Generator Labs to unite entrepreneurial, socially-minded students in one space
Above: Pictured before the future location of Generator Labs in the Engineering Center’s G-Wing, director of EPICS Scott Shrake, associate director of Undergraduate Engagement Amy Sever, Generator Labs assistant director Josh Loughman and Brent Sebold, director of the Startup Center (left to right). Sebold and Shrake will serve as co-directors of the new facility which will unify resources for both entrepreneurial and socially-minded students from the EPICS and Startup Center programs. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU
Be it disrupting an industry status quo or solving engineering problems for a charity, the entrepreneurial and socially-minded students of Arizona State University share a goal: to make an impact on the world around them.
ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering has begun work on a new space aimed at empowering students to make such an impact. Generator Labs, a space to be occupied by both the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program and the newly-founded Fulton Schools Startup Center, will bring support for both groups under one roof. The 6495 square-foot facility is slated to be functional in March 2016, with a grand opening ceremony to follow in August.
“We see this as an opportunity to engage students about both social embeddedness and entrepreneurship,” said Scott Shrake, lecturer and director of EPICS.
Shrake will serve as a co-director of Generator Labs, alongside Brent Sebold, the director of the Startup Center. The pair envisions Generator Labs, or GenLabs, as a gathering point to help develop and nurture the skills both EPICS and Startup Center students build in their programs, while encouraging cross-pollination between the two groups.
“Historically at ASU some of the most successful and viable commercial ventures have grown out of socially-minded EPICS ventures, and by bringing together the support provided by both EPICS and the Startup Center, we can better support those types of crossovers,” said Sebold.
The Startup Center, launched in November 2015, provides support and resources for students’ entrepreneurial endeavors by way of courses, workshops, competitions and events. EPICS pairs multidisciplinary teams of engineering students with a project aimed at helping a nonprofit, community or governmental agency solve an engineering problem.
While one has a focus on community service and the other on commercial endeavors, both organizations show students how entrepreneurship and engineering can affect the world. Additionally, both groups are instrumental in students building ‘soft skills’ not often learned in the classroom, such as planning, pitching, budgeting and funding a project while interfacing with the community, investors or a client.
In addition to cultivating the skills developed in both programs, Shrake sees GenLabs as a place to provide a full spectrum of support for students involved in both EPICS and the Startup Center.
“This space will help take traditional engineering students and transform them into New American University Students,” said Shrake. “It engrosses students in experiential learning, providing them with technical support from EPICS and the business expertise of the Startup Center.”
The facility is under construction in the northwest corner of the Engineering Center’s G-wing on the Tempe campus and will feature a full range of support for participating students. The Design Review Lab, modeled after a boardroom, is intended to be a space where students can present their projects to mentors for feedback and review. Students will have access to the G-Lab Café for their caffeine fix, and the Impact Lab is designed to be a modular space, capable of serving as a classroom, an eSpace or a presentation area.
Just as students continue to invent and innovate, GenLabs aims to keep pace by growing in size as well as support for student endeavors.
“GenLabs will be a continually evolving and changing facility,” said Jim Collofello, Senior Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs. “Our goal is to find new ways to provide the resources and experiences young minds need to thrive.”
The second phase of the project will bring perhaps the most exciting feature to GenLabs. The 1865 square-foot Marketplace Patio, situated on the high-traffic intersection of Palm Walk and Tyler Mall, will serve as a showcase area and a place to engage with and be a part of the public.
“We want to blur the line between the lab and the community or market these projects are serving,” said Sebold. “Instead of students falling back on an online survey for feedback, we can send them right outside to interface with their community or potential customers or clients.”
“The Generator Labs initiative is also designed to support Fulton Schools students who hail from our Polytechnic School on ASU’s Polytechnic campus in east Mesa.” Collofello added. “Specifically, the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program is a continuous source of forward-thinking, entrepreneurially-minded students and faculty.”
Currently, both EPICS and the Startup Center call the Undergraduate Student Engagement Office in the Engineering Center’s F-wing home. Amy Sever, associate director of Undergraduate Student Engagement, believes that a dedicated space for these programs will only increase student interest, just as it did when Student Engagement opened a permanent space two years ago.
“When Fulton Schools students see the space used for classes, as well as a space for teams to meet and connect with community and industry partners, it will only encourage them to get involved in all that the Fulton Schools have to offer,” said Sever.
Over the past five years alone, EPICS has generated many success stories, including a Microsoft Imagine Cup first place finish, an Entrepreneur Magazine’s College Entrepreneur of the Year winner and finalist, numerous Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative winners and finalists in the international Dell Social Innovation Challenge for student entrepreneurs.
Students working within the Startup Center saw success last year when HELOS, a team working on a hands-free snowboard binding system, placed as a finalist in the Sun Devil Igniter Challenge. The Startup Center also supports more than 30 student-led ventures annually through the eSeed Challenge + Accelerator program, which is financially supported by Tom Prescott, an ASU civil engineering alumnus.
“Our mission is to help empower students to explore their passions through opportunities and community-building that impact the world,” said Sever. “Having a space like GenLabs will only further that mission.”
By Pete Zrioka