BY CARLY ROBINSON
“Our mission is to increase innovation and entrepreneurship across OU and throughout our community. We want to create a vibrant innovative ecosystem filled with dynamic companies and opportunities for amazing OU students to find the career of their dreams here in Oklahoma.”
Suddenly, education takes on a new meaning through the words of Thomas Wavering, the Founding Executive Director of the University of Oklahoma’s Innovation Hub. He reminds us of the underlying goals we are all striving to attain throughout our college careers and beyond: to be passionate, to seek the heights understanding that anything is possible and to build a community of like-minded individuals to challenge us in our pursuits.
Designed as what creators refer to as a “maker space”, the Innovation Hub stands as a modern space for visualization and collaboration. Complete with a Digital Fabrication Lab, Data Visualization Zone, wood-working shop and so much more, the I-Hub destroys all perceived notions of what student collaboration should look like in today’s society.
Prior to his involvement with the Innovation Hub, Wavering spent over 18 years in leadership and executive roles, often with universities, pursuing research, development and commercialization of innovative technologies through various startups and products. Throughout these roles, however, he was consistently disappointed by colleges’ unrealized potential as a result of politics and bureaucracy.
The I-Hub brings about an entirely different approach to the concept of creation, and encourages diversity. Unlike many study centers on any given college campus, the Innovation Hub invites everyone from every background, be that business, engineering, research, marketing, science, etc. This space is not directed toward any certain group of people, but rather to the masses. The idea is to combine as many different individuals as possible to bounce ideas off of in order to bring about the most successful results in any goal. In fact, members of the Norman community are invited to experience all the Hub’s amenities as well. These unique features are what attracted Wavering to get involved and make a difference.
Wavering’s first day on the job was the first day the Innovation Hub opened in September of 2016. Since opening, he has taken on a wide variety of responsibilities, including the creation of their engaging programming, establishing policies, expanding basic capabilities to include a Code Lab and even the introduction of a Startup Legal Clinic.
The I-Hub was built on a platform of community involvement that Wavering emphasizes abundantly. It is clear in his tone that the people who pass through the doors are what make the Hub so successful. It is referred to as a “hub” because it attracts so many and is said to have many “spokes”.
Although the Innovation Hub is already wildly popular after being open for only a year, Wavering envisions even more potential for the center. According to OU public affairs, to aid in these efforts, the I-Hub was awarded the SBIRxOK program from the U.S. Small Business Administration with $2.5 billion worth of funding. This program is intended to encourage small business research, especially among women, and is lead in some cases by Wavering himself. For example, the Oklahoma Innovation to Market Roadshow is a “series of half-day workshops across Oklahoma to help innovators envision commercial outcomes for their ideas, consider collaboration opportunities and learn more about SBIR and the new SBIRxOK efforts.”
Wavering’s efforts to inspire leadership and progression in the community are very telling of his character and offer an exciting potential to bring ideas to life in the Norman area. The Innovation Hub finally gave him the opportunity to cultivate enthusiasm and motivation in a university setting.
“No other university in the country has anything comparable to the Innovation Hub”, said Wavering.
As the world becomes more technologically advanced at such a rapid pace, so do the needs involved in education. In a constantly changing society, Wavering pictured a space that welcomed new and evolving concepts.
As seen in an article from Sooner Magazine, Brandt Smith, director of the Innovation Hub’s fabrication lab, explained that “there is value in diversity. We want to broaden the perspective of people by putting them together”.
Smith and Wavering’s unique outlook on bringing people together from all backgrounds is what makes the center a breeding ground for growth. Students are given the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others in the community and vice versa. The community is given a look into the future, in a sense. They are able to observe our generation’s progressions and aspirations while simultaneously acting as mentors.
Wavering explains that the Hub is currently working on creating a new and improved website, but encourages the community to follow along on social media or sign up for their email list (firstname.lastname@example.org) to keep up to date on the programming they have in place and are anticipating in the future.
In a society revolving around immediacy and never ending demands, Thomas Wavering’s unique initiative and mind-set is something to admire. We need to start focusing on the fact that our ideas do have the potential to come to life. We need to focus on our passions and finding a way to utilize them on a regular basis in a way the benefits our community. Wavering’s upbeat attitude in terms of the future in addition to his work to bring about confidence and leadership in young creatives is an inspiration carried over to the success of the Innovation Hub.