It’s been said that all achievements, all riches have their beginning in an idea. This week, members of the City Council had the chance to peek at a laboratory where ideas forming at UC Merced can grow into enterprises that may, one day, contribute back to the community.
Known as the Venture Lab, the business incubator, which opened this semester, is helping students turn their ideas into tangible plans through entrepreneurial coaching and market research.
During a tour of the lab Monday, City Council members spoke with student entrepreneurs, watch a presentation and test out the furniture.
Peter Schuerman, associate vice chancellor for research and economic development for UC Merced, said having an idea for a business is not enough. Students need to do the research to find out if anyone cares about the idea.
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The lab could help develop new firms and improve the local economy. “We think it’s very important that the taxpayer gets a return on their investment into the university,” he said.
The City Council agreed last year to lease the 5,951-square-foot space to UC Merced for $1 per year for five years with an option for an additional five years. The city-owned building at 1735 N. M St. had been empty for at least five years, according to city staff.
We think it’s very important that the taxpayer gets a return on their investment into the university.
Peter Schuerman, associate vice chancellor for research and economic development for UC Merced
The council, university staff and students mingled Monday around the desks that make up a large part of the site, which also features conference rooms and lounge space.
Councilman Mike Murphy noted that upgrades that have been made by the university will stay with the building even if the lab decides to vacate the site in the future.
The university put $1.4 million into the design and construction of the Venture Lab as well as for equipment and furniture, according to spokeswoman Patti Waid.
Schuerman said colleges traditionally show students how to find a good job or go on to graduate school, but the lab serves as a third option for students looking to set up their own businesses.
Although startups commonly fail, he said, nurturing them creates a more fertile environment for industries in general. It’s what he called the “economic ecosystem.”
The Small Business Development Center, a UC Merced-based program that provides consulting, training and other resources for current and prospective small-business owners, also is in the building.
According to Venture Lab staff, the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps and VentureLab at Georgia Tech are aspirations for what the Merced lab could become.
Merced Mayor Stan Thurston has said the Venture Lab could invigorate the city’s economy.
Many universities have an incubator of one form or another. According to Venture Lab staff, the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps and VentureLab at Georgia Tech are aspirations for what the Merced lab could become.
When UC Merced opened in 2005, it came with the promise of economic growth in the city. Leaders have since looked at ways to prevent a “brain drain,” which happens when the best and brightest leave the community once they’ve earned their degrees.
Michael Urner, 25, a UC Merced student from Clovis, said he has been part of a team using the lab to help them develop better hospital equipment as a way to reduce infections.
The lab, he said, allows him to connect with other enterprising students who can help each other with problem solving. “It (gets) all these people together to try to get something to market,” he said.
As Schuerman says it: “None of us are as smart as all of us.”