Innovation Lab Is Looking for People with Big Ideas

Posted: March 24, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: March 25, 2014 at 11:17 am

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By Preston Williams

Opening of Innovation Lab

Director of the Mason Innovation Lab David J. Miller is seen during the opening of the lab at Enterprise Hall. Photo by Craig Bisacre

The Mason Innovation Lab, a new on-campus work and learning space for budding student and alumni entrepreneurs who need additional guidance and resources to advance their projects, is accepting its first applicants. Lab director David J. Miller bills the innovation space as “a place, a community, a process” that will help usher ideas — and even careers — to fruition.”

Based in the School of Management in Room 278 of Enterprise Hall, but open to the entire campus community and alumni, the lab will provide an innovation curriculum, work areas, connections with faculty and professional mentors, and small stipends to help fund projects.

The 24-hour space, the latest venue for George Mason University to provide experiential and integrative learning in a collaborative environment, can accommodate teams as well as individuals. Commitment and flexibility are the only prerequisites.

Mason Innovation Lab Project Team Mahesh Joshi speaks to student and alumni during the grand opening of the School of Management's Mason Innovation Lab

Mason Innovation Lab Project Team member Mahesh Joshi, left, speaks to students and alumni during the opening of the Innovation Lab. Photo by Craig Bisacre

The lab’s website highlights a Picasso quote that captures the spirit of the innovation space: “I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else.”

“We want people who want to disrupt — in a positive way,” says Miller, director of the lab and coordinator of other George Mason entrepreneurial programs (another David J. Miller is a professor in the Communication Department). “For people who want to go to the next level who are really serious about their innovation, there hasn’t been a place for them. This is for people who really want to focus and take their innovation the next step.

“Everybody starts as a niche. That’s what people forget. Everybody wants to be mass-marketed, but the biggest companies in the world started as little niches, many on college campuses.”

Joining Miller on the lab project team are three School of Management representatives — Mahesh Joshi, director of innovation and entrepreneurship for the School of Management; Hun Lee, associate director for the Center for Global Business; and Jim Wolfe, entrepreneur in residence.

Innovation lab organizers

Mason Innovation Lab Project Team, from left, Jim Wolfe, Joshi and Miller with Sarah Nutter, dean of the School of Management, during the grand opening. Photo by Craig Bisacre

The lab celebrated its grand opening in early March, and the first applicants will use the innovation space this summer. The deadline to apply is April 7. The application, available on the lab’s website, must include a detailed, clearly defined proposal. There will be separate application processes for the fall 2014 and spring 2015 sessions.

The lab will be amenable to innovations of all sorts, including technologically driven products and services, new business models for existing industries and social ventures to tackle problems that governments and the traditional social sector have been unable to solve.

Program participants will have to show steady progress toward their stated goals in regular meetings with faculty advisors and professional mentors. “Innovation accounting,” Miller calls it, quoting Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries and his book “The Lean Startup.”

The lab will focus not only on creations but specific business models, an area that young entrepreneurs often overlook, Miller says. Miller and his project team will bring in guest speakers and arrange field trips to area companies in addition to providing faculty and professional support for the participants.

Lab users will receive small stipends that could be used for prototypes, website building, marketing materials or other expenses related to their projects. Each semester session will conclude with a Patriot Demo Day, open to the campus community and public, at which the creators can present their projects to potential investors and other business professionals. The lab users can reapply each semester to continue their work or to launch new projects.

“We can help you move ahead in 20 different ways,” Miller says. “But the majority of the resources are off campus. People, technology, finances, networks. So half of our job is to get people connected off campus.

“We want them off in the real world making an impact as quickly as possible. We need it here first to connect them to the outside.”

That growing network already is in place. Lab sponsors include IBM, FedBid, Knowledge Consulting Group, 4CEO and The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

For questions about the lab, call Miller at 703-993-1768.

Write to Preston Williams at pwilli20@gmu.edu

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