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VOL. 127 | NO. 242 | Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Crews Ventures Lab Close to 2013 Launch

By Andy Meek

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The University of Memphis’ Crews Ventures Lab program, a business start-up facilitator and incubator, is well on its way toward launching in 2013.

Already the program, which is still in the development stage, nearly has reached its $2 million fundraising goal. It’s also opening a dedicated space in August, which will provide a place for University of Memphis-based technology startups to be built and launched.

The building it’s renovating is the former Mason’s Lodge at Walker Avenue and Patterson Street. Once open, it will offer flexible office space, offices for investors and mentors, lab areas for prototype development, advanced technological systems and more.

The upstairs will be a co-working space. The whole thing will be designed with a view toward just the space alone fostering an atmosphere where creativity can flourish.

Its focus will be on university students, faculty and university-licensed technology. And it will be a place on the university campus, said Crews Ventures Lab manager Trish Kalbas-Schmidt, where “walls come down” and student visions are brought to life.

“We want a diversity of skill sets and personality types,” said Kalbas-Schmidt, who also talked about components of the lab such as educational programming possibly this spring and the possibility of experiential learning credits for students. “We want this to be a great place where, for example, business students can work with engineers.

“For us, the goal is students launching companies. But also, if they don’t launch a company, we’re still giving them incredible skill sets.”

Kalbas-Schmidt was hired in August as the lab’s manager. She has 10 years of marketing and community relations experience, as well as a background in business development.

The lab’s team also includes Dr. Kevin Boggs, assistant vice president of technology transfer at the university. Students and faculty “will work though a guided creativity process” to build and expand their ideas, Boggs said.

The lab is being positioned as a future nucleus of entrepreneurial culture at the university, as well as something that can enhance student experiences and support faculty research. It also will take its place alongside an expanding entrepreneurial ecosystem in Memphis that includes accelerators, incubators, mentors and investors all tailored to help some or multiple phases of the process.

Outside of the university’s walls, for example, the new Upstart Memphis initiative geared toward women entrepreneurs held its first 48 Hour Launch event last weekend designed to kick start women-owned startup ventures. And in February, the city will welcome the first “Everywhere Else Conference” that Nibletz is hosting for startups at The Peabody hotel.

Meanwhile, programs and services under development for the Crews Ventures Lab’s startups include an annual Triumph Bank Creativity and Innovation Boot Camp, free legal and accounting advisers, access to a network of entrepreneurs and investors, and a prototype shop.

The annual innovation boot camp was made possible by a five-year gift from Triumph Bank. That initiative will be held at the lab, with workshop training led by Dr. Greg Boller and Dr. Brian Janz, both faculty members of the university’s Fogelman College of Business and Economics.

Hilliard Crews, a university alumnus and member of the Society of Entrepreneurs, along with his wife, Harriet, invested $1 million in the lab project. It’s also named in their honor.

“They’ve been a huge part of this being launched,” said Kalbas-Schmidt.

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