Filling the void left behind by the closure of the RadioShack at 730 Commonwealth Ave. is the new Boston University BUild Lab, a center for student innovation and entrepreneurship. Despite the new, unfamiliar facade, students are encouraged to step inside when it opens its doors to all members of the BU community on Feb. 5.
As part of the Innovate@BU initiative that was announced in November, the BUild Lab’s mission is to provide workshops, mentorships and resources to students across all disciplines to pursue projects they are passionate about.
Executive Director of Innovate@BU Gerald Fine said in a phone interview that he does not want any student to be hesitant about walking into the BUild Lab and finding out more about it. He said the center serves as a tool for students to turn their ideas into something impactful.
“Think about the untapped creative capability of our student body alone and then multiply it by however many universities there are in this country,” Fine said. “The capability to equip our students to solve problems with innovative solutions would seem to be a core responsibility of educators.”
BU President Robert Brown wrote in an email to The Daily Free Press that the university invested in the BUild Lab to provide an outlet for students to create a path to the future through creating new enterprises and solving societal problems.
“The BUild Lab will give our students a set of resources that will build their skills at solving complex problems and practice their creativity,” Brown wrote. “I am very hopeful that the Lab and all our efforts at Innovate@BU will serve our students’ ambitions.”
The BUild Lab evolved from the extracurricular entrepreneurship education center known as the BUzz Lab, founded and directed by senior lecturer Ian Mashiter. Mashiter, now director of the BUild Lab, said in a phone interview that the BUzz Lab proved a need for this kind of center on campus.
Mashiter said entrepreneurial skills are important for students to develop regardless of the career field a student pursues after graduation.
“If you look at the jobs our students are going into, employers are expecting our students not to sit in a corner and not show any initiative,” Mashiter said. “They’re looking for employees who want to solve problems, who’ve got a mindset to go out and solve problems, and a mindset about being creative about that.”
Fine said there are many different approaches students may choose to take when developing an innovative project.
“Regardless of whether students want to run startups or create ventures or just be innovative and entrepreneurial in larger companies, we think they need to have these skills before they leave here.” Fine said.
College of Communication junior Hali Letlow said she thinks the BUild Lab is an exciting addition to BU. She said it is important to support innovation on university campuses, especially for students who would not have access to resources and technology otherwise.
“You want to encourage your students to have new ideas and to create things,” Letlow said. “I think that’s a theme that relates to every student no matter if they’re an engineer, if they’re in COM, innovation is something that’s really exciting for everyone.”
Innovate@BU Director of Research and Curriculum Siobhan O’Mahony said in a phone interview that in her research, she found that most students spend a majority of their time within their schools. O’Mahony said the BUild Lab is one way the university aims to promote collaboration among disciplines.
“As a scholar of innovation, the one thing we know is that the best ideas come from [the] recombination of existing ideas,” O’Mahony said. “The BUild Lab is neutral face. It doesn’t belong to any discipline, it belongs to all students at BU.”
O’Mahony said that while pursuing a career after college, the costs of failure become much greater. Because of this, she said she hopes the BUild Lab becomes an environment where students are not afraid to take risks and fail.
“We need to make sure that the people we graduate are not afraid to tackle big problems,” O’Mahony said.
Several BU students said the BUild Lab seems like a helpful resource for students to benefit from the resources it provides.
College of Engineering senior Thompson Cragwell said the BUild Lab has potential, but not many students know about it.
“I feel like it’s a really good idea, but [it] probably could use more exposure since it kind of came out of nowhere,” Cragwell said. “The fact that it’s there is very useful because there are a lot of things that schools don’t have, and I feel like this is kind of unique to BU.”
College of Arts and Sciences freshman Samantha Casey said she could see herself using the BUild Lab to pursue her own initiatives.
“I’m a neuroscience major and I’m interested in doing research,” Casey said. “I feel like it would be helpful to go there to kind of get an idea of what I can do to start on that research.”