An innovation movement is burgeoning in the City of Los Angeles — and California State University, Northridge is at the vanguard.
A major partner of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), and the only university-based LACI satellite, CSUN is the largest single contributor of events for InnovateLA — a countywide celebration of innovation and creativity in the region hosted by a plethora of organizations. These events include: coding challenges, “mini-hackathons,” a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, a faculty-focused Virtual and Augmented Reality Exploration (VARx) event, a networking and presentation event by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), the fourth annual Art of Innovation conference, Sustainability Day and the Phenomenal Woman Awards. CSUN is also a stakeholder in the grand opening event on Oct. 7 for the La Kretz Innovation Campus in Downtown Los Angeles.
As the city works to bring visibility and resources to the numerous innovative and entrepreneurial enterprises in the region, CSUN is doing the same for the campus community. CSUN Innovates!, is a university initiative currently being developed by a group of CSUN faculty, staff, alumni and administrators. It aims to stimulate increased innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship among students, faculty, staff, alumni and the greater community.
Doing so requires identifying and empowering individuals who may not call themselves “innovators” or “entrepreneurs,” although they do innovative work in their respective fields. And according to Julia Potter, Director for Strategic Partnerships and Special Initiatives, there’s no lack of innovation going on at CSUN.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship is embedded into the mission and vision of CSUN,” Potter said. “It’s found everywhere on campus, in all fields, and doesn’t only apply to those in business. It’s essential to a liberal arts education that teaches critical thinking and problem solving.”
Kevin Randolph, Executive Director of LACI@CSUN, said the university’s openness to new ideas has led to tangible results in innovation and entrepreneurship. Since the LACI satellite was established at CSUN in 2014, the campus has hosted a variety of collaborative and interdisciplinary innovation activities: The Bull Ring new venture competition; mobile app competition AppJam; new venture pitch competition FastPitch; and the Breakthrough Breakfast Series, as well as meetings taking place all over campus focused on spurring innovation.
“When I came here I was extraordinarily impressed by the energy and enthusiasm on campus, particular from the leadership that President Dianne F. Harrison has provided in pushing the university to evolve so students can be successful,” Randolph said. “What we are promoting is experiential learning in the student environment. We want students to be ready for the real world and immediately productive turning ideas into commercial applications.”
Potter said the demographic and characteristics of CSUN students in particular go hand in hand with innovation in applied learning and research.
“Innovation is in our DNA,” Potter said. “We are a highly diverse campus with a lot of low-income, historically underrepresented and first-generation students who have to innovate in order to succeed. However, a lot of folks don’t realize that the dream of becoming entrepreneurs is not limited to people with means.”
Potter hopes that adding innovation language into university discourse will help all community members feel comfortable taking on an entrepreneurial identity and to take ownership of their work as innovative.