They’re looking for change. Impact. Revolution.
The Nebraska Innovation Campus staff has big plans for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The vision of NIC is to work “in a dynamic environment where university and private sector talent connect to transform ideas into innovation that impacts the world,” according to its website.
Located off Salt Creek Roadway and North Antelope Valley Parkway, the facilities for NIC are currently being constructed and are set to be completed this summer. In those facilities, administrators, faculty and staff hope innovational ideas will come to life.
Though they’ve received funding for the projects and facilities that come with NIC, the staff will continually be looking for more involvement.
“We’re looking for sponsorships and community effort, because the community will benefit from it in the end,” said Terence Bowden, business accelerator director for NIC.
Kate Engel, NIC community engagement and operations manager, helps network and create connections to get these projects to take off.
“We’re going to host different programs, activities and workshops that will encourage the community to come out and be involved,” Engel said.
One of these programs is called the Business Accelerator, a nine-month program that will train local business owners in creating and using innovational ideas, technology and tools in their entrepreneurship.
The application process starts in June, and businesses will be accepted in September. Office space at NIC will be provided to participants, and they’ll get workshops and meetings with more than 100 mentors, an investment up to $20,000 and the tools to create prototypes.
“Hopefully it will encourage more people to look at innovation and encourage the tools and methodologies and put something to market,” Bowden said. “It should increase entrepreneurship in the community and the state of Nebraska as a whole.”
Going hand-in-hand with the Business Accelerator is the Maker Space, another NIC idea that will be put into motion next year.
The idea for the Maker Space came from the 400-member UNL Maker Club. NIC is collaborating with the Maker Club to create the Maker Space, a place where people can come and find sponsorship to create prototypes of their own work.
“The Business Accelerator will complement the Maker Space, which will be a very good fit and help people in Nebraska to have an innovative outlet,” Bowden said.
According to NIC’s website, the Maker Space will be 17,000 square feet and located on the first floor of the 4-H Building. They hope to have people working with architecture, woodworking, welding, art and design.
Though it will be open to the community, visitors will have to pay and be trained before working with the equipment. The tools will include woodworking and metalworking tools, 3D printers, digital machines, a culinary space and a music studio.
“These things will provide not only options to be creative, but more options to think about things and noodle around and start making ideas,” NIC executive director Dan Duncan said.
The partnership of the university and the private sector offers a unique opportunity to students that they wouldn’t have elsewhere, Engel said.
“But we have to expand that culture beyond those two entities,” Engel said. “We talk about workshops and what’s going to be beneficial to not just staff and companies, but also students. And I think it will impact enrollment in a positive way.”
Another project NIC is taking on for next year is with the UNL Food Science Department. It will be moving from East Campus to the NIC. This move will add 117,000 additional square feet to the department.
The Food Innovation Center will give faculty and students the chance to do more research about food processing, safety, allergens and nutrition. Classes will also be held there starting in the fall of 2015.
The new facilities also feature a conference room that can seat up to 400. According to Engel, there’s not another space close to Lincoln big enough to host that many people, and it’s already completely booked for several dates throughout the summer.
But, until then, it’s all plans and discussing things to come in the future — and some of it can be tedious and grueling, Engel said.
“We were emailing back and forth the other day about toilet paper,” Engel said. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re even spending time talking about this!’ But it’s just stuff we’ve got to take care of.”
When they move into their offices this summer and start getting into the swing of things, the NIC staff anticipates a culture shift in Lincoln.
“I think NIC will help provide more opportunities for job growth,” Duncan said. “I think it’s kind of symbiotic of growth with the West Haymarket. It can create a lot of great entertainment options and help grow enrollment in related areas.”