MISSOULA – Universities are hotbeds for ideas, creativity and entrepreneurship. The University of Montana has given this energy a focus and a home with the establishment of its new Innovation Factory.
Located on the second floor of the University Center, IF will launch with a monthlong series of events titled “30 Days of Innovation,” which runs from Nov. 8 to Dec. 13. Highlights of the diverse happenings include everything from a media and art “hackathon” and presentations by female entrepreneurs to the joys of vacuum-sealed sous vide cooking.
“With the Innovation Factory, we designed a space that provides creative connections, opportunities and resources for all of campus and the wider Missoula community,” said Elizabeth Dove, a UM art professor and IF co-director. “We didn’t take it easy on ourselves with 30 days of programming for our launch, but we wanted to demonstrate the wide spectrum of possibilities offered by this new campus resource.”
“30 Days of Innovation” kicks off at 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, in the UC. Attendees are invited to visit the IF creative space on the second floor before an “energetic” grand opening event from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the UC Ballroom. Missoula Mayor John Engen will emcee the event, and an interactive panel of Missoula leaders will answer candid questions that help define innovation.
The full schedule for the entire month of events is online at https://www.umt.edu/innovation-factory/calendar.php.
“We want IF to be a gathering place for innovators, creatives and those with great business ideas,” said Brad Allen, IF co-director and a UM art professor. “We want this place to expand the experiences of our students in any discipline. Here, we plan for the greater community to overlap with our UM research enterprise and what our students have to offer.
“We feel this place can catalyze change.”
IF provides connections, opportunities, equipment, studio space and entrepreneurial mentorship for students and community members as they launch projects, develop new skills, and problem solve. It isn’t organized by field or tradition but rather by people teaming up to address challenges through collaboration, iteration, critical thinking, empathy and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Plans for IF began in 2017, when Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship, expressed interest in creating a collaborative space where design, entrepreneurship and campus research could come together. In 2018, Whittenburg rented the old bookstore space on the second floor of the UC and began hosting meetings to reimagine it as an innovation lab.
Then in June 2019, the Blackstone LaunchPad relocated to IF, bringing the expertise of Director Paul Gladen and Associate Director Morgan Slemberger into partnership with IF’s emerging mission.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship have always been a central part of the culture on campus,” Whittenburg said. “The full impact of the creativity of our wonderful faculty and students has potential for greater connectivity in a shared space. The Innovation Factory provides a place for those innovative and entrepreneurial minds to collaborate on multidisciplinary projects and serves as a trailhead to the other innovation spaces on campus.”
IF projects in 2020 include:
- student “IFterns,” who have researched and created designs for a new esports arena being planned for the UC Game Room.
- hosting “Digital Montana,” an educational workshop exploring the unique role of digital infrastructure in Montana’s economy, environment and culture. This event is a collaboration and partnership with the Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab at MIT, led by UM alumna and MIT Professor Lisa Parks.
- An IFtern team will partner with spectrUM at the new Missoula Public Library and UM faculty members Diana Six and John McCutcheon to create a new permanent interactive display about symbiosis in nature.
The IF directors both hail from UM’s School of Visual and Media Arts. Dove has taught art and design courses at UM since 2000 and now divides her time between teaching and working as lead designer and overseeing IF curriculum. She is eager to build programming for the creative space that challenges students to use design strategies to solve problems across disciplines. Allen teaches UM sculpture and digital fabrication courses while overseeing the IF facility and operations. He leads the extensive IF maker spaces and will deliver weekly workshops to all.
For more information visit https://www.umt.edu/innovation-factory/ or email Dove and Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow the factory on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/InnovationFactoryUM/.