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IDEA Week promotes entrepreneurship, innovation

| Monday, April 23, 2018

Though the Studebaker plant closed in the early 1960’s, many still identify the city of South Bend with its manufacturing past — and the after-effects of the factory’s demise.

Associate provost Bryan Ritchie wants to change this perception.

“This community has been mired in its past for so long,” Ritchie said. “I mean, OK we’re the ‘Studebaker City.’ When do we move past that? What’s the new moniker? We’re the ‘Big Data City.’ We’re the ‘Advanced Manufacturing City.’ Whatever that case might be … we just need to get to that next thing. So I want people to start to see that and understand that that’s a possibility.”

Ritchie is leading the efforts behind IDEA Week, a Notre Dame-led festival highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship. Ritchie — whose official role is associate provost and vice president of innovation — said the week combines many of the initiatives already taking place in the community.

“We were doing a lot of things in April anyways around innovation and entrepreneurship, and so we said, ‘Why not create a celebration week where we pull all of these events into one week? And let’s get everyone motivated and excited about what we’re doing.’ Hopefully, that will have knock-on effects,” Ritchie said. “I mean, it will bring others out of the woodwork, get them engaged, make sure they understand and see what’s happening.”

Nick Swisher, executive director of IDEA Week, said the conference is a direct result of Notre Dame’s efforts to become a leading research university.

“It’s now maturing to a place that the ideas that are coming from the labs and from the students are enough of a critical mass to really put a focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, patents [and] intellectual property in general,” Swisher said. “This will just be an exclamation point on really what already was happening within the University on the faculty and staff side.”

Hosted by Notre Dame’s IDEA Center, the conference will bring together a number of panels, workshops and competitions. The week officially kicked-off Friday and will continue through Sunday, April 27, with speakers such as Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” and Daymond John, CEO of FUBU. The festival will also feature performances from comedian Gabriel Iglesias on Monday at the Morris Performing Arts Center in South Bend and The Chainsmokers on Friday in the Purcell Pavillion.

In addition to the keynote lectures this week, Swisher said he is looking forward to the McCloskey New Venture Competition, which will take place Friday. The event allows start-ups to pitch their ideas and compete in a “Shark Tank format.”

“All together, there are going to be around $400,000 in prizes and in-kind donations given to teams,” Swisher said. “This is major that’s going to count. So this is real stuff. The grand prize winner is $50,000 and there’s other prizes. So there will be a lot of money going out next Friday.”

Swisher said he hopes IDEA Week will inspire students and expose them to new career paths.

“I have never been in a university where more young people want to make an impact in the world and really be a force for good,” Swisher said. “We’re saying that you can do this through entrepreneurship … and you don’t have to be a greedy capitalist.

“There’s another way. And you can choose to do right and still make a lot of money. And that’s what we’re also trying to support and show and lift up as an example to students that this is another path forward.”

Ultimately, Ritchie said, IDEA Week is not a one-time event, but rather a long-term initiative.

“What we’re really doing is we realize this is a multi-year effort,” he said. “This isn’t a one and done. This is something we’ve got to do this year and next year and the next year and then if we can just get this to a point where people say ‘Wow, that was great. I’d come back again’ that’s a win. That’s a big win. It doesn’t have to be the most amazing thing ever. It just has to be good enough that people say, ‘That was cool, let’s do it again.’”

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie is a sophomore majoring in English with minors in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy and Computing & Digital Technologies. She serves as News Editor at The Observer and is a native of Western Colorado.

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