‘WHEN WE BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER, THEY EXCHANGE IDEAS, THEY BRAINSTORM, THEY COME UP WITH BETTER SOLUTIONS’
If there is one place in the building that will likely serve as the epicenter for interdisciplinary collaboration it is the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship on the second floor. Before moving into its new space, the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was scattered in multiple rooms across campus. “Now we have one place in the dead geographic center of campus that everybody can come, and gather, and work together,” says Dave Mawhinney, executive director of the center. “It’s a kick ass and take names space. The Swartz Center is literally a two-minute walk from the School of Computer Science, from the Robotics Institute. It’s a five-minute walk from the School of Engineering. It’s a half a minute walk from the Heinz School of Information Sciences and Public Policy.”
Set around the perimeter of the center are ten 100-square-foot startup garages, reserved for teams of four to six people each with the most promising ideas. “The metaphor is the startup garage that Hewlett and Packard are famous four,” says Mawhinney, an angel investor and serial entrepreneur whose last co-founded company, mSpoke, was acquired in 2010 by LinkedIn. “At any given time, we’re helping between 50 and 100 different startups from the idea phase to actually having a real product in the market. But the best ten of them from our ecosystem are awarded those garage spaces to build their companies.”
Half of the ten teams currently in residence are working on applying artificial intelligence to products and services, with just one team led by a recent Tepper graduate. Four of those startups have been formed by students from the School of Computer Science. An undergraduate student is working on an inventory management system. Two other recent Tepper grads are developing a business called ‘entrepreneurship through acquisition’ to help business owners with no family transition plan.
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE? THE NEW BUILDING WILL BECOME A VIBRANT HUB OF MULTI-DISCIPLINARY LEARNING
“Being together, even in this virtual world of the Internet, is very important,” believes Mawhinney. “When we bring people together, they exchange ideas, they brainstorm, and they come up with newer and better solutions. So the Swartz Center is a community where lots of people from different backgrounds can come together to share ideas. It’s a workspace where you can talk to a peer company, you can talk to a mentor, you can talk to an entrepreneur in residence to help get beyond a challenge.”
The Tepper Quad, which unofficially opened a few weeks ago, has already changed the way faculty and students are interacting with each other. “Having these open spaces where people organically bump into one another, whether it’s on the landings, in the classrooms, or in the cafeteria, creates more conversations,” believes Yeltekin. “Those conversations about research ideas and classroom teaching can continue effortlessly here. They don’t have to break up because we don’t have quite the right arrangement for people to feel comfortable.”
Giving a visitor a tour of the vast open spaces in the building, Dammon seems overjoyed with the school’s new home. Now he aims to turn it into a vibrant hub of multi-disciplinary learning and research. “That’s what it’s all about for me,” he says. “I believe that’s where research needs to go, and I believe that’s where our education has to go. If we can look back five years from now and say we achieved what we set out to do, which is to create this hub of activity, this vibrant hub of interdisciplinary collaboration, that will be a success story for us.”