Innovation center construction stalls

by Rebecca Rowland | 1/30/14 8:37pm

Work began this week on the Innovation Center and New Venture Incubator, an initiative announced in College President Phil Hanlon’s inaugural address in September. Despite delays in the construction permit approval process, the College aims to complete construction by spring term, new venture incubator programs director Jamie Coughlin said.

Though the Town of Hanover has yet to approve the center’s construction permit, Coughlin said this will likely occur before demolition is completed in the next few weeks. Construction was originally slated to begin in November, but the permit approval process took longer than anticipated, as Hanover asked the center for additional information in its application.

The 3,000 square-foot center is located on the first floor of 4 Currier Place, a Dartmouth-owned building near the Black Family Visual Arts Center. The building also houses the Dartmouth Real Estate office and Computing Services, which will remain on the upper floors.

Finding a location was the biggest challenge in establishing the center, given the limited amount of space in Hanover, Coughlin said.

The center’s design will remain flexible to promote collaborative and creative activities, Coughlin said. He added that he wants “user-generated” design ideas, reflecting student needs and interests.

“When you have a space, you also have to fill it with the energy, activity and programs,” he said.

The center has received around $3 million, which will fund construction and future events, Coughlin said. Potential programs include workshops, mentoring initiatives and competitions.

Coughlin said he hopes the center will host its first event during Dartmouth Ventures, an annual contest and conference in April during which groups of entrepreneurs compete for thousands in prizes.

The center is overseen by the entrepreneurship and technology transfer office, which was established last April. Once complete, it will connect students with the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, the Barris Incubator at the Tuck School of Business and the Dartmouth Regional Technology center.

Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Society vice chair Ned Berman ’16 said his group will collaborate with the center to strengthen the undergraduate presence in entrepreneurship.

“Right now there’s a ton of people on campus with ideas,” Berman said.

The center, he said, aims to increase communication across schools and boost the College’s entrepreneurial culture.

The biggest challenge for students currently pursuing entrepreneurship on campus is that resources are decentralized, Berman said. The center will unite these resources under a single organization to simplify the process of obtaining support.

Coughlin said many Dartmouth students are interested in entrepreneurship. Around 45 people attended an event Wednesday held to spread awareness and information about the center.

Tuck professor and Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network director Gregg Fairbrothers, who teaches an introductory entrepreneurial course, said in an email that as a liberal arts and research institution, Dartmouth is “brimming over” with resources such as libraries and labs accessible to interested undergraduates.

“There has always been a strong background level of entrepreneurship activity at Dartmouth,” Fairbrothers said.

For the past 11 years, 30 to 60 undergraduates have audited the introductory course each year, Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network program manager Sandy Rozyla said in an email.

Fairbrothers noted that there is an element of irony to facilitating innovation centers on campus.

“There is something a bit contradictory in entrepreneurs demanding more resources be made available,” he said. “Still, a place to congregate and find resources in an accelerator is surely a good thing.”

The article has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

Correction appended: January 31, 2014

A previous version of this story implied that 30 to 60 students took the course over the span of 11 years, when the figure applies annually. The story has been revised.