CU’s nLab breeds real-world innovation among all walks of students

February 21, 2013 •

Interdisciplinary thinking bolsters innovation. That’s the concept behind the University of Colorado Boulder’s new nLab, a mobile hub that allows students to develop their entrepreneurial ideas through peer and mentor-based collaboration, sustainability resources and other tools.

The free resource, launched last fall by CU-Boulder’s Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business, is designed to help students campus wide tap into communities beyond their academic spheres. The CU Environmental Center, an nLab partner, offers specialized support to integrate sustainability into student ideas.

The nLab supports cross-campus entrepreneurship curricula, the CU New Venture Challenge business plan competition and individuals who want to explore ideas.

“You don’t have to be a business major to think like an entrepreneur,” said Costa Raptis, a junior in geography at CU-Boulder. “You just have to be driven and have a versatile mind and kind of know what you’re after.”

Raptis, who’s interested in cultural anthropology and marketing, is exploring his idea -- a talent agency that operates without a traditional hierarchy -- using the nLab. He’s been paired through nLab with an employee-owned solar company for mentorship.

Other student ideas that have been brought to the nLab are a cosmetic line and a job-search website called Startups 2 Students, which matches students with position openings at unique companies.

The nLab includes a website where users can post ideas and browse existing projects. It also hosts weekly co-working sessions on campus and provides a mobile kiosk intended to spark both planned and impromptu meetings, and to serve as a workspace. Faculty also can enlist nLab.

“I’m beginning to use nLab as an additional tool to give my students a safe, welcoming and helpful place to apply course material to ideas of their own and others,” said Eben Johnson, a CU-Boulder lecturer in the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program. “The value of nLab is that it’s for the whole campus. From music to biology, history and finance, great ideas for new products and services are found everywhere.”

Johnson teaches an undergraduate and graduate-level course called Marketing and High-Tech Ventures. Each semester, his students conceptualize new ideas from lithium ion batteries for cell phones to algae nutritional supplements, and nLab will be a resource for such projects, he said.

Other campus supporters of nLab are CU’s Technology Transfer Office; the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship; the Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society, or ATLAS; and the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program.