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New lab offers entrepreneurial workspace

| Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The room next to First Source Bank in the basement of LaFortune Student Center has several tables big enough for group work, a row of computers in the back and a large screen that can act as a computer monitor. One of the walls is a giant whiteboard, with a poster titled “Napkin to Launch,” which lists Notre Dame resources appropriate for each stage of launching an app, a piece of software, a hardware product or other business.

The room was renovated over winter break to become the ND Startup Lab, a hub for student entrepreneurs.

Sophomore Chas Pulido, who spearheaded the creation of the lab, said he worked with the Student Activities Office (SAO), the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship and student government — which has made innovation and entrepreneurship a priority this year — to create a space specifically for students to work toward starting businesses.  

“It’s been kind of a challenge for me — I have my own startup on campus — trying to find a space to work in, especially something that’s, ‘Hey, we want some computer science majors to come, people from different colleges and different spaces kind of across campus, different dorms. [It’s a] central space to meet, neutral territory.”

Like many other shared spaces, individual students and groups can book times to work in the lab. Pulido said the lab is meant to be a central space for those students as well as entrepreneurship-focused clubs, such as Notre Dame’s Entrepreneurship Society and the Four Horsemen Society, which focuses on technological innovation. The latter group already hosts its weekly Innovation Night in the room on Monday nights.

Pulido said ND Startup Lab also has its own initiatives, such as hosting “office hours” Mondays at 7 p.m. for students with ideas who have business or legal questions, as well as the ND Micro-Seed Fund, which will give startup grants of between $250 and $500 and will pair entrepreneurs with a designer. Pulido said a board of students will decide how to distribute the grants in the next few months.

“The hardest thing for any startup is the first few hundred dollars, because it’s, ‘Is this idea good, is it worth it?’ Stuff like that,” Pulido said. “[The grant is] eliminating that early risk and saying, ‘Hey, here’s 500 bucks. Go run with it as far as you can, go prototype, make an early software version of it or hardware, like a CAD design.’”

Junior Will Markley, co-president of the Entrepreneurship Society, attended the lab’s inaugural office hours Monday night to help answer questions. He said he has several ideas that he wants to turn into businesses one day, including a website that helps evaluate the value of companies. He said he’s used the startup space already and hopes to see it used more.  

“The biggest thing for me is … to try to bring people who are into that sort of stuff together, because once you have people all in the same place together, they’re talking, they’re collaborating, they’re exchanging ideas,” he said. “That’s where the beginnings of a startup ecosystem begin.”

Pulido said that is the point of the lab.

“Really making a community around the lab — that’s our big goal,” Pulido said. “People can come in, work on a project, meet new people. It’s kind of like an unofficial club meeting spot for that kind of mentality. It’s something we haven’t had in the past, where it’s just, ‘Hey, I’m interested in entrepreneurship and stuff like that, I can’t just go and hang out and meet people like that, it’s only just people hacking away in their dorms.’

“This is encouraging everyone to bring all their ideas and innovations and set them out in the open.”

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About Emily McConville

Emily McConville is a news writer and photographer for the Observer. She is a senior studying history and Italian with a minor in journalism. She is from Louisville, KY and lives off-campus.

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