The Innovation Lab at Stony Brook University celebrated its anniversary last week, marking a year of discovery, exploration and technological advancement.

David Ecker, the brains behind the operation, brought the proposal to the attention of university deans about a year and a half ago. From there, the director of Research Technologies and Innovation decided to jumpstart a 3-D printing mission that would embody the characteristics of innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration.

“Manny London from the College of Business was really interested, and he had the space, and we started to collaborate,” Ecker, who deals with the lab’s day-to-day operations, said.

London, who is the dean of the College of Business, said he took an interest in the lab when he realized that its goals of entrepreneurship fit with those of the College of Business.

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“The Innovation Lab is a resource for students across the university who want to develop their business ideas,” London said. “It is associated with the College of Business’s Center for Innovation, directed by professor Gerrit Wolf.”

The lab encourages business students to work alongside students from other disciplines to expand their horizons, London said. Business students specifically benefit by having the opportunity to analyze market potential, test consumer reactions to beta versions of products, compare pricing models, find sources of financing, locate supplies and manufacturing operations and identify licensing opportunities.

“The lab runs on mostly donations and a very limited budget,” said Morgan Kelly, a senior technological systems management major. “The donations are a large part of what has kept us going, and we are always open to more.”

Kelly said that the lab has seen tremendous growth in the amount of tools and resources available to staff members.

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“Our diverse staff has grown as well, which is great because there is always at least one staff member that is very knowledgeable in a particular topic, tool or resource that can assist lab members,” she said.

Ecker’s hiring process involves selecting students from a variety of disciplines because he feels that this makes for better teamwork and allows for an influx of new ideas.

“Dave Ecker has bootstrapped the maker space with support from the Division of Information Technology, donated equipment and limited funding,” London explained. “The lab offers workshops to guide students in using the equipment and forming student teams to work on projects.”

Innovation Lab staff members pride themselves on creating prosthetics designed to help children without hands, and sound amplifiers which cost much less than those currently on the market.

“We custom-made a brace for somebody because we were able to take the dimensions of the hand and customize it for her wrist,” Ecker said. “We want to make this [project] available to as many people as possible from a prototype level.”

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The lab also sponsors pitch contests and brings entrepreneurial experts to campus. In the past, an intellectual property lawyer came in to discuss IP rights, a company vice president came in to talk about starting one’s own business and a math professor came in to discuss the use of vinyl cutters for 3-D sculptures.

In addition to experts coming in, the lab holds “Workshop Wednesdays” during Campus Lifetime, which vary from week to week and offer insight and instructions about certain skills, Kelly said. These workshops are open to both students and faculty.

“In the past we have provided workshops about marketing, Arduino, 3-D design, screen printing your own shirts, etc.,” she said. “This semester, we have a great lineup of workshops that cover a wide range of topics within fashion, wearable technology, media and architecture.”

Ecker said the program has been very successful, and the workshops have a turnout of anywhere between 20 to 40 students and faculty members.

“We’re showing a different technology, a different item and how to innovate it,” he said. “It’s a huge draw.”

Nancy Goroff, the associate provost for the integration of research, education and professional development, said that the Innovation Lab is key to bringing different people on campus together.

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“We want to get students from all areas of the university working together on creation of new enterprises, and we want them to have places they can meet and try out their ideas,” Goroff said.

She said the direct involvement of students in the Innovation Lab and in the management and design of those activities is the lab’s greatest strength.

“I am very excited about the progress and direction of the lab,” Kelly said. “The Innovation Lab is starting to become a recognizable name on campus, which is great. It is amazing to look back at pictures of the lab [in] 2014 and see an essentially empty space and then look at it today when it is filled with people of all different disciplines working on their projects and ideas.”

The lab is currently staffing a pop-up workshop station at the Health Sciences Library, offering information about innovation in the medical field as well as creative approaches toward medicine and patient care.

“I think the most interesting part of this whole process has been watching people with zero knowledge or experience in a particular topic or tool come into the lab to just experiment and end up leaving with a new skill,” Kelly said. “Anyone can be an innovator.”

Correction: Feb. 7, 2016

A previous version of this story erroneously reported that Morgan Kelly was a junior majoring in applied mathematics and statistics and technological systems management. Kelly is a senior technological systems management major.

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Featured image credit: Stony Brook University Innovation Lab 

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