Jonathan Moore is the Management Information Systems Academic Director for the University of Connecticut School of Business’ Operations and Information Management (OPIM) program.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with Jon about OPIM Innovate, an initiative started by the OPIM department.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background about OPIM Innovate.
JONATHAN MOORE: We built an innovation initiative and officially opened our doors October 2017. The idea of OPIM Innovate is to bring emerging technology skills into the hands of UConn students, faculty, and staff. The goal is to create an innovation hub—almost like an on-campus makerspace—where they can ideate their tech ideas.
NAN: And how are you doing that?
JON: Within our department we built out an Innovation Space and a research lab dedicated to helping people learn technology outside of the core curriculum.
We started with a few objectives. The first was to create a comfort level around technology for students majoring in Management Information Systems (MIS). That was challenging because many students gravitate toward more non-technical aspects like finance and accounting simply because they’re afraid of the tech aspects of what we do. So, I wanted to encourage them early on.
We began by hosting workshops, getting people in the space, and basically showing them—this is cool stuff and you can do it too. Really creating that level of empowerment. It expanded quickly from there.
I’m also the faculty advisor of UConn’s Information Management Association student club. We meet with a lot of industry partners, many of which are out of Hartford, and they try to recruit out of our major. Students were voicing their concerns about companies expecting them to know things surrounding tech they weren’t really being taught.
Curriculum takes a while to change. So, we created a space and provided students with equipment and resources and developed a structure for them to start learning skills on their own. Because many students want to learn more about tech, but they don’t always know where to start.
So that was the second part objective, which kind of opened my eyes. And then the third was, at the same time we opened OPIM Innovate we launched our Analytics minor. It started to grow traction even outside the School of Business.
The minor attracted more than 100 students, more than half of whom are outside the School of Business. We’re getting students majoring in History, Economics, Political Science, Biology, and English who want to learn how to use analytic tools within their discipline.
We quickly realized we could use the space to create better more diverse interdisciplinary-type teams. For that purpose, we kept it open for anybody.
NAN: You mentioned the space is for faculty and staff too. In what ways are they engaging?
JON: We have faculty that comes to our workshops. Last spring, we hosted an introduction to virtual reality programming program that was attended by a number of faculty from the Connecticut Transportation Institute. They had just gotten a grant to build out a virtual reality simulation experience and none of them knew how to get started! We were able to network with them and provide some ideas and consulting.
NAN: It must be great for them to have this resource.
JON: OPIM Innovate started with five initial tracks of tech: 3D printing, data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), microcontrollers, and virtual reality.
We provide several different services. Our two-hour Friday workshops were the first thing we offered. Initially we brought in faculty who were working on some type of emerging tech.
Since then, we’ve been partnering with a lot of startups and small companies—hopefully we’ll partner with larger companies soon—to bring in industry experts, talk about tech, and provide a hands-on component.
NAN: How are you finding the startups?
JON: A few different ways. A lot has been me reaching out to different groups in the startup space and asking if they want to come and do something at UConn. It’s a lot of LinkedIn networking as a starting point. Or some of the students and adjunct faculty I’ve worked with have connections.
For example, this semester we brought in Candoo drones. It was a natural connection. Co-founder Ian Harrington came in and talked about drones in business and we brought the whole workshop outside to engage with a fleet of drones.
NAN: Very cool! Let’s go back to talking about the resources.
JON: Sure. I have a team of student lab specialists who oversee the day-to-day operations at the Innovation Space. It’s good because it’s more of a mentor/peer/advisor-type system we’ve built. We do daily demonstrations around projects and topics students have been working on show the tech application.
We also provide two walk-in services. One is for students who have projects, so they can stop in if they’re working on a something for a hackathon or a case competition. Or, sometimes we partner classes with faculty who will bring in their entire class and do some type of tech-based activity.
And then we also have what we call walk-in Tech Kits, which are 30- to 60-minute self-contained, self-paced activities to scaffold learning an emerging tech. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced activities.
For instance, someone who’s never 3D printed and wants to learn can do a beginner 3D printing Tech Kit. They’ll work with a student lab specialist and go through step-by-step instructions. It’s empowering for someone who’s never 3D printed something to accomplish something in less than an hour.
NAN: As students are ideating and creating different things, are any of them considering taking their ideas and launching their own startups? Are any of the students entrepreneurial driven?
JON: To some degree. Our goal is to give students skills, resources, and space. We’re collaborating with UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI), which has several programs. We’re building out that ecosystem and trying to provide a makerspace environment as a resource or a starting point for entrepreneurs to test their project. We can then guide them toward a few different paths for funding, etc. It’s likely they could participate in a different program, such as Innovation Quest.
NAN: What’s next for OPIM Innovate?
JON: We’re looking to continue finding internal and external partnerships. Right now, we’re only limited by space and resources, so the initiative and ideals behind it can be expanded to include several different disciplines. We have a number of larger projects scheduled in the spring as well as plans to investigate partnerships within our School of Engineering.
Learn more about the Department of Operations and Information Management (OPIM) at the University of Connecticut
Learn more about OPIM Innovate