Virginia Commonwealth University will soon be hosting a grand opening of the Shift Retail Lab, a multi-functional retail space where past and current VCU students can showcase their work to gain insight and test their products, services and ideas with real-world customers.
The 2,700 square foot lab, located at 1235 W. Broad St., across from VCU’s Stuart C. Siegel Center, will support VCU’s innovative students and entrepreneurs with retail and office space, and serve as a Gateway to Richmond’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. It will open during VCU Homecoming Week with a series of events, including an open house and a reception on Wednesday, November 10 at 5 p.m.
The laboratory will be operated by the VCU da Vinci Innovation Center, which advances innovation and entrepreneurship through interdisciplinary collaboration, and offers graduate and undergraduate level programs, as well as design thinking training to all VCU students. It is a collaboration of VCU School of Arts, Business school, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Sciences and VCU Health.
“While the founding students will be able to sell their products in the Shift Retail Lab, the main goal is to provide them with a space to test and experiment,” said Garret westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the da Vinci Center. “The Retail Lab is a space where founders can engage in iterative design and test key assumptions about pricing, branding and packaging. Shift customers will have the opportunity to purchase available products and will be encouraged to provide feedback on early ideas to help founders bring their ideas to life.
President VCU Michael rao, Ph.D., first announced the concept of the lab in his State of the University address in January 2020, saying it would be a “one-of-a-kind place where students Entrepreneurs can participate in creating innovations that accelerate their students’ experience and advance the human experience.
Ahead of the opening, Rao said the lab will help accelerate the growing culture of student entrepreneurship at VCU.
“Current and former students will be part of an urban learning lab that will prepare them for real-world opportunities,” he said.
At a recent preview event, students from VCU including Aliyah Desautels, a major in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies who is also pursuing a Undergraduate Certificate in Product Innovation of the da Vinci Center, checked the lab.
“I think it’s really cool that VCU is able to run this kind of student showcase space. Things like this in the innovation space are honestly one of the reasons I came to VCU, ”she said. “I always knew that I wanted to do something in the entrepreneurial arena, but I never really thought that as an undergraduate I would have access to a space in a city that really was dynamic where you can present the work you do as a startup. Whether it’s selling things or getting user feedback, it’s not really an opportunity you can get elsewhere. “
Construction of the laboratory was made possible through contributions from Mark Hourigan and Hourigan Construction.
“Hourigan has a long-standing relationship with VCU, and we are especially proud to partner with the Shift Retail Lab,” Hourigan said. “The construction of the space was certainly an important first step, and we are particularly excited for the rest. Going forward, the Hummingbird team will work collaboratively with students and entrepreneurs as we focus on real-world building solutions that will ultimately improve communities and move our world forward.
Shift Retail Lab will be open to the public and will be available to all VCU students. The da Vinci Center will offer entrepreneurial training to any student interested in space through its VCU Entrepreneurship Academy micro-accreditation program.
“The da Vinci Center is committed to practical and applied teaching and learning,” said Westlake. “This physical space is a real laboratory for teaching innovation and entrepreneurship in the real world as well as for connecting students to the local community. This new space will also remove barriers to entry for traditionally under-represented student entrepreneurs by forcing aspiring founders to have less start-up capital to launch an idea.
Visitors to the lab can expect to find ideas and prototypes from early stage students seeking public comment, as well as established student and alumni businesses selling products and services. Additionally, community entrepreneurs will be in residence throughout the year, with initial residencies by businesses in the Jackson Ward Collective, which connects and supports black-owned businesses in Richmond. The da Vinci Center’s business and community partners, including Activation Capital, CarMax, Capital One and McKesson, will also host joint events at the lab to explore new products.
“The launch of Shift represents the da Vinci Center’s commitment to innovative academic and experiential learning in collaboration with our community,” said Westlake. “Mark Hourigan and his team have delivered a world-class facility, the first of its kind in the country, and in keeping with our commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration, Shift will be available to all VCU students. Access to innovative facilities like Shift provides students with unique learning opportunities and enables greater participation and partnership with the local community.
VCU founding students interested in having their work exhibited at the inauguration can apply before October 15th.
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