Cronkite School opens New Media Innovation Lab to public for business and tech advice

(Austin Miller/DD)
The New Media Innovation Lab in the Cronkite School provides advice for success with technology and entrepreneurship. The lab extended an invitation to the public starting Friday. (Austin Miller/DD)

The Walter Cronkite School opened its New Media Innovation Lab to the public on Friday, providing free entrepreneurial and technological advice to businesses, individuals and students throughout the Valley.

Outreach Director for the Cronkite School Elizabeth Mays said the idea to open the lab to the public came from Christopher Callahan, vice provost of the Downtown campus and dean of the Cronkite School, to “help community members with their digital challenges.” She said entrepreneurship is fundamental to the Cronkite School.

“Part of ASU’s mission is always to be engaged with the community and so this was one way we could do that, while at the same time serving students,” Mays said.

Executive Director of the New Media Innovation Lab Retha Hill said she knew the public would respond positively to an open-house day because she frequently received calls from individuals looking for entrepreneurial advice.

Mays and Hill implemented Callahan’s idea by creating the Digital Solutions Lab. Hill said the staff at the lab used the equipment and space they already had available to begin working with businesses from outside the Cronkite School.

The Digital Solutions Lab provides a location for businesses to come and receive free help on a designated day. Friday was the first day the lab was officially open to the public.

Hill, who was previously the vice president for content at BET Interactive and helped launch the Washington Post website, provides business advice to startup companies. Instructional technologist Nic Lindh will answer technology-specific questions for students and businesses.

“We have some tried-and-true methodology that I think has worked for these students who’ve gone on to … start their own businesses,” Hill said of Cronkite’s New Media Innovation Lab.

Hill said the Digital Solutions Lab provides a way for the community to tap into the knowledge base of a major university.

Hill said last week’s event generated a lot of publicity, with five ventures stopping by to get business advice from Hill and Lindh. She said two of these were ventures from students pursuing majors in nutrition, sustainability and business.

Former NFL player Ray Ellis led another venture that took advantage of the lab’s open house, Lindh said. He said the group promotes opportunities for athletes to begin thinking about life after professional sports careers, and Hill said the venture aimed to create a “Shark Tank”-style event for former professional players to pitch business ideas at the 2015 Super Bowl.

A couple from California saw a flier at the Sheraton Hotel and walked over to the Cronkite building for some impromptu business advice about an employment training site, Hill said.

Both Mays and Hill said they anticipate an increase in public response over the coming months. Hill said if the number of ventures visiting the lab exceeds the time and resources available, a sign-up could be implemented, wherein businesses would be required to schedule a specific appointment time before stopping by.

Open houses will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 26, Oct. 3, Oct. 31, Nov. 7 and Nov. 14. The lab is located on the second floor of the Cronkite building at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus.

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