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From Where, Initial Funding for Fab Lab ICC Part 2

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

In a previous column, I talked about how the Ice House entrepreneurship program was a revelation to me when I met founder, Gary Schoeniger in October, 2011. In 2012, I took steps to add the Ice House class to my Entrepreneurship program in the fall semester. That made me an early adopter with only ten other community colleges in the world offering Ice House at that time. At the same time, we began seeing the advent of Fab Labs and Maker Spaces around the country and world. At some point early in 2013, a few of us exposed to "Ice House" thinking began to visualize a maker space in Independence, Kansas. 

In October of 2013, I made a presentation at the annual conference of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), the same conference at which I learned of Ice House two years earlier. The hotel restaurant, Sunday night before the start of the conference, was quiet. As I was contemplating getting something to eat, in walks Ice House founder Gary Schoeniger and Kauffman Foundation's Thom Ruhe. The $2billion Kauffman Foundation is a supporter of the Ice House program. I knew Schoeniger fairly from the 2 ½ day Ice House facilitator training sessions in May of 2012. I had met Thom Ruhe, but didn't know him as well. 

Gary was walking around, talking to someone on his phone so I made small-talk with Thom. He had just returned from the Vatican on a three or four day trip to present at a conference of Cardinals about how entrepreneurship offered the best hope of alleviating global poverty. Although suffering from jet-lag and extremely fatigued he asked about my upcoming presentation at this conference. I told him I was going to talk about how community college technical programs should include more entrepreneurship and a Fab Lab to facilitate more experiential learning. He commented that Kauffman had just helped a community college with a million dollar maker space. I joking said "Why don't you help us, I think we can build ours for $100,000?" He said "I like the way you've helped Gary promote Ice House. Write up a proposal and ask me for $50,000 saying you'll raise the other $50,000 and we'll see what we can do." 

The next day I saw Thom talking to a bunch of people, telling them how tire he was from the Vatican trip. He mentioned that he was so tired the night before, he didn't much of what he said or did. I took him aside and said "You remember the $50,000 don't you?" He laughed and said he did. 

At this point, we didn't even have approval from the college to build the Fab Lab even if we did have the money. Over the coming months, the letters and correspondence with Kauffman Foundation led to the matching grant of $50,000. At the same time, some college pieces fell into place and by March 2014, ICC president Dan Barwick agreed to a Fab Lab in the Cessna Learning Center if I could raise the money. The matching came from a local entrepreneur in May and the Kauffman Foundation funds came through in June. We began a frenzied effort to bring in the needed equipment and material while we repurposed the building space so we could open Fab Lab ICC on October 1, 2014. 

Fab Lab ICC started as a thought and a vision among a small network of Ice House Entrepreneurship Program enthusiasts followed by a chance encounter with a funder on a Sunday night in Orlando, Florida in October of 2013. Now, just four years later, we'll have the grand opening or our 6400 square foot Fab Lab addition; that project coming about after a series of chance encounters and random collisions. Since that Sunday night back in October of 2013, we've learned to have the vision, write it down, work toward it and the see the required resources come about to make it happen, sometimes in the strangest of ways. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks. 


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