In the Pacific University Berglund Center, creativity is Goal No. 1.
“In a Shark Tank world, I think what we do is pre-Shark Tank,” said Berglund Center Director Andy Soria.
The Berglund Center focuses on innovation, leadership and research, in part by incubating creative ideas.
Most incubators, Soria said, focus on taking commercially viable ideas from prototype to production. Here, though, that all comes much later.
“Innovation comes first,” Soria said. “Just ask the great inventors.”
The Berglund Center invites Pacific students — from freshmen to doctoral students — to pitch solutions to existing or emerging problems. The best receive a year of start-up support as Berglund Center Fellows.
In the past three years, the center has taken about 14 projects from start to finish. There have been a variety of medical devices, a video game that teaches players what it’s like to live with depression, and several mobile apps.
One team created a fully bilingual app for Washington County 211 — the phone-based health and social services locater system — and ultimately gave it to a nonprofit organization.
Projects like that, Soria said, wouldn’t be picked up by a traditional business incubator, but Pacific is different, because ideas are vetted based on their potential impact, not commercial potential.
“We’ve created a mechanism to choose products that are most creative, most innovative, that solve a problem somewhere,” Soria said.
“They’re not going to be judged based on how much money they’re going to make. That’s missing the point.”
Every Berglund Fellow gets about $25,000 worth of support for their start-up, but much of that stays within the university, with teams of other students staffing the projects.
There’s a creative design team, made of up students from a variety of disciplines, that helps put the idea to paper (or code, as the case may be).
There’s also a business development team, comprised of undergraduate business students, to develop a financial plan, conduct market testing, and set up crowdfunding opportunities.
“It becomes a quasi-lab for our business students,” Soria said. “They can think outside the box and evaluate possibilities for starting a real business, not for a class, not for a test.”
The students on the business and design teams each get stipends, along with real-life experience — and they ultimately provide each Berglund Fellow with tools to bring their ideas to life.
“If this was a different university, a psychology student would be forced to be the CEO and CFO,” Soria said. “If that’s what the student wanted, they’d be studying business. It’s counterproductive to put students in a position they’re not interested in.”