Pam Northrup is going where they will do “the weird stuff." That is how she has been describing what will take place at the University of West Florida’s Innovation Institute, which is set to open later this year in Belmont-DeVilliers.
The historic Pensacola neighborhood soon will be a space where the university will build partnerships in the community and inspire collaborative thinking to solve problems. It also will be a hub for the university’s distance learning, online education and other programs.
“It’s not just another business incubator. It is more of an education incubator,” she says.
Northrup, associate provost for academic innovation, is leading the effort. She is one of three longtime university staffers who will move to the new offices in the DeVilliers Square building later this year.
Altogether the Institute will bring nine full-time university employees into DeVilliers Square, the building across the street from 5 Sisters Blues Cafe. UWF will lease the majority of the third floor for a space that will feature modern design elements and a smartboard-rich, collaborative environment for folks to brainstorm ideas.
“We will be creating jobs,” Northrup says.
The building is being renovated now and is owned in partnership by architect Eddie Todd and businessman Quint Studer’s Studer Properties. The Studers became investors in the project this year and will put an additional $1.25 million into the building.
Studer says the facility will generate potential property tax revenue of $30,000 a year and employ at least 20 people when completed.
The second floor is being leased as individual office space for private businesses, and is 30 percent leased now. The first floor will be a mix of office and retail space, which also is being leased.
The university’s presence in the building is a big addition to efforts to revitalize one of Pensacola’s oldest and most culturally rich neighborhoods. That spirit was one of the things, Northrup says, was attractive about locating the Institute in Todd’s building.
“We want to be there and we believe in what’s going on in that community,” she says.
Startup funding for UWF’s Innovation Institute has been provided through a $100,000 gift from Academic Partnerships, LLC, a Dallas-based company that Northrup says the university has partnered with on distance learning projects.
“When I started talking with their CEO, Randy Best, about the idea, he said, ‘I want to be the first donor,’” she says.
The Institute initially will manage four efforts for UWF:
- Building a cybersecurity hub for Northwest Florida based at UWF and built in collaboration from education and local tech and business experts. It will include industry certifications, internship opportunities for students, as well as undergraduate and graduate programs in the field.
- Creating immersive educational experiences for students in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines using story-based, immersive experience for middle- and high-school students. Northrup says that designers from TEQ Games at Universal Studios, Orlando, will help design some of those educational experiences.
Northrup says nothing is ready to launch yet, but “we know for sure that we will be hosting kids activities and programs that are intended to stretch their imagination and creativity” including events after-school, on Saturdays and in the summer.
“That’s part of who we are and what we want to be about,” she says.
- Building a hub for accelerated online learning and new methods for increasing student engagement and support.
- Complete Florida, a Legislatively funded degree completion initiative in partnership with other state universities and state colleges. Complete Florida aims to help those who had to step out of college complete their degrees through online, competency-based learning, accelerated courses and prior learning assessment, all focused on workforce-related degrees.
“That’s a passion for us: Getting people back to college and into jobs,” Northrup says, “My guess is there are people in the community who may be very interested in hearing that message.”
Pockets of Excellence
The Institute will not be a big room with cubicles, Northrup says. Everything from the physical layout to the interior design is meant to spur thinking that is far, far out of the box.
“It will be all about design thinking, backward design and systematically looking at problems in innovative way,” she says.
Northrup says the Institute is a way to focus expertise that already exists in Pensacola — and to grow more of it.
“It’s like we have pockets of excellence all over the place (in Pensacola). This is an opportunity to bring our great thinkers together, but that may also be people who are the end users of whatever you were trying to do.”
So if the Institute were going to build a middle school program to inspire kids in STEM disciplines, middle schoolers will be among those in on the discussion, so that “we can hear what they really need, not what we think they need,” Northrup says.
There will be office space available for visiting faculty, professors working on a grant-funded research or special projects and the like.
Events such as Startup Weekend Pensacola, recently hosted at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, would be perfect for the Innovation Institute to host, Northrup says.
Even businesses who want a group of employees to get away from the office for a day to brainstorm for strategic planning could use the conference room space.
“I think the sky’s the limit on the ways we can connect with the community on things that have an innovation flair,” Northrup says.