Isley Innovation Hub opens to spawn ideas

Jennifer and Van Isley

The new Isley Innovation Hub has transformed the former university bookstore in the Wright Building into a multiuse, 15,000-square-foot area for entrepreneurial-minded students, faculty and staff to collaborate and create ideas and products. It opened in August.

“Mark my words: Amazing things will happen in this space in the next five years,” said Mike Harris, interim dean of the College of Business. “At Isley, we’re about action. In here, we want you to be loud. Any student, any faculty, any staff — this space was created for the entire campus. If you have an idea, if you have a problem you want to solve, we want Isley to be your first stop.”

In addition to open space, the hub offers a One Button Studio to record high-quality videos, a technology lab with software for design and testing, the Wornom Makerspace with 3D printers and scanners, an automated cutting machine, power and hand tools, and a sewing machine.

The hub builds on the success of the college’s Miller School of Entrepreneurship, the first named school of entrepreneurship in North Carolina. Eleven new businesses have been created since the Miller School opened, said Van Isley ’85, an ECU trustee who with his wife, Jennifer, provided $2 million for the hub.

“I’m excited to see it open and that students are utilizing it,” said Van Isley. “It’s designed to give ECU students the ability to launch a business and help themselves, the university and eastern North Carolina.”

Entrepreneurship major Katie Rowland hopes to meet peers at the Isley Hub who could help get her nonprofit idea off the ground.

Some of the first students to use the Isley Hub are RISE29 students, who are using the space as their primary work location. They spend time collaborating with teammates and peers to work on projects and consult with small-business clients throughout eastern North Carolina. Junior Cameron Brown of Raleigh is a community and regional planning major in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. His RISE29 team collaborates in the Isley Hub to help its client — Carolina Chicken & Waffles, the 2022 Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge winner — develop franchising models.

“It (the Isley Hub) has enabled my group and me to work together to discuss different issues that we are facing in figuring out how to best develop a franchise,” Brown said.

Katie Rowland is a junior entrepreneurship major. After she graduates, she hopes to launch a nonprofit company that supports parents and children in the foster care process by providing resources, time and assistance in transitions from home to home and out of the foster care systems. She sees the Isley Hub as a place to collaborate with peers with interests that complement her potential startup.

The Miller School of Entrepreneurship, the Crisp Small Business Resource Center and the Air Force Leadership Center are also housed in the Isley Hub.