ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University is attempting to create a competitive business environment in Southern Utah by offering a number of resources at little to no cost.
After months of renovation, Dixie State University’s Atwood Innovation Plaza held its grand opening on Friday. University officials hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony and soft opening earlier this year, but additional renovations to the space were only just nearing completion in the hours leading up to Friday’s festivities.
The institution is now home to the largest makerspace in the state, gaining national recognition. The hexagonal structure acts as a “true one-stop shop” for residents across the Southern Utah counties, Dixie State’s Executive Director of Technology, Innovation and Design Don Willie told St. George News.
The Atwood Innovation Plaza primarily serves residents of Washington and Kane counties but also acts as a resource for Iron and Garfield counties.
“It’s pretty cool that St. George has something that no one else in the state has,” Willie said. “We’re providing this to our student body and investing because we believe in them, and this is going to be key for economic development.”
From the on-campus pitch rooms and the state-sponsored, university-supported Business Resource Center, to high-end equipment and on-site training, the Atwood Innovation Plaza is hoping to help aspiring entrepreneurs through every aspect of creating and running a successful business.
Faculty are also available to help students and members file patents, develop business plans and apply for a loan. Social media and web design consultations are also available.
Since the facility opened to students and faculty, an in-house inventor and mentor has helped students file almost 100 patents.
The university will have an equity stake in businesses that start from within the facility, which Willie said will be an additional revenue source.
“If they’re successful, great,” he said. “If they’re not successful, that’s entrepreneurship.”
Willie said out of every 100 companies who make their start in the Atwood Innovation Plaza Makerspace, only a dozen or so will be successful.
Dixie State’s Academic Innovation Office and Dixie Online are now also housed in the Atwood Innovation Plaza to keep with the theme of innovation. Soft Cell Biological, a research firm taking residence at Dixie State, also opened a lab in the building. Members can use the resources available in the lab but are required to be supervised by the firm’s staff as a part of the university’s agreement.
The building and programs are meant to complement each other and work to construct a resource for local entrepreneurs to fill the need for more experienced business-oriented residents in the area, Willie said.
DSU Board of Trustees member Lindsey Atwood, one of the featured donors and namesake of the facility, passed away only a week before the grand opening. Willie remembered Atwood, saying he was an “extremely successful entrepreneur who demanded results.” This mentality, he said, will be carried through to the programs and facility.
The structure’s design includes hexagons throughout the building to pay homage to the beehive state and allude to a “hive mentality,” Willie said.
“We work together,” he said. “We all work toward a bigger, greater cause than ourselves, and that’s what we wanted to see here. This isn’t about an individual, this is about a community.”
The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Zions Bank, LoveSac and the Miller Family Foundation are a number of other donors involved in the renovation and design of the Atwood Innovation Plaza.
Atwood Innovation Plaza opens to a long, narrow corridor filled with classrooms. Walking down the hall, students are met with a wide, open space filled with couches and large beanbags, called the LoveSac Lounge. It’s industrial design harshly juxtaposes the brick and carpet hall just a few steps to the west.
From there, students and members can choose to use any of the resources available to them. From the Makerspace, with three-dimensional printers, laser cutters, sewing machines and a craft corner, to the wood and metal-working shops just a few doors down, there are a number of avenues potential entrepreneurs could take their start-up business.
A café and podcast room are also available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Just across the lounge, there is a pitch and presentation room — known at the Active Learning Lab — and conference room ready to host Shark Tank events and host meetings that could mark the beginning of Fortune 500 companies.
To help students and members be the best they can be, the facility is also home to experts in the fields that are available to offer aid at no extra cost. Their offices are set amongst additional conference and study spaces alongside offices that are rented out to local businesses.
Renovations were originally expected to cost around $6 million, but Willie said the university was able to gather materials and funds privately through donations from businesses, alumni and members of the community. The total cost of renovations was under $1.4 million, not including the equipment.
“We were able to piece-meal everything, just as an entrepreneur would,” he said. “I mean, we didn’t have $6 million to come up; we wouldn’t be able to raise that for a long time. We broke everything up into pieces, we analyzed what we could get donated, what we could repurpose, what we could reuse.”
Willie said the university used its own space to cut costs, carving their own signs and creating their own decorations on site.
Memberships start at $50 per month for “prototype” builds and cap out at $100 per month for entrepreneurs. Members are also responsible for the cost of materials in addition to the monthly fee. Memberships include use of the facilities, and there is no contract. Facilities are free to students.
No one can use the equipment until they undergo training, which is provided to students and members in the building.
In the future, Willie said, officials are hoping to add 24-hour access to members and students, but for now, the facilities are limited to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
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