Innovation Campus accelerator aims to help more entrepreneurs

Work continues on the companion building (left) to the old 4-H building on Innovation Campus on Thursday.

Terence Bowden has bad news and good news for Nebraskans.

First the bad: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a highly respected research and advocacy organization that promotes entrepreneurism, shows Nebraska was next to last among the states in its most recent index of entrepreneurial activity, for 2012. According to Kauffman's research, which measures the rate of new-business creation, Nebraska had 170 new entrepreneurs for each 100,000 people, second fewest among the states, in 2012.

"Nebraska is not good at this and needs to improve very quickly," Bowden said.

The good news: There's a lot of room to grow in an increasingly active and encouraging start-up business community, and new ways to help

A native of Ireland, Bowden is the first director of the new business accelerator at the University of Nebraska's Innovation Campus. A business accelerator is an organization created to help businesses get started by offering expertise and resources. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln already has one accelerator, NMotion, which got started last year on city campus, and will focus on software start-ups. It's accepting applications for its second class through April 1.

Innovation Campus's accelerator will focus on other fields: engineering, agriculture, hardware, product/industrial design, energy, health and food.

What brought Bowden to Lincoln from overseas was simple. "The idea of building something from the very start," he said. Innovation Campus is rising from the site of State Fair Park north of the UNL City Campus. It is to be transformed into a public-private research and technology development center.

Bowden sees value in the point the Kauffman ranking makes.

"I think it helps reinforce the need for (Nebraska Innovation Campus) and the activity that will be included, including the accelerator and maker space," Bowden said. "It’s about creating a culture of innovation, getting people of diverse backgrounds to come together. To really make this work, the whole community needs to get involved, and that can be through sponsors, partners and mentors."

"Maker space" is exactly that: a space where things can be made. UNL is also organizing a Maker's Club, and more than 200 students, staff, faculty and community members turned out for the first meeting of the new student organization, which promotes student-initiated projects that fuse engineering, art, design and technology.

Shane Farritor, the club’s faculty adviser and professor of mechanical and materials engineering, presented the club’s vision for starting a maker space at Innovation Campus in the fall. The space would provide an environment for students to work with each other building projects using 3D printers, laser cutters, woodworking, sewing, electronics and metalwork, Farritor said in a news release.

Bowden comes to Innovation Campus from Dublin City University's Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs, where he ran the Propeller Venture Accelerator, the No. 7-ranked accelerator in Europe. Bowden has a degree in industrial design, a higher degree in product graphic and interactive design, a master's in business management and a graduate certificate, master's level, in digital marketing.

For now, Bowden is in the Whittier Research Center, on the east side of City Campus. Bowden said he expects to be moving into the new site in May. That's when the accelerator is expected to start taking applications from those with ideas for new businesses.

NIC Business Accelerator is looking for applicants with an idea in any of its identified industry sectors, but if somebody has an idea outside those fields? "Great," NIC says on its website. They are willing to consider others.

The accelerator program will start in September, after participants are chosen from the applicants. The first phase of the application process will include answering questions about the business idea.

Innovation Campus says those accepted into the NIC Business Accelerator will have access to more than 100 mentors from a variety of sectors; investment up to $20,000; nine months of space in the new Nebraska Innovation Campus; workshops including product market fit, validation of the business model, marketing, legal, accounting and prototyping with corporate partners; maker space to build prototypes in close proximity to office space; and an investor day, the opportunity to do an eight-minute pitch to mentors and investors.

Article by: Richard Piersol, Lincoln Journal Star
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