January 16, 2018

Innovate@BU Reminds Us That Innovation Is for Everyone

Boston University will open its BUild Lab IDG Capital Student Innovation Center at 730 Commonwealth Ave on February 1. Located smack dab in the middle of campus near the school’s EPIC makerspace, it will be a student center that encourages collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship. It is also home to the university’s brand-new $20 million initiative: Innovate@BU.

Innovate@BU looks to enhance the entrepreneurial skillset of its 30,000-plus students. The school will be providing resources and mentorship opportunities while also conducting hackathons, accelerators, and presentations through the BUild Lab. According to Executive Director Dr. Gerald Fine, the plans for this ambitious initiative have been cooking for well over a year.

gerald fine bu
Executive Director Dr. Gerald Fine (credit: Jake Belcher).

“It’s an idea that we’ve been working on since about September of 2016. I think that the administration of the university—particularly our president—were beginning to realize that the skills underlying innovation and entrepreneurship were important skills that our students needed to have when they left here,” Fine said.

Fine, who joined Innovate@BU last June, explained that such a program needed to be handled in a way that accounted for BU’s diverse student interests, and would encourage collaboration among students. As a result, the initiative took on three focuses: business, artistic, and social ventures.

One example could be a video game. A student-developed game would need computer scientists to help with the coding, communications students for the script, fine arts students for the art design, and a business school student to help sell the finished product.

In terms of social entrepreneurship, Fine used immigration as an example of an ongoing, prominent social issue that resonates with BU’s student population.

“We have a group of students looking at the inflow of immigrants to Northern Europe. They have a number of ideas—generally involving technology—about how to best improve the lives of this immigrant population. At the end of the class, students have a great fervor to continue the activity. Our job is to help them continue.”

This all connects to the initiative’s overall mission statement: “Take your ideas and convert them into something impactful.”

A rendering of the BUild Lab.

Fine stands well qualified to lead BU’s students in these pursuits. In addition to nearly a decade of teaching at Boston University, Fine ran Schott North America as President and CEO, worked on R&D at Corning (where he later became an Executive Vice President), and operated as a VC at half a dozen startups—all of which eventually sold. He also holds nine U.S. patents.

While Fine will act as a mentor to the student participants, he plans to provide other mentorship opportunities as well. Without going into specifics (we’re still in the early days), he pointed to the school’s many, many alumni—as well as leaders from within the City of Boston—as potentials.

“If you get one thing from this conversation, we really want to enforce a two-way dialogue between us and the city,” Fine said. “Meaning, we want people in the city coming in to help our students, and we want our students to be helpful to the city.”

Fine’s barometer of success is apparent: student participation.

“Our first goal needs to be to harness the energy of these 30,000 students to build up a grassroots movement and make an impact in the community. As we grow that participation, then of course, our criteria for success moves to the quality of said impact.”

Alexander Culafi is a Staff Writer for VentureFizz. You can follow him on Twitter @culafia

Images provided by Boston University.