What happens when you give kids—highly gifted in math and science—a state-of-the-art facility entirely dedicated to entrepreneurship? This could be the best-designed business incubator on the planet and the students are going to create real businesses here. Hey—this is too much fun! It sure doesn’t look like high school to me! Where did they put the usual long halls walled by the usual rows of lockers? Where are the standardized rigid rectangular classrooms?
This is IN2, the new entrepreneurship center at IMSA—the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy—the Statewide high school for the best and the brightest. It’s located near Chicago and students live on campus, as if attending a university four years too soon.
IMSA will host a big party and ribbon cutting for the new IN2 innovation space on the 30th of the month—that’s the 30th anniversary of the school’s founding. I had the unique opportunity to preview this amazing facility. Here’s a sneak peek:
IN2 at IMSA (Note the unique tables and ping pong net)
Britta McKenna is the Chief Innovation Officer here, and led the team that put this together. As I fumble to get my recorder going, I ask her how they pulled it off. Without any hesitation, she pours out an amazing story—so here it is, verbatim:
[First of all, I asked about the name—IN2. What does it mean?]
“Innovation and Inquiry. When people were in focus groups and asked about IMSA, those were the two words that came up over and over. So the company we worked with used Inquiry & Innovation as IN-IN. That’s why it’s called IN2. So you can say, ‘What are you IN2?’ It can be playful.”
Britta McKenna, Chief Innovation Officer
“The story actually goes back 10 years. It was decided an innovation hub would be built—a physical space and a virtual space.
“Three and a half years ago, we got a gift of one million dollars from Steve Chen to build the innovation center, so then the work really began.”
[Chen is an IMSA alum and co-founder of YouTube and AVOS. I asked Britta how they came up with such a wonderful design]
“I got tapped, as chief innovation officer, to figure out what this would be, what it would look like, how it would operate, how it would be funded. It would have to be a private revenue stream to support this.”
[ALERT—All you budget hawks. She’s talking private funding—and she’s got the corporate connections and alumni to do it.]
“So I brought along students to Silicon Valley—15 of them. We went through Chicago to spaces like Northwestern, IIT, University of Chicago, Fermilab, Argon, 1871, Private Industry Chicago, Next Door, and we also went out to Boston to visit MIT Media Lab, and other spaces out there, including artist colonies to be inspired to by what people were doing coast-to-coast in innovation spaces.”
Multi-use conference rooms
“That was a 2-year research project and included the students all the way. They worked in three teams—Developing Technology, Programming, and Facilities. They helped co-design the space, because they are the users, and too many times, we design things in a box outside of the users. So we implemented a user-designed thinking approach.”
“We went to Facebook, Google, Dropbox, AVOS, which is Steve Chen’s newest startup, WeWork, which is a co-working space, and Stanford’s StartX, so we literally have done our due diligence.
“And I asked, ‘What space gets used the most? What’s your favorite thing? And what did you do wrong?’
“It doesn’t mean that those things will all work here, but it’s likely that we might have success if somebody else already has. So we synthesized all of that and I became what is known as the ‘hashtag’ Super-User. And the Super-User is the one that funnels all of this information to the architects, because now it actually has to be designed.”
“We went to the community. We came together—58 of us—anyone from a Chicago Public School teacher to a city administrator with City of St. Charles. We got public, private, parents, past parents, teachers—everybody came together and literally built models of this space. We went through the design process with architects, we used Cordogan Clark in Aurora, and we built this—it took about a year to build from the time we broke ground and now we’re opening up.”
“So all the spaces here are influenced either by student ideas or places coast-to-coast that we visited. And so we’d probably say that we’re the first secondary school innovation center in Illinois, and dare we say the United States because we haven’t been able to find something like this. First-to-market is great for Illinois, great for Aurora, and puts IMSA on the map. We invite people to come in and see what we’ve built here.”
“This is really meant as a convening space. Innovation doesn’t happen unless there are people here. We learned from going coast-to-coast that you can have the coolest space ever, but if there’s nobody there, there’s no innovation happening. There’s nothing happening. It’s all about connecting people.”
“One of the biggest places we found is around food. So we have a built-in cafe around the corner because you want to meet somebody for a cup of coffee. You just want to have a casual conversation. You want to have a back-of-the-napkin sketch, that can happen there or it can happen in our idea bar.
“We have Idea Baristas that we’re training. They actually wear aprons, and will help people advance their ideas here. They’re all volunteers.”
We’ve got a mentoring office like 1871. We hope by the fall to have regular office hours. So I am a non-profit mentor. On Tuesdays from 4-6:00, I volunteer my time to mentor non-profits in the community. I can go to them. They can come to us.”
“Mike McCool, who’s an alum and a software engineer, wanted to donate and I said, ‘How ‘bout we get the McCool View?’ So he funded the beautiful windows that we have.”
The McCool View
“Our reach—about advancing the human condition—can, I think, really be actualized through this space. Not that we weren’t doing it—it just gives us that new front door. The space is just literally right by the front door.”
A huge competition between student startup companies— POWER PITCH—is going on here today. I’ll give you an inside look at that in the second article in this series.
Moises Goldman – Judge at POWER PITCH
I run into an old friend, Moises Goldman—angel investor, a big driver at MIT, and an important contributor at IMSA. Today he’s one of 17 judges at POWER PITCH. I ask him what he thinks of the new facility. Moises responds in his gentle, deliberate, and old-world manner, condensing his thoughts into a few words:
“I think it’s always been the desire to be in a type of space that recognized talented students. This is our recognition of these students. That makes a difference to me.”
Notable IMSA Alums
The school’s alumni reflect its excellence. Browse through a few:
Steve Chen – Co-founder/Chief Technology Officer of YouTube and AVOS. Early engineer at PayPal.
Steve Crutchfield – Chicago Trading Company. CBOE Advisory Board, Head of Options, ETPs, Bonds at NYSE Euronext. 2012 Crain’s Forty Under 40.
Dr. Julia Comerford – Astronomer. Discovered several supermassive black hole pairs—occurring in the merger of galaxies.
Dr. Scott Gaudi – Astronomer, discovered over a dozen new planets and a new solar system.
Nathan Gettings – Co-founder of Palantir. Founder of robotics company Robotex.
Also – http://www.robotex.com/
Ramez Naam – Software developer and international bestselling author. Developer at Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer projects.
Mike McCool – Software Engineer at Google, Robot Invader, Aechelon Technology, Netscape, and many others.
Rob McCool – Software developer and author. Developed the original NCSA Web server, later known as the Apache HTTP Server. Part of original NCSA Mosaic team with his twin brother Mike.
Tim Meyer, PhD – Chief Operating Officer, Fermilab
Yu Pan – Co-creator of PayPal and the first employee at You Tube. Co-founder of kid’s kraft company Kiwi Crate.
Dwan Prude – Financial Analyst, Boeing Company. Motivational speaker.
Russel Simmons – Co-founder of Yelp. Early developer at PayPal.
Clara Shih – Bestselling author, THE FACEBOOK ERA. Founder of Hearsay systems. In 2010, she was named one of most influential women in tech.
Kevin Wang – Founder of TL;DR Legal. Theil Foundation fellowship recipient.
Also – http://www.geekwire.com/2012/kevin-wang/
Sam Yagan – American internet entrepreneur. Co-founder of SparkNotes and OkCupid. CEO Match.com. Named in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world list.
Hope you enjoyed Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2
Read Part 2 – POWER PITCH
Go to Part 3 – INQUIRY & INNOVATION
IN2 Contact Info
Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506
Website – https://www.imsa.edu/
Carl Heine – email@example.com
Britta McKenna – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tami Armstrong – email@example.com
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