Student innovators were center stage at Virginia Tech on Wednesday as undergraduates engaged Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, state Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson, and Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands during roundtable talks at the Innovate living-learning community.

“Virginia is the best state in the nation for young people to innovate, create, and start a business,” said McAuliffe, who shared ideas at the community’s “Venture Lab,” where students with a passion for entrepreneurship routinely gather. 

“We have worked with institutions of higher education to craft policies to give students more rights over their intellectual property and we have promoted the formation of collaborative spaces for entrepreneurs and students to meet,” McAuliffe said. “When entrepreneurial students live together in a residential community where they can brainstorm, develop concepts, and create business plans, we are priming them for success and building the new Virginia economy.”

The entrepreneurial mindset is a way of life for community residents, Entrepreneur Club members, and Brett Langstaff, the co-founder and president of the Innovate living-learning community.

“We are building Virginia into the entrepreneurial hub of the nation,” said Langstaff, who has been a member of Innovate Living-Learning Community since day one, when he was a freshman. Now a junior, Langstaff has watched the community grow from more than 30 members during its first year to nearly 60 today.

“We strive to be multidisciplinary,” said Langstaff, a finance major in the Pamplin College of Business from New Providence, New Jersey. “With people from all eight colleges majoring in every imaginable subject, we do it all. Successful entrepreneurship takes people who completely understand how a product works, people who know marketing, others who know finance — and they need to understand each other. We become more versatile — we have engineers working with marketers and accountants working with designers.”

The entrepreneurial effort’s interdisciplinary intentions are a hallmark of CatalyzeVT, a collaboration of the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.

CatalyzeVT focuses on developing “T-shaped” faculty and students, where the vertical bar of the T represents expertise in a single field, while the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines.

“We’re creating a university for a new generation, where faculty and students from many disciplines work together as a diverse team to address the complex issues facing Virginia and the nation,” said Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands. “Our graduates will be tomorrow’s trailblazers, leveraging the latest technology, making discoveries that improve our lives and our communities, and keeping the Commonwealth at the forefront of the innovation economy.” 

The potential to become an entrepreneur was latent in mechanical engineering sophomore Allison Howe of Cincinnati, Ohio, the president of the Entrepreneur Club. Her grandfather started Big Chief Inc. in Cincinnati and her father went on to run the company. When she arrived at Virginia Tech, her innovative talents came to life.

“I was able to create my own experience from the start,” said Howe, who was a roundtable panelist. “I joined the Hypatia women in engineering learning community and I was introduced to the Entrepreneur Club. I loved the interdisciplinary and experiential learning concept, with designers, engineers, architects, musicians, and all types of students interacting.”

Techtober was created by McAuliffe in 2014 to highlight Virginia’s innovation and high performing industries. Howe said Wednesday’s roundtable also helped raise awareness about Virginia Tech’s initiatives, which rival some of the best entrepreneurial efforts in the nation, especially for undergraduates.

“Virginia Tech is becoming the Stanford of the East Coast,” Howe said. “We want to showcase what we are doing not only to the governor, but to everyone. The goal of the Entrepreneur Club, Innovate, and all of the programs is to inspire people to have an innovative mindset, and we’re succeeding.”

Next up in the entrepreneurial schedule at Virginia Tech is “At the Nexus,” a three-day event beginning Nov. 12 that will, among a variety of activities, feature noted speakers who will talk about how entrepreneurship affects their daily lives.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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