Encouraging Entrepreneurship | Eastern North Carolina Now | ECU's Isley Innovation Hub opens, providing resources for all students

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Michael Rudd.

Joshua Pitzer of the College of Engineering and Technology gives a tour of the Isley Innovation Hub to CET students. CET helps manage and maintain the equipment found in the Isley Hub’s Wornom Makerspace. (Photos by Rhett Butler)

    In 2017, Van and Jennifer Isley gave a $2 million gift to establish a place where East Carolina University students can have "creative collisions," which produce innovation and entrepreneurship.

    Today, the result of that gift - the Isley Innovation Hub - is now fully open. It's 15,000 square feet of ideation and a makerspace, serving as the place where the ECU community can gather, develop and validate ideas (entrepreneurial or classwork), create early-stage prototypes, identify team members, and connect with other hopeful entrepreneurs.

    "I'm excited to see it open and that students are utilizing it," said Van Isley '85. "It's designed to give ECU students the ability to launch a business and help themselves, the university and eastern North Carolina."

    Utilization in force

    Some of the first students to utilize the Isley Hub are RISE29 students, who are using the space as their primary work location. They spend time collaborating with teammates and peers to work on projects and consult with small business clients throughout eastern North Carolina.

    Their work includes intense industry research, the development of recommendations and strategies, and the implementation of those suggestions to support their small business clients.

    Junior Cameron Brown of Raleigh is a community and regional planning major in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. His RISE29 team collaborates in the Isley Hub space to help its client - Carolina Chicken & Waffles, 2022 Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge winner - develop franchising models.

    "It (the Isley Hub) has enabled my group and me to work together to discuss different issues that we are facing in figuring out how to best develop a franchise," Brown said.

    Katie Rowland is a junior entrepreneurship major. After she graduates, she hopes to launch a nonprofit company that supports parents and children in the foster care process by providing resources, time and assistance in transitions from home to home and out of the foster care systems. She sees the Isley Hub as a place to collaborate with peers with interests that complement her potential startup.

    "I am seeking assistance from my peers who have the different services my organization will offer," Rowland said. "Whether it's financial advising, educational advising, religious opportunities, I will be looking (to work with) peers with proficient knowledge in those areas."

    Brown and Rowland work in the almost 6,000 square feet of space that's immediately accessible as soon as one enters the Isley Hub's glass doors. The big, open space is adorned with chairs, couches and worktables specifically designed to encourage collaboration and conversation. A team room and a conference room line the back wall; a teaching lab and the Wornom Makerspace are to the right; and another teaching lab and one-button studio, to be built out later, are to the left.

    The Miller School of Entrepreneurship, the Crisp Small Business Resource Center and the Air Force Leadership Center are housed in the Isley Hub.

    Now that it's open

    Dr. Dennis Barber III is the acting director of the Miller School and oversees the Isley Hub operations. Since the opening, he has seen students from all walks of campus life utilize the Isley Hub. Industry, elected officials and community members have held meetings in the space.

    "Everyone is excited about it," Barber said. "They think what the space provides is cool, but they're just unsure how to incorporate it with what they are doing."

    The "they" Barber refers to is ECU faculty and leadership. Barber says now that the Isley Hub is open, it's up to him and his team to build relationships and support structures that can help ECU leadership and department chairs communicate the value of the Isley space, no matter the major, no matter the college.

    "We have the right people in the space; we need to build relationships and figure out our next steps to be connected throughout the university's different levels so that students know how to use the Isley Hub and have incentives to do so," Barber said.

    "It's a collaborative effort to pull it (Isley Hub) all together, but hopefully, we can create some successes and provide some opportunities," Isley said. "The Isley Hub aligns perfectly with ECU's mission of student success and regional transformation."
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