of people on campus. We went out and interviewed all kinds of stakeholders about what this could be, what it should be,” said Oliver. There’s really nothing like this in the country. It is a really unique investment in the future of Iowa State.”

Previous coverage

Entrepreneurship among top priorities for ISU President Wendy Wintersteen Nov. 21, 2018

$6 million gift to ISU from Boeing will help fund Innovation Center Nov. 16, 2018

ISU Student Innovation Center will bring together students across campus | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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