Grainger Engineering Library being transformed into entrepreneurship hub
The University of Illinois continues to aggressively grow its entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. The latest endeavor is the remodeling of approximately 12,000 square feet in the lower level and first floor of the Grainger Engineering Library in support of collaboration and entrepreneurship.
The Grainger Engineering Library Informatics, Design, and Data Visualization (GLID2) Center will provide space and technologies for faculty/student collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship. The center is expected to be ready by the end of the fall semester.
“It’s all about collaboration, innovation, creativity, and student projects,” said Andy Singer, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director of the Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC). “It’s about integrating residential campus experiences in a way that defines why students come to a place like Illinois. The Grainger Engineering Library is going to be ground zero of engineering entrepreneurship, the nexus of innovation activity.”
In addition to the TEC, mechanical science and engineering capstone classes and computer science visualization and design classes will have a huge presence in the space, according to Bill Mischo, the head of the Grainger Engineering Library and Information Center.
The epicenter of activity moves closer to where student innovations are taking place while also making it more front and center in minds of the student population. Part of the plan is to have a “genius bar” which will help direct students interested in learning what’s available, exchanging ideas and becoming a part of the entrepreneurial landscape.
“It will be a great place where any student can figure out where to start on the pathway and where they can connect to the innovation ecosystem on campus,” said Jed Taylor, the Director of Operations for the TEC.
“Up until now, a lot of these activities have been satellite on the periphery of the residential campus experience of a traditional student at Illinois,” Singer added. “This is going to be the place where students will walk in and can’t help but bump into and be immersed with creativity, design and innovation activity. It’s a conscious effort by the College of Engineering at Illinois to provide every single student an interaction with innovation and engineering entrepreneurship.”
Two years ago, the Grainger Engineering Library opened the Center for Academic Resources (CARE) Center on the fourth floor to support undergraduate retention. That space offers peer tutoring, instructional services and collaborative space for Illinois student groups.
“A number of libraries are looking at providing innovation spaces and services and moving away from a focus on repositories for print materials. Academic libraries are creating environments where they are providing better and more relevant learning and collaboration spaces for faculty and students,” Mischo said. “We’ve always tried to integrate the Grainger Engineering Library into the day-to-day life of students. What CARE does for students in their courses, the GLID2 experiences will do for students in their projects at the knowledge creation stage, whether those projects are part of a course, a research project, or their own innovative design idea.”
Mischo added that renovating the space to support students and faculty collaboration ties in to the larger $100 million Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative at Illinois.
“The whole idea is to expand on the role of the Grainger Engineering Library in terms of innovation and collaboration space and provide a place that combines information discovery, next-gen design, and data visualization functions, a place where students can get information on all sorts of areas from patents to literature on projects and be pointed to other people who are experts in the field,” Mischo said.
The project signals that Illinois is keeping the foot on the gas pedal of building an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is growing in reputation. It takes advantage of the University Library and a top-ranked College of Engineering, which produce some of the world’s top engineering innovators.
In July, the College of Engineering announced the first five faculty entrepreneurial fellows. These fellows will be conducting experiments, building prototypes, conducting proof-of-concept research, and growing their entrepreneurial opportunities. Resources such as iVenture accelerator and the Research Park at Illinois provide incentive for student startups to stay on campus as they develop their ideas. Thirteen student startups were active on campus this past summer.
“There is no other place in which a student team can take an innovation forward into the marketplace like they can here at Illinois. And this new space is going to accelerate the means and provide the entryways for every student to be able to do just that,” Singer said. “We graduate more innovators by far than any of our peers.”
The center is also a concerted effort to keep the heartbeat of startup activities for alumni on campus and in Urbana-Champaign.
“We see our alumni wanting to come and set up shop in Urbana-Champaign, to recruit, advise and feed off the energy,” Singer concluded. “We want an environment where our future alumni will be bragging about how they succeeded because of the resources that are available here. They were inspired by what happened here and exposed to this world of opportunity they couldn’t help but be a part of.”
While some groups, such as the Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows and teams in the iVenture accelerator will have dedicated space, the majority of the rooms will be able to be reserved on a rotating basis for team building and collaboration activities. It’s a space where students can present final class projects and participate in Social Fuse sessions as well where registered student organizations can hold regular meetings.
“It will give an opportunity for our most creative students from across campus to get together in one place in one of the most innovative buildings on campus and collaborate, visualize and come up with designs for projects,” Taylor said.