In 2013, Virginia Tech Housing and Residence Life set out to fill a unique, vacant location with a new, driven and focused living-learning community. 

Innovate was created to fill this gap, an experimental program that provides opportunities for high-performing students to gain insights into the entrepreneurial process, interact with successful entrepreneurs, and learn from faculty and community partners with expertise in areas related to developing an entrepreneurial mindset.

Brett Langstaff of New Providence, N.J., a freshman finance major in the Pamplin College of Business, and current Innovate student, said that the first year of the new community truly has been a “startup of startups.” 

“As this is a brand new program, it has been necessary to organize a governance structure, plan events, set groundwork for the following years, and as always, pursue our entrepreneurial ideas,” said Langstaff.

During the fall semester, Langstaff joined the Innovate board of directors, a council of students in the program dedicated to organizing internal and external events, meeting with the faculty director, and encouraging entrepreneurship throughout the community. Approaching the end of year-one, the community is thriving.

Entrepreneurial spaces have opened their doors across Blacksburg, offering unique places for students to create, collaborate, and work to build big ideas into promising ventures.

Three years ago, Techpad, a technology focused co-working and hacker community, was established in downtown Blacksburg. In late 2011, the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology was founded, a university-level research institute positioned at the nexus of the arts, design, and engineering. The space functions as a collection of collaborative, transdisciplinary studios working together toward creating a one-of-a-kind environment for enacting change. 

In February 2014, Nuspark was founded as a multifaceted start-up resource connecting the New River and Roanoke valleys of Virginia with the goal of providing collaboration space for innovators with pre-launch projects. These spaces have lent themselves to forming a network of resources that the Innovate students are excited to use.  

Marc Junkunc, assistant professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business and faculty director of Innovate, has worked to facilitate an experiential approach to entrepreneurship. 

“There was a lot of work done by the students in setting up the internal organizational structure of the house and the house leadership itself," said Junkunc. "A lot of networking was also going on with the VT eClub and other organizations on campus, such as Pamplin Reinventing Social Media. The Innovate community also hosted several events throughout the semester and kicked off a movement of women in entrepreneurship at Virginia Tech.

“Several students are already involved in their own startups, both for profit and non-profit,” added Junkunc, “and many others are iterating through various ideas and stages of development, evaluating their entrepreneurial concepts.” 

This self-driven entrepreneurial spirit could be the most important thing to come out of the Innovate community. The educational process has become as much about true learning and self-discovery as it has about tests and grade point averages.

Bowei Zhao of Waterford, Conn., a sophomore majoring in University Studies, has already embraced this mindset as a first year Innovate student. 

“My entrepreneurial goals for the future would be to work on a few quick easy startups with my friends," said Zhao.  "These are mainly for the purpose of developing more team building skills, fail early and hard, and to add careful accounting into the mix.”

This is the model of behavior leaders of the Innovate house say they hope to replicate moving into the next academic year. The students form their own experiences, and by doing so, continue making a mark on Virginia Tech and creating a sustainable future and presence on campus.

Students interested in joining the Innovate community can apply online. For more information about the Innovate living-learning community, contact Matt Grimes, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life at 540-231-6205.

Written by Drew Knapp.

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