June 28th, 2018

Founding partners spearhead $20 million effort to launch Innovate@BU


Two BU students, two creative problem solvers and innovators: Clarinda Blais (CAS’17) started the Free Philosophy Project to bring Aristotle and Plato to women in homeless shelters as a way of getting them to talk about their lives.Jacob Dansey (ENG’17) and a team of other computer science majors and Questrom School of Business students created civic-engagement software to ease communication between elected officials and constituents, ultimately forming a company, Involved, Inc.

And that was only the beginning.

President Brown wants BU to do more to get this kind of thinking about, 
and solving of, real-world problems percolating among undergraduates and graduate students. With that aim, he has launched a University-wide initiative to give all BU students—whether they’re studying science and engineering, the arts and humanities, business, or communication—opportunities to engage in creative problem solving and hands-on innovation.

Funded by a partnership of the University and a group of alumni, BU has launched the new initiative, called Innovate@BU, with support of $20 million for the first 10 years.

A key ingredient for the initiative is a highly visible space. BU has turned the former Radio Shack store, at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and St. Mary’s Street, into a 6,000-square-foot home for Innovate@BU. Called the BUild Lab: IDG Capital Student Innovation Center in recognition of the lead support from IDG Capital and its CEO, University trustee Hugo Shong (COM’87, GRS’90), the space has wraparound glass walls, meeting rooms, workspaces, offices for program leaders, oversized video screens for presentations, and lots of open space for hackathons, accelerators, classes, and hands-on workshops with innovators from industry, government, nonprofits, and the arts.

Other lead donors, whom BU has designated as “founding partners,” include trustees William D. Bloom (CGS’82, Questrom’84), Richard D. Cohen (CGS’67, Questrom’69), Ryan Roth Gallo (LAW’99), and Allen Questrom (Questrom’64, Hon.’15), as well as Ziad Dalloul (ENG’86), Carol Kaufman (CAS’71), Yousif Al Nowais, Lou Volpe (Questrom’78), Collin Yip (Questrom’12) and President Robert A. Brown and Beverly Brown.

Brown views Innovate@BU as an essential part of preparing students to navigate a workplace that is being rapidly transformed by start-ups, big data, robotics, and artificial intelligence. To succeed in the new economy, he says, young people will need to be “self-motivated, self-directed, and self-actuated.”

College of Engineering Professor of the Practice Gerald Fine is the executive director of Innovate@BU, and Ian Mashiter, a Questrom senior lecturer in strategy and innovation, is running the BUild Lab.

Innovate@BU will include three other major components: partnerships with the city of Boston, the Commonwealth, and the community; a University-wide curriculum of classes in innovation and social entrepreneurship; and research on innovation and entrepreneurship.

“If we can graduate, in my wildest dreams, 1,000 students a year who have improved their creative problem-solving ability and are more flexible and creative about how they’re going to enter the workplace going forward,” Brown says, “we will have had a huge impact.”

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