The University of Indianapolis Center for Collaborative Innovation, located in the R.B. Annis School of Engineering, helps students develop, prototype and explore their entrepreneurial ideas, according to the CCI website. While originally utilized exclusively by engineering students, the CCI now extends its services to students of all majors and communities outside of the UIndy community thanks to the Elevate Nexus Higher Education Grant, according to the CCI. The CCI currently has teams of multidisciplinary students who work on their prototypes over nine months throughout their junior year.
UIndy Associate Professor of Engineering David Olawale said the CCI separates UIndy’s School of Engineering from others due to creating the DesignSpine curriculum. DesignSpine helps students develop their entrepreneurial and prototyping skills in a hands-on approach, according to Olawale.
“The CCI actually stands for the Center for Collaborative Innovation, and one of the visions when we started the CCI was because part of the engineering school, we are what is called the DesignSpine curriculum,” Olawale said. “That’s what makes our engineering school unique compared to other engineering schools across the nation. One of the things that we discovered, as part of our DesignSpine … people from different programs of engineering work together and work on entrepreneurial ideas.”
According to Elevate Nexus, the grant UIndy received totaled $50,000 and went to support the DesignSpine Engineering Entrepreneurship Program within UIndy’s CCI. Olawale said the grant has helped students since 2020 who have had entrepreneurial ideas but did not have access to the resources needed to make prototypes. After the grant, the CCI now also provides business training and feasibility support, according to Olawale.
“We’ve been doing this for I think five years now. So the engineering students, they can do that and we have a lot of resources to support them but they were not thinking of what about other students who are in business, who are in finance, who are in arts, who are in sciences that also have entrepreneurial ideas but they don’t have access to prototyping,” Olawale said. “ So without thinking, ‘No, this is unfair,’ we now had the opportunity to write a grant to the Elevate Nexus Venture and we were successful and we got a $50,000 grant from Elevate Nexus that helped to establish the CCI.”
According to Olawale, the CCI has seen a large amount of student involvement over the past few years. People outside of UIndy go to their training sessions as well, according to Olawale.
“All our engineering students in the junior year go through and we can be saying that and I think we’ve done that for almost five years. And we take about an average, maybe we’re talking about let’s say each year an average of not less than 20, 24 students,” Olawale said. “You’re talking about over a hundred engineering students going to our program. And then we’ve also have people outside of engineering, student faculty and staff who are going to our training, and they’ve been continually providing these consulting services.”
The program has five UIndy Innovation Fellows, each of which has disciplines in different areas of entrepreneurial expertise, according to CCI. There are also intellectual property seminars that are led by Indianapolis-based IP lawyers, according to Olawale. Olawale said these highlight faculty involvement within the CCI.
“If your projects or entrepreneurial idea have to do with computer programming software, we have innovation fellow Dr. Paul [Talaga], [who] is an expert in that everything that involves prototyping business styles with our lab manager James Emery,” Olawale said. “If you need help with something that involves some law or corporate style, we have Dr. Eric Harvey in the school of business who we’re able to research [with].”
Olawale says he hopes the CCI will have a greater impact on both the students and the external community. The CCI is trying to help students start successful businesses post-graduation, according to Olawale.
“We’re looking forward to making a greater impact, both within the university and outside of the university,” Olawale said. “We are looking for a great opportunity to support our students and actually having a student, maybe outside of engineering, actually starting successful companies and doing great things. The second part is that want to be able to extend our services out to businesses in our community, whether they’re part of UIndy or not. What we’re looking for is greater impact.”