Ideas get greased at NCSU's 'Garage'

Staff WriterSeptember 11, 2010 

Everyone has heard about the entrepreneurs who got started in a garage. Well, N.C. State University is looking forward to the day when people are buzzing about the cool new venture that got started in The Garage.

The Garage, you see, is a new 2,000-square-foot incubator space for student entrepreneurs outfitted for the university by Linux software company Red Hat.

The Garage's eight rooms include three lab spaces - mechanical, electrical and woodworking - for creating prototypes. To foster collaboration, most of the rooms are covered with whiteboards, and there are also three Smart Boards, which essentially are electronic whiteboards. And don't forget the kitchenette.

"We want this to be a 24/7 place, so you have to have a refrigerator and a microwave," said Tom Miller, director of the university's Entrepreneurship Initiative, which is operating the space. The mission of the initiative, formed in July 2008, is to foster entrepreneurship among students - no matter what department they're enrolled in.

The thinking is that sparks will fly when entrepreneurial-minded students with different areas of expertise work side by side at The Garage.

"Everybody's got ideas," said Miller. "It seems creativity really happens when people with ideas get together ... and people from different disciplines get together.

Miller didn't have to put on the hard sell to convince Red Hat to sponsor TheGarage.

"We really want to foster innovation in our community," said DeLisa Alexander, senior vice president of people and brand at the software company.

"We have a long history of partnerships with N.C. State. When they came to us, I don't think we hesitated at all."

Alexander declined to say how much Red Hat spent on The Garage, which is just a few minutes' walk from Red Hat's corporate headquarters on Centennial Campus.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for Monday morning, but about 10 students already have begun using the space after having their applications accepted.

Among them is Andrew Misenheimer, 22, a graduate student in electrical engineering.

On Friday afternoon, his 1998 Honda motorcycle was parked in the mechanical lab, where he is working on a proto type for an electricsupercharger for souping up motorcycle engines. Misenheimer says his supercharger will be safer than existingoptions.

When he first heard about The Garage, his immediate reaction was: "How can I get involved?"

"I can't park this in my apartment because I have three other roommates who would be really mad if this was in my living room," he said.

The Entrepreneurship Initiative sees The Garage as the first step to a much larger "living-learning complex" for student entrepreneurs. The hoped-for 20,000-square-foot building is in the design stage, which would be followed by the hard part: raising millions of dollars from the private sector.

"This hopefully we be a proof of concept that allows people to understand what the vision is," Alexander said.

david.ranii@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4877

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