Innovation will be getting a new home at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.
YouTube co-founder and IMSA graduate Steve Chen is putting his money behind a $1.9 million facility the school is designing to support student entrepreneurs with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.
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Called the Innovation Hub, school officials said the 6,400-square-foot lab will be an open space featuring "cutting-edge technology" to help IMSA students, business leaders and entrepreneurs work together on new ideas.
"We look to engage our business community and collaborate in this space," Britta McKenna, the school's chief innovation officer, said. "It just provides so many potential opportunities."
Chen, who graduated in 1996 from the residential high school for gifted students, has pledged $1 million toward the Innovation Hub. In a statement, Chen said IMSA gave him tools to develop ideas into a successful business, and the Innovation Hub will help the school continue providing tools as technologies change.
"He has a passion for all of this, and he believes there's a value," McKenna said. "This is his way of giving back."
Aside from Chen's donation, the school is seeking to form partnerships with area businesses, nonprofit organizations and governments while fundraising for the remaining $900,000.
Carie Anne Ergo, chief management officer for the city of Aurora, said the Innovation Hub should create great synergy with several technology-related initiatives already under way, including a STEM magnet academy in East Aurora District 131, a STEM Partnership School under construction at Aurora University and a Partnerships to Prosperity program that helps connect employers to students and offer real-life learning experiences in the classroom.
"We're extremely excited about this opportunity for IMSA," Ergo said. "I think the Innovation Hub will complement a lot of the other work that's going on right now in the city of Aurora to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation."
IMSA also is participating in another of the city's technology initiatives called OnLight Aurora. The school is connected to the city's nearly 60-mile fiber Internet network through the nonprofit OnLight, which is offering lower-cost hookups to schools, health facilities and other community resources.
The Innovation Hub could be built by late 2015 or early 2016 and will include advanced technology such as a touch-screen video wall and workstations with 3-D printers and scanners.
"We don't have a physical design that we're set on. That's the beauty of the project," McKenna said. "There was an initial sketch done, but it's by no means final. We'd rather leave it up to the imagination of what it could look like."
School officials are calling the Innovation Hub "IMSA's new front door," and McKenna said it will have a separate entrance from the school's secured main entry, where visitors have to check in with identification cards and be escorted.
The Innovation Hub will be home to the school's TALENT program, which stands for Total Applied Learning for Entrepreneurs, so IMSA will work out a way for mentors and business people who are collaborating with students to come and go more freely.
The hub also will give students opportunities for internships, workshops, networking events, entrepreneurship programs and startup pitch contests all in an effort to build what President Catherine Veal called "creative energy and startup culture."