Building Ideas That Matter
The Venture Lab is a Place for Student Entrepreneurs to Bridge the Gap from Concept to Marketplace
By Chad Osborne
Inspiration does not own a watch.
It arrives when it wants without any regard for what you are doing, where you are or even if you are awake.
No one knows this better than entrepreneurs. They are not annoyed by inspiration’s intrusive ways. They welcome the disruptions, looking, in fact, to inspiration to bring intriguing ideas for a new business, an original product or service. But, inspiration is not simply summoned. It arrives in its own time.
Knowing inspiration’s call, and the dreams of many of its students, Radford University and the Davis College of Business and Economics opened the Venture Lab during the Fall 2019 semester.
Education is at the heart of the lab. It is a space for would-be student entrepreneurs, from any discipline, to develop and test business concepts, breathe life into them and construct a bridge that will connect developed ideas of value to the first sale of their product or service, be it a business to help reduce the impacts of climate change or an app to find lost car keys.
“It’s a place for the inspired, a place where we can help our students — and faculty and staff, if they wish — make their dream business come true,” says Professor of Management and Venture Lab champion Steve Childers, Ph.D., who credits the University’s administration for their forward-thinking ideas toward the lab’s creation.
The lab is filled with resources, both material and human. There is business plan preparation software and guides, tools for marketing research, meeting and storage space, maps and guides to existing Radford University technological resources, such as 3D printers, and most importantly, human guidance to direct the future entrepreneurs every step of the way.
When planning the Venture Lab, Childers and the steering committee seemingly thought of everything, from the design and location — the lower level of the Davis College — to the individuals who run it. “That’s why we created the lab, to help our students create the businesses of their dreams,” Childers explains.
Those dream businesses could be the next Amazon or the next Google. Generally, they are a much smaller scale, but just as important to people’s daily lives.
“They are the types of businesses you see all around you every day that make your life great. That’s mainly what our students are creating,” Childers says. “This lab, with its resources and human connections, is making dreams happen; it’s helping, through a hands-on, educational process, our students achieve their dreams and goals.”
Childers first formulated the plan for the lab a few years ago, but the idea grew, in true Venture Lab fashion, through the work and guidance of a cross-campus team of multiple disciplines. It was not only business professors involved. “I was the only business school person on the committee,” Childers explains. The others were faculty from art and education, science and health, as well as staff from McConnell Library.
“We know from data that most students who start a business are not always business majors,” Davis College Dean Joy Bhadury, Ph.D., quickly asserts.
Department Chair and Professor of Music Tim Channell, Ed.D., knows the data well and is informed and influenced by it. He served on the steering committee, because students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts are, by the nature of their disciplines, Channell explains, “entrepreneurial in their thinking.”
The Venture Lab is providing students with “a place to work with others to develop innovative businesses that incorporate their crafts—music, art, theatre, dance and design,” he says. “To have a center on campus to help students start a new business venture is huge for their success in the industry.”
While the lab is ignited by passion and inspiration, it is fueled by connections, both on- and off-campus. There are several influencers and bellwethers connected to business and industry willing to lend a hand.
For students using the lab, Childers wants to see movement and progress toward the ultimate goal, and that is how human connections can help. “If someone needs intellectual property (IP) help, we can connect them with an IP attorney,” he says. “If someone wants to create an app for their business, but does not have the ability to create it, we can connect them, on campus or off, to someone with that capability.
“We’re matchmakers,” Childers continues. “We place people where they need to be with the right people at the right time.”
Not knowing when inspiration will visit, budding entrepreneurs are ready and always primed to take action when it comes bearing its gift. That is the reason the Venture Lab has 24-hour, seven-days-a-week access. It is always there; it is always open.
Last year, at the Board of Visitors quarterly meeting in May, Radford President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., introduced the idea of the Venture Lab to Board members. He spoke glowingly of the positive impact the lab could have on students, the University and economic development in region and the Commonwealth. He expressed the importance of providing students around-the-clock access to a place, as they are inspired with “great ideas,” where they can “work on bringing that potential idea to commercialization.”
Because, as President Hemphill said, speaking of inspiration’s unpredictable nature, “good ideas do not just happen between 8 and 5.”