Ohio University’s small business incubator, the Innovation Center, has fostered more than 300 companies that have created more than 3,000 jobs in southeastern Ohio since its inception in 1983. In addition to providing entrepreneurs with space and services to grow their ideas into successful businesses, the incubator also provides rich and unique hands-on learning experiences to Ohio University undergraduates.
Students in majors ranging from business and biology to engineering and communications can find paid internships at the business incubator, in areas such as business operations and marketing as well as 3D printing and biotechnology work.
“The benefits to students are many. They learn new skills, develop a broader professional network, glean professional workplace best practices, and bolster their professional work experience,” said Stacy Strauss, director of the Innovation Center. “They also have the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge garnered in the classroom while currently enrolled.”
Ohio University students get a chance to work in the fast-paced world of startup companies, interacting with entrepreneurs nurturing ventures in areas such as biotechnology, drug development, information technology, and environmentally sustainable products.
At Ohio University's small business incubator, undergraduates Hailee Sorensen, Jimmy Clark and Josie Gogel (from left to right) have worked in positions related to their academic majors. (Photo credit: Ben Siegel/Provided by Innovation Center)
Hailee Sorensen, a biological sciences major in the Honors Tutorial College, had worked in a university research lab and was intrigued by an opportunity to pursue an internship in the biotechnology industry so close to campus. She accepted a PACE position with Innovation Center client InfinixBio, where she worked on two projects that allowed her to diversify her technical expertise.
“I was able to build on my research skills, but also was able to learn about the ‘business’ side of research, which I had not been previously exposed to,” she said, adding, “This experience gave me invaluable exposure to another career path that I might someday pursue.”
Jimmy Clark, an engineering technology and management major in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, appreciated an opportunity to translate skills learned in the classroom to a real-world business environment at the Innovation Center. Clark is a student designer for the center’s Additive Manufacturing Lab, which features 3D printers. The student helps inventors and entrepreneurs visually realize product ideas, turning his computer drawings into 3D printed prototypes.
“One of the most important skills that working at the Innovation Center has given me is being able to adapt to changing situations,” Clark said. “Since our clients’ ideas are not concrete, there have been many different occasions where they change their mind on the appearance or the functionality of their product midway through the designing process. This requires me to make quick changes to the product so that we can still deliver the prototype to the client in a timely manner, giving me real working experience that is different from my engineering courses.”
Russ College of Engineering and Technology student Jimmy Clark, at right, helps clients visualize their product ideas in the Additive Manufacturing Lab. (Photo credit: Ben Siegel)
Josie Gogel, a marketing major in the College of Business, has assisted with the incubator’s communications and marketing efforts, but also worked directly for Innovation Center client company Nature’s Magic, which produces plant-based, non-toxic cleaning products.
Gogel reorganized the company website, managed social media accounts, developed an inventory tracking database, created marketing materials and handled sales calls.
“In her time with Nature’s Magic, Josie has made a positive and substantial impact on my company’s growth,” said company owner Danielle Young.
Gogel appreciated learning about the challenges and opportunities early-stage companies face.
“Working at the Innovation Center has been an exceptional experience,” she said. “I will apply the skills I’ve learned throughout my professional career.”
Josie Gogel, a student in the College of Business, has helped the Innovation Center and one its clients promote and market their products and services. (Photo credit: Ben Siegel)
Nature’s Magic is one of many companies that have benefited from employing Ohio University students,Strauss noted.
“Clients have hired students for tasks that have completely changed the course of their company’s development,” Strauss said. “For example, clients utilize student research to choose the correct first path to market based on data. Clients have also been able to take on their first customer as a result of a ready student workforce that eliminates delays in production or product delivery.”
Innovation Center clients have been so impressed with Ohio University interns that approximately 90 percent of the students have been offered continued employment with the companies, Strauss said.
The internships have paved the way for employment opportunities beyond Athens as well. Students have credited their experiences at the Innovation Center for helping them land jobs at companies such as Whirlpool, Ogilvy & Mather, and Gartner, Strauss said. And some former interns were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and launched their own businesses.
For more information about the Ohio University Innovation Center, visit www.ohio.edu/innovation.