If you haven’t been on Wichita State’s campus for a couple of semesters, this will be new to you: the university’s vision for an Innovation Campus has taken on shape and heft – a look and feel all its own, with a composite personality replete with the individual traits of its first tenants and partners, yet one that’s Shocker all the way.
IMAGINE you’re standing at the southeastern corner of campus, where Oliver and 17th streets meet, looking north. Depending on when you last stood here, the image that comes to mind might be of golfers and the trees and greens of Braeburn Golf Course. Today, that view has gone the way of even older views of Wichita State’s main campus atop Fairmount Hill, which in the late 1890s and into the early years of the 20th century featured grounds with rows of recently planted trees and a single building – Fairmount Hall – surrounded by fields.
Go ahead and walk west on 17th Street toward Hillside, which still serves as the campus’ western boundary. You don’t have to go far before you come to Innovation Boulevard, a key artery leading north into the heart of the Innovation Campus.
The first big structure you’ll see along this new boulevard, just to the west, is the three-story, 143,000-square-foot Experiential Engineering Building (EEB), home to 25 hands-on learning laboratories for the College of Engineering and multiple other partnership entities, including the community makerspace GoCreate, a Koch Collaborative, Youth Entrepreneurs (YE), WSU Ventures, Dassault Systèmes, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence and the 3DEXPERIENCE Center, part of WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research, developed in partnership with Dassault Systèmes.
Each entity plays a specialized role in aiding industry, the community and Wichita State faculty, staff and students in the development and commercialization of new ideas.
“The Innovation Campus – I’m jealous of it,” says Seth Konkel ’05, a successful entrepreneur and owner of ILUSION Productions, an event services company based in Haysville, Kan. “I mean, I wish it would have been here when I was a student. I think the Innovation Campus is ingenious in providing people the tools to make change.”
Konkel, who studied entrepreneurship and marketing at Wichita State, is an alumnus of Youth Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit organization that got its start in Wichita in 1991 when Charles and Liz Koch began an eight-week business education and entrepreneurship program and “experiential adventure” for students in high school. The program was eventually expanded into a yearlong, accredited course, and today’s YE has a national reach – with its Central Region offices housed in the EEB.
“Since we moved to the Innovation Campus,” says Ashley Scheideman ’08, executive director of YE’s Central Region, “the energy that the staff absorbs from being here is incredible. And when we bring students, teachers, volunteers and donors on campus, they feel the energy, too. It’s a feeling of openness and collaboration, where everyone can have their ideas take off.”
Mandy Fleming ’98, YE development officer, says, “Being a part of the growth and development of the WSU Innovation Campus is bananas! Having YE offices in the EEB and GoCreate makerspace, there are bound to be some massive creative collisions. That’s what we hope to see from our students and alumni in this space.”
Wichita State business student Fanny Ochoa works as office coordinator for YE’s Central Region, which covers Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Her interest in entrepreneurship lit up as a high school student in Dodge City, Kan., where she took the YE class. “Youth Entrepreneurs helps students identify where they can apply their talents most effectively,” she says. “It’s driven to create and promote value in the lives of our staff, teachers, alumni and volunteers. Like YE, I believe the Innovation Campus is driven with the same goal in mind – of value creation.”
“At the end of the day,” says Liz Koch, YE’s co-founder who has served as board chair since the nonprofit was set up 25 years ago, “we want our students to walk away with the business skills and values that enable them to create their own opportunities.” Scheideman adds, “The goal for our students is that they learn to become entrepreneurial in all of their endeavors, whether they pursue higher education, start a career or create their own business.”
To that end, Koch and YE staff were at EEB’s expansive GoCreate wing on May 31 for two YE happenings: The Big Idea finals at which students from the Central Region pitched business ideas to a panel of judges to earn money to invest in their entrepreneurial visions.
The second event, 1 Million Cups Wichita, featured presentations by YE alumni, including Konkel, who credits YE with providing the experiential education that launched him – “catapulted” is his word – into business. It was, he says, the business plan he put together as a YE student that enabled him to get funding to construct The Studio at ILUSION Productions building in Haysville.
In high school, Konkel was already serious about learning the nuts and bolts of business. He was also serious about – illusions. As a senior, he competed in a world-wide youth magic competition at the Rio in Las Vegas.
Although he has by and large given up magic these days, his appreciation for grand stage illusions can still be spotted – just take a look at the name of his event services enterprise.
“I still have a passion for magic,” he says. “But it’s shifted more to a focus on production value instead of the illusions themselves. We use concepts of magic in some of our events. That’s part of what makes ILUSION unique.”
Konkel’s participation in YE gave him a leg-up on his studies at Wichita State, he says, adding that the marketing know-how he picked up on the way to earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration has proven useful in growing his business. “The marketing aspect of my education at Wichita State has been really helpful,” he says, citing in particular just how vital understanding your target market is in developing and sustaining a business.
Konkel sees the undertakings of both YE and the Innovation Campus as investments in their, as he puts it, “commitment to the future.” The EEB, considered the cornerstone building of the Innovation Campus, opened this past January. Funding for its construction, as well as necessary infrastructure, came primarily from bond sales. The Sedgwick County Public Building Commission issued revenue bonds totaling $44.945 million on behalf of the WSU Board of Trustees.
With maturity periods ranging from 2018 to 2054, the bonds are guaranteed by a 40-year Sedgwick County mill levy that supports WSU. Koch Industries and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation also donated $3.75 million.
Fleming, too, considers the Innovation Campus an investment in the future. “My 10-year-old daughter came to work with me one day,” she says. “She was fascinated by the 3-D printer and ‘works of wonder,’ as she called them. We ended our tour at one of the biomedical engineering labs, where a student eagerly explained what they were working on. Afterwards, the student told my daughter that there should be more females in the field. My daughter left that day telling me she was going to be a biomedical engineer. That was one day, one touch, one idea that sparked her curiosity. To think about what all these creative collisions can lead to is mind-blowing.”
Mind-blowing is right, especially considering we’ve only gotten to the first building along Innovation Boulevard on our mind-tour. Remember: you’re walking north up the new boulevard. You come to a roundabout that channels you to the EEB, just to the west; or to the two-story, 90,000-square-foot Airbus Americas Engineering Center, the first major partnership building (for more on this, read “Location, Location, Location”); or on up the boulevard, which gently curves to the west, bringing two construction sites into view.
To the south of the boulevard, just before it intersects with the north-south running Mike Oatman Drive, rises The Flats at WSU, a 285-resident apartment complex, open for leasing now and slated for completion this August.
Across the boulevard to the north is the Law Enforcement Training Center, which, after completion later this year, will provide training space for the Wichita Police Department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, as well as classrooms for WSU criminal justice students and faculty offices.
With Eck Stadium now directly ahead, walk north along Mike Oatman Drive. You’ll first come to the Marcus Welcome Center, which shares a parking lot with the Woodman Alumni Center. A brick walkway between those two traditional buildings built pre-Innovation Campus leads north to the first tenant of Braeburn Square: Starbucks. Construction of two multi-tenant buildings in the square will begin this summer.
Other nearby building projects with contractors expected to start work soon include An Element by Westin Hotel and a 45,000-square-foot partnership building, as well as 18th Street, which will link Oliver to Innovation Boulevard. And to be tucked into a little space not far from the Woodman Alumni Center is Dan ’53/04 and Frank ’00 Carney’s original Pizza Hut building.
In 2018, it will reopen as a museum, staffed by WSU history students. The world over, there’s no better symbol of entrepreneurial success than that 1,077-square-foot Pizza Hut – no better reminder of the reach of a good idea.
“When I think of WSU’s Innovation Campus,” Fleming says, “a million things come to mind. But by far and away, I think of opportunity – endless, boundless, creative, meaningful …”
It’s Konkel who adds, “magical.”
ALONG INNOVATION BOULEVARD
The Innovation Campus is growing by leaps and bounds. New tenants and partners are announced almost weekly. With plans for expansion well into the future, the list of partners and tenants will be ever changing. But as of June 2017, these are the entities that are up and running, each with a powerful global reach – and a physical presence right here along Innovation Boulevard:
AIRBUS AMERICAS ENGINEERING. Airbus – a world leader in aeronautics, space and related services – was the first global partner to commit to the Innovation Campus in 2015. The corporation’s AAE, a wholly owned subsidiary of Airbus Americas, moved its Wichita staff of 300 earlier this year into a two-story, 90,000-square-foot building. This first partnership building houses a team of workers and engineers that does wing design work on all Airbus commercial jetliners and is assigned to the company’s in-service repair and customer support. John O’Leary ’01, AAE vice president and general manager, and Laura Bernstorf ’04, senior project management specialist, are among the many WSU alumni who work at Airbus.
DASSAULT SYSTÈMES. Known as “The 3DEXPERIENCE Company,” this world leader in 3D design software and other products works with those in business to devise solutions for transforming the way products are designed, produced and supported. In short, Dassualt Systèmes creates virtual universes in which people can imagine workable and sustainable innovations. The 3DEXPERIENCE Center, developed in partnership with NIAR, opened in April. The 22,000-square-foot facility located in the EEB focuses on training engineers while enabling companies to engage in advanced product development and the manufacturing of next-generation materials and technologies – including additive manufacturing, new materials development, robotics, simulation and virtual reality.
HEXAGON MANUFACTURING INTELLIGENCE. Hexagon, which became the campus’ third global partner in February, specializes in metrology and manufacturing solutions that provide actionable information throughout a product’s life cycle. Hexagon leases 3,000 square feet of space in the EEB. Through this technology partnership, educators and students gain access to Hexagon software and precision metrology systems for the collection, analysis and use of measurement data in industrial sectors such as automotive, aerospace, power generation and medical.
YOUTH ENTREPRENEURS. Founded by Charles and Liz Koch in 1991, this 501(c)(3) organization focuses on providing high school students with business and entrepreneurial education and experiences. Youth Entrepreneurs occupies 4,000 square feet in the EEB, right next to GoCreate, a Koch Collaborative, the 18,000-square-foot community makerspace and lab that provides entrepreneurs and creators of all ages with the use of sophisticated tools and equipment, as well as expert training and a supportive community. Among YE staff who are WSU grads are Ashley Scheideman ’08, YE central region executive director, Mandy Fleming ’98, development officer, Lelah Ediger ’11, accountant, Adam Weller ’13/15, data analyst, and Lindsay Zimmerman ’12, south central Kansas area director.
WSU VENTURES. Directed by Mark Torline ’79, WSU Ventures is a team of multi-disciplinary professionals who help WSU faculty, staff and students apply and commercialize their ideas, intellectual properties, know-how and talents in ways that benefit the university and the wider community. WSU Ventures protects and licenses university inventions and innovations, connects industry partners with WSU researchers, and links entrepreneurs and investors with WSU researchers and technologies.