As Dalhousie unveils the $64-million revitalization of its Sexton Campus, research and innovation is front-and-centre.
Take, for example, the new Emera ideaHUB — an advanced incubator space designed to help hardware-focused early stage startups with a Dal connection (faculty, student, alumni, etc.) become investment ready.
Up to 12 companies will be hosted in the space at a time for up to a year and they will have guided access to prototyping facilities as well as programming for business development.
“That’s where we’re going to focus our efforts: companies that need help developing a prototype, that minimally viable product that they could take and develop investment from,” says Clif Johnston, a faculty member and academic director of ideaHUB (which is set to open in winter 2019).
Community and collaboration
Dr. Johnston, who has run the provincially funded IDEA Sandbox on Sexton Campus for a few years now, says the vision for ideaHUB is to help bridge the gap between discovery stage programming at Dal (like the sandboxes and the Faculty of Management’s Launch Dal programming) and more growth-oriented accelerators like Dal-hosted CDL-Atlantic or Volta.
“There are a number of possible paths a company can take and now there is support all along these paths to get you from the idea stage all the way to growing into a company operating and exporting,” says Dr. Johnston, who will oversee program development and any staff helping manage the space.
When it officially gets up and running early next year, the open-concept hub will include flexible work spaces as well as small enclosed technical rooms, including a 3D printing room, an electrical building and testing room, and a mechanical assembly room with basic tools.
There will also be a so-called ‘hot seat’ space that will enable community partners, from business mentors to reps from Dal’s Industry Liaison and Innovation (ILI) office and others, to drop by and advise companies. Two flexible rooms on the main floor can also be used by ideaHUB companies if they are looking to pitch to investors in a more professional setting.
Dr. Johnston says the new facilities should help Dal tap into the pent-up demand among students and others for such resources.
“It’s huge. This may be in part what we’ve been able to do curricularly and adding in new design experiences and opportunities, but there’s a lot of students who are really interested in this,” he says.
In addition to the ideaHUB, Dal’s revitalization of its Sexton Campus also includes new labs and research facilities in existing buildings on campus, helping advance research and development (R&D) and commercialization efforts in critical economic sectors such as clean tech, ocean tech, and advanced manufacturing.
One critical aspect of these upgrades has been the addition of more space.
“With the hub, we’ve been able to set up a new motion-capture system,” says Zipeng Huang, a PhD student working on research related to the use of robotics in the ocean and other unexplored spaces.
He says researchers used to have to do such testing (for use in developing drones, for instance) off site, but the Ocean Technology Hub has brought more of the work into one unified space.
Not far away is the upgraded Advanced Manufacturing Hub. First arriving at Dal in 2015, PhD student Mark Amegadzie has seen the difference the transformation has made.
“There’s more space between the machines, and we now have enough room to store our samples,” says Amegadzie, whose research focuses on processing materials to simulate aluminum parts for use in automotive or aerospace applications.
In keeping with the hub idea, he says some machines previously located in a separate room are now all in the same space.
“This is a significant improvement from where we used to be.”
Just as the hub provides more space for researchers, it also houses infrastructure that supports Dal’s world-leading researchers in the development of environmentally sustainable industrial process for manufacturing advanced materials — a reflection of the IDEA Project’s sustainability focus more broadly.
With these upgraded research hubs easily accessible from all floors of the new Emera IDEA Building (via steel walkways on the upper levels and the ground floor below), Dal’s research experts will be closer than ever to the startups that may need development help in a particular area.
“All the researchers are right there, so we’ll be looking to facilitate those relationships as well,” says Dr. Johnston.
And with student workspaces along the corridors outside the ideaHUB and on the second floor, there’s also a greater chance for students not directly involved in the entrepreneurial action to slip into the mix.
“We want more of that hands-on design experience for our students and more exploration and innovation,” says Dr. Johnston. “And now there are all these other opportunities for students who really want to dive deep into it and help drive innovation at Dal and in the region.”
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