Despite being only half a mile away, the Cortex Innovation District remains a mystery to most SLU students. A 200-acre hub for technology and science, the Cortex buzzes with over 400 companies and thousands of employees on a daily basis. To generate this same buzz for the Cortex among their own students, SLU and Washington University have partnered to create COLLAB, an academic space within the Cortex geared to host new collaborations in engineering, entrepreneurship and research.
The joint-venture was spearheaded by these two leading research universities and will forge new opportunities for both schools, their students, and the community through classes and events in cybersecurity and entrepreneurship. Along with this, they will support research and its commercial applications to the marketplace.
Aaron Bobick, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at WashU, foresees the collaborative potential for both universities. “We have complementary strengths: SLU is tightly tied to the community, WashU is tightly tied to the national research picture, and in a nice complementary way we can advance things like that,” he said.
WashU’s engineering department plans to expand their cybersecurity initiative by teaching computer science classes in the COLLAB. “We have a great strength in computer science and cybersecurity that we can bring to the table to augment what SLU already has,” added Bobick.
In addition to cybersecurity, entrepreneurship is a burgeoning topic at SLU and the St. Louis community. SLU’s entrepreneurship program consistently ranks among the best in the United States, and St. Louis continues to be recognized among the top cities for entrepreneurs and start-up companies.
“Cortex is an entrepreneurship center catalyst,” stated Mark Higgins, Dean of SLU’s Chaifetz School of Business. “It sits perfectly with our entrepreneurship program.”
Higgins’ hope is that the offering of entrepreneurship classes at the COLLAB, as well as the accessibility of the space itself, will encourage students to get involved in the plethora of opportunities that the Cortex, and this partnership, has to offer.
Further, the space will soon be home to the entrepreneurship center, which currently resides within the Chaifetz School of Business. The COLLAB will also feature two large teaching rooms and a collaboration space to help facilitate networking between students and the over 400 companies thriving at the Cortex. “Our goal is to demonstrate to students that this is what the business world looks like,” said Higgins.
The COLLAB will expand upon the previous collaboration efforts of WashU and SLU. For the past two years they have offered a joint class titled “Ideas of Mass Disruption” at the Cortex. This class, which will now be offered in the COLLAB, combines cybersecurity and entrepreneurship strategies to address real world problems of the National Geospatial Agency and other business cases. Geospatial science, which examines how location impacts a variety of complex issues from navigation systems to education, is a growing sector with the NGA and SLU at the forefront. The construction of NGA’s headquarters in downtown St. Louis this year and their recent partnership with SLU speaks to the real-world potential of both the COLLAB and classes like “Ideas of Mass Disruption”.
Collaboration with industry leaders like the NGA is just one example of the potency of COLLAB’s placement. “Across the hallway from COLLAB is Boeing. They are a major player in the geospatial world as well. As we pursue conversations and collaborations between SLU and Boeing, this will be a great location for us to come together,” said Ken Olliff, Vice President for Research at SLU.
At the heart of any successful venture—–whether it be geospatial science or cybersecurity—–is research. SLU, a 200-year-old urban university, has the capability and duty as a Jesuit institution to perform research on a variety of topics that impact our world.
“Research is an area of deep expertise for faculty across SLU and touches upon health, education, urban schooling, law, policy, so on and so forth. COLLAB is an asset that enhances our faculty’s ability to take their ideas and discoveries and to have an impact on the broader world,” commented Olliff.
The Research Innovation Group, which oversees research commercialization, will also be positioned within COLLAB.
“In order for moving our research forward and out into the world, this is a great community for us to be able to plug in to, and the COLLAB is the platform to do that,” added Olliff.
With plans still being developed, Olliff encourages use of the COLLAB space.
“COLLAB is a canvas. Ways that our colleges, faculty groups, and students want to use the space, we are open and enthusiastic,” he concludes.