Quad Innovation Partnership Opens Up Opportunities for Students and Community
Jacob Eichengreen gets excited when a plan comes together. In fact, it’s actually his job to connect dots, strike up conversations, and match resources with ideas. Eichengreen is executive director for the Quad Innovation Partnership, a joint initiative between the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community College, the United States Air Force Academy, and Colorado College. He’s spent months digging in to the Colorado Springs community and building a set of programs that connects students with opportunities to implement new ideas, with the goal of integrating recent graduates into the Colorado Springs workforce. Now, he says, it’s time for action.
Applications just opened for the Quad’s signature Summer Intensive. The intensive will run the month of June and is open to current students and recent alumni from the four partner institutions, with preference given to rising juniors and seniors. Ten students from each school will be selected for the opportunity to build, test, and validate a commercially viable solution to some of Colorado Springs’ “most gripping problems” as identified by city and industry leaders. Submitted problems range from homelessness and food insecurity to the implementation of new technologies in a business context. Participants choose which problem they find most interesting to work on and will work in cross-campus teams to realize their ideas.
The program will be facilitated by Air Force Academy faculty with support from Eichengreen, but most actual teaching will be done by members of the community. For example, a unit on design thinking will be led by a premier design-thinking consultant from the area. Other units that touch on marketing, feasibility analysis, branding, fundraising, and legal will all be taught by local experts. The end result is an opportunity for students to learn step-by-step what it takes to bring an idea out into the marketplace from some of the region’s most compelling practitioners. Interested students can attend an information session: Thursday, March 30, 4 p.m. at the CC Career Center.
The summer intensive isn’t the only thing that excites Eichengreen or the community about the partnership.
“The most exciting thing about this partnership is the range of opportunities that I’ve come across; the breadth of opportunities that are right here is awesome,” he says. The partnership’s mission focuses on students from the four participating institutions, working to elevate, educate, and create innovators in Colorado Springs. The elevate component focuses on events programming and celebrating the opportunities for innovation in Colorado Springs, and the four institutions. Educate specifically involves developing skills and providing hands-on opportunities for students through workshops and classes, and offering ways for the students to engage with the broader community. The create component encompasses just about everything else, says Eichengreen.
“That could mean opportunities for students to serve as project-based consultants in the community. The Air Force Academy, for example does problem-solving work with the IndyGive campaign, and has offered their framework to the Quad to create a way for students to earn payment for their work. It’s work that can be lower-risk than an internship, because it’s just for one project. It provides students portfolio development and can offer transitional opportunities for newer alumni, lowering the barrier for entry to smaller for-profits and nonprofits.”
But that’s just one example. Eichengreen doesn’t want the partnership to be limited by a strict definition of innovation. “We’re really trying to be responsive to needs and opportunities,” he says of developing programming. “We have a framework, but it’s flexible. If students are passionate about something, we want to build that in — homelessness, robotics, bitcoin, take your pick on the socioeconomic spectrum. Because our community is smaller, opportunities to get involved at a meaningful level are way more abundant here.” He says innovation can be anything that turns ideas into “valuable action.”
Here, in the Pikes Peak Region, Eichengreen says, there are numerous opportunities to practice innovation professionally, and they’re more accessible here than they might be in other parts of the country. He lists several local organizations off the top of his head that are leading the way locally: “Innovations in Aging is located here, for example, translating cutting-edge research in aging from a research group at UCCS into real-world action; there’s the Olympic sports and outdoor infrastructure; the National Cybersecurity Center; food justice – at least two CC grads are making tremendous waves in food equity, translating waste into plenty and disrupting the food distribution system; and the city itself is looking for new ways to deliver better services, be more agile, and be more responsible with limited funds.” With so many opportunities, Eichengreen says, it’s hard to focus the program because there’s so much happening.
The Quad Partnership is putting the finishing touches on its own dedicated space, a 2,000-square-foot facility right downstairs from Loyal Coffee on the south side of downtown Colorado Springs. “One component is an open workspace, accessible to students, faculty, and staff from our participating institutions to use in a way that’s beneficial,” says Eichengreen. “We have the capability to host art installations, or performance showcases, anything that doesn’t have a home on campus or would benefit by immersion in community. This becomes a neutral, third-party space where the partner campuses and broader community can interact and build relationships. Celebrate the grand opening Wednesday, April 19, 5-7 p.m. at 408 S. Nevada.
He says local and alumni-founded companies can use it as a test marketplace or a space to conduct student, alumni, or faculty-based research. “One week, we could have a demonstration of the national winner of the search-and-rescue robot competition that PPCC did last year; over the holidays, we can host a pop-up retail shop; and if there’s sufficient demand,” he says of the possibilities. There are so many areas in which innovation can be applied and practiced. I hope our space will be compelling, cool, fun to be around, and contribute broadly to applying new thinking and turning ideas into valuable action in our community.”