MIT’s innovation and entrepreneurship community just got 50,000 square feet of new space to work.
The institute’s new InnovationHQ is five stories in the recently renovated Suffolk Building (E38) in the heart of Kendall Square. It serves as a hub for students at every stage of their entrepreneurial journey, from undergraduate to graduate students, and provides space for alumni, faculty members, and staff.
“IHQ is designed to encourage random collisions that trigger the innovation process between people and teams who otherwise might not meet,” says Fiona Murray, assistant dean of innovation and inclusion at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and co- Director of MIT Innovation Initiative (MITii), who designed the space with architects NADAAA and Perkins + Will.
Each floor has open, flexible floor plans, and six departments, laboratories, and centers that used to support student entrepreneurship from different parts of the campus now call it home. Conference rooms, meeting areas and staff offices are also available.
What the room looks like in everyday life is primarily decided by the students.
“I expect it to be warm and inviting, and creative and quirky – very student-centric,” said Lauren Tyger, a program manager at MITii who leads the student experience, including the new Student Venture Studio on the fourth floor.
Built with a purpose
The first thing students will notice about iHQ is what it has on top. The first two floors of E38 house the newly created MIT Welcome Center and the MIT Admissions, who send a message to prospective students and visitors that innovation is being encouraged at MIT.
“We’re trying to center innovation and entrepreneurship as a core component of experiential learning, rather than just doing something on the side or doing when you have the luxury of extra time,” says Tyger. “This will help you as a student to understand that you are able to develop innovations at MIT.”
Floors three through seven make up the iHQ, with each level designed to facilitate students’ ascent into entrepreneurship.
Most of the third floor is the new MIT Student Innovator Lounge – an open work area where community members can meet. It also includes a new music and art innovation maker space called Voxel Lab – a collaboration between MITii, the Arts at MIT, and MIT Music and Theater Arts. The fourth floor houses the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program as well as the new MIT Student Venture Studio, a space for student organizations interested in entrepreneurship to gather and host events and meetings.
“One of the obstacles that the [Student Venture Studio] Addressing is the challenge of collaboration and even awareness among student organizations of who is doing what, who is doing what, who is working on solving related problems, ”says Tyger.
The fifth floor is the new home of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT and houses the new MIT Alumni Venture Studio, which offers MIT alumni, alumni founders and MIT-affiliated companies a space to familiarize themselves with the many alumni innovations and entrepreneurship programs and opportunities offered on campus.
The sixth floor features long-standing MIT entrepreneur circles, the MIT Venture Mentoring Service, and the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. The floor also includes the New England I-Corps at MIT program and the MIT innovation initiative. All of these programs are crowned by a large event space called the Hacker Reactor on the seventh floor.
Tyger says consolidating a number of groups will do more than just save student trips across campus. “It will really help the offices themselves to work together more efficiently and effectively,” says Tyger. “Then from the student’s point of view there can be fewer double events and offers. If we are together and talk more often, it leads to more efficient, more well thought-out and more robust offerings for students. “
No single building can accommodate all of MIT’s innovation. As a result, other organizations such as the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, PKG Center, MIT D-Lab, and others, while not physically in the building, are connected to the hub through MIT’s thriving I&E ecosystem.
MIT InnovationHQ is the culmination of a process that began back in 2013 when President L. Rafael Reif commissioned MITii to “create a chain of new and existing spaces that would together create an infinite innovation corridor with a new innovation center”.
In the years since that indictment, MITii has worked with students, faculty, alumni, and staff to learn more about the needs of the MIT innovation community and to build physical and data infrastructure to meet those needs.
“There was clearly a need for extremely flexible space,” says Tim Miano, program director of the innovation initiative. “You need something like the Harry Potter Room of Requirement or the Star Trek Holodeck, where rooms can accommodate as many people as possible and everything can be rearranged to suit any activity. At the other end of the spectrum, there are rooms with very little flexibility that are used for private activities. “
MITii is hosting a number of welcome events to introduce students to the new space, including First Year Exploration Day, a career exploration event, an I&E resource summary open to all students, and more. But many of the experiences iHQ was built for will be less formal.
“We assume that the students have 24/7 access to the building, so some of the most interesting and exciting things can happen among the students at 2am,” says Miano.
If the space is used more regularly, MITii will listen to the community and consider ways to adjust or improve its operations.
In this respect, the building is operated according to the same principles as a startup, where founders have to listen to the pavement in order to meet customer needs.
“We all get involved in the innovation process in a number of ways by continuing to talk to people, strengthen the product, and build on feedback,” says Tyger. “All of this will really benefit the student experience.”