The director of the Shoemaker Innovation Center at Indiana University says while the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for innovation, it will ultimately create opportunities for student entrepreneurs. Travis Brown says the whole notion of entrepreneurship is about learning how to be resourceful. “And this is yet one more constraint that has been imposed on these student entrepreneurs and they’re learning how to adjust to that, as all businesses are in this uncertain climate.”
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Brown said there are going to be challenges for anyone looking to launch something when the economy is uncertain.
“A student launching an invention or a startup is going to be no different in that respect, so they’re having those struggles alongside any other entrepreneur, whether it be student or otherwise,” said Brown. “The challenge that exists for a student entrepreneur is oftentimes, they’re significantly less experienced. Perhaps they don’t have the same network; oftentimes they don’t. They’re just having to change the way they build teams, change the way they vet their ideas in the market.”
The Shoemaker Innovation Center is home to The Shoebox, a student startup incubator. Brown says the programs offered through the center and incubator pre-pandemic are now more important than ever for student entrepreneurs.
“Now, students really need that support. They really need the infrastructure to help them along on this entrepreneurial journey,” said Brown. “Even though it was, according to most students, valuable before, now it’s really indispensable to have a community that will give them the support they need to see their idea through.”
All of the programming planned at the center for the end of the spring, summer and fall semesters this year was moved online, including speakers, courses taught through the Luddy School, and innovation challenges.
Brown says initially, the students thought the programming would end when the pandemic began, but since everything has moved online, the feedback has been positive.
“They’ve not only been very appreciative, but they’ve reported that they’re getting almost as much value out of the programs as they did when we were meeting in person. I really attribute that to what I’ve said about incubators as long as I’ve been around them that an incubation program isn’t about the space; it’s about the program and it’s about the network that you build and as long as the programs are strong and the network exists, then we can operate with or without space.”
Despite the positive feedback, Brown says the students are keen on returning to in-person interactions as soon as possible. He says now that the remote operations have been established, he plans to move forward with more programming.
“If anything has changed over this time, it’s been that we were in the midst of launching a lot of new programs and all that had to take a backseat to just continuing our operations online. And now that things have settled down a bit, I look to launch additional programs and continue to work with the students as we have been.
Brown says there are going to be challenges for anyone looking to launch something when the economy is uncertain.