Students flush with ideas about goods and services they want to share with the world now have a space on campus dedicated to helping them take their vision from concept to store shelves.
This fall, the university launched the Student Innovation Idea Lab (iLab), a place that serves as a resource for students, faculty and the surrounding business community, and nurtures novel concepts and entrepreneurial student projects.
The lab builds on the College of Business Administration’s existing Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Technology Transfer/Industry Clinic Office, with the aim of guiding students from concept to marketplace.
“This will build on the learn-by-doing focus of Cal Poly Pomona,” says Olukemi Sawyerr, a longtime professor in the College of Business Administration who was recently named the lab’s founding faculty director.
Sawyerr is no stranger to innovation. She teamed with Engineering Professor Winny Dong to create the Entrepreneurship in STEM Education program in 2009, which offered students from several colleges an opportunity to incubate ideas.
“Poly Presents” gives multidisciplinary teams of students one year to identify an innovative technology, develop a product or service, build a prototype, create the organizational structure to manufacture it, and market and sell their goods or services.
Since its launch, 121 students from four colleges have developed and marketed nine products and services. Past products include a Bluetooth-equipped USB flash drive and eco-friendly paint.
The program is so popular that one-third of the students who applied for it this year were turned away because of space constraints, Sawyerr says. The new lab will help remedy the situation.
“A formal lab dedicated to innovation is very exciting,” she says. “That means the opportunity will be opened up to more students.”
Sawyerr also credits President Emeritus Michael Ortiz with helping to get the lab started.
“Dr. Ortiz liked the idea of innovation,” she says. “He wanted student innovation to be his legacy.”
The iLab opened on the sixth floor of the classroom side of the CLA Building. Sawyerr’s first steps included writing proposals to secure funding and reaching out to
the local business community for support.
Sawyerr is working on promoting the lab to students – and not just engineers and business majors. It’s important to appeal to everyone, whether it’s a music student who comes up with new technology for recording or a Collins undergraduate who designs a utensil to make cooking easier.
“Innovation is everywhere,” she says. “Innovation is housed in all sorts of places.
You don’t know where good ideas are going to come from.”