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Quite a venture: $1 million gift to create vibrant start-up lab

The University of Memphis has received a $1 million gift from Hilliard and Harriett Crews to create a business start-up facilitator and incubator in the former Masonic Lodge at Walker and Patterson near the main U of M campus. The Crews gift is half of the $2 million needed to plan and complete the renovations as well as to establish an early operations fund. The facility and programs will be called the Crews Ventures Lab (CVL). The operation will be managed by the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University.

Harriett and Hilliard Crews
Harriett and Hilliard Crews
In making the gift, Hilliard Crews said, “The Ventures Lab at the University of Memphis will provide a vibrant environment for promising researchers and local entrepreneurs to collaborate on projects with real-world applications. Harriett and I are proud to be engaged in the exciting research innovations and commercialization opportunities happening at the University of Memphis. We are confident the Ventures Lab will have a powerful and positive impact on Memphis and the entire region.”

The goal is to open the CVL to the entrepreneurial community by the summer of 2012. The space will provide a home for U of M students and faculty to build teams, develop ideas and prototypes, meet with mentors and advisers and make pitches to local and regional early-stage investors. It will include flex-space offices for students and professors in which they can develop promising ideas into business plans intended to attract initial investors and critical early team members.

To encourage proximity of companies to investors, mentors and advisers, the CVL will also include furnished offices that will be available to experienced local entrepreneurs on a day-to-day basis as they coach the CVL client entrepreneurs. Additionally, the CVL client start-ups and pre-start-ups will have free access to professional conference room space and a direct high-speed connection to the University’s super computer.

Around the world, local economic development has been shown to depend on the success of technology entrepreneurs. The CVL will support local economic development by encouraging and supporting the entrepreneurial faculty and students at the U of M to “take the next step” in realizing their dreams of starting a company. The CVL will also be a key driver and anchor for growth of the Highland/Walker development project.

“This gift from Mr. and Mrs. Crews is a wonderful vote of confidence in the University and its potential to significantly impact local technology-based economic development and to continue to contribute to the entrepreneurial environment in Memphis,” said Dr. Doug Hurley, chairman of the FedEx Institute.

To assure that start-ups from the CVL work toward funding, early success and independence, they will be expected to raise funds, launch their businesses and graduate to other space, including EmergeMemphis. Plans for phase two of the CVL include a 3,000-square-foot space for a prototype shop and product-design lab.

The importance of the new lab was detailed by Dr. Gary Emmert, Dunavant Professor in the U of M’s Department of Chemistry.

“The proximity and availability of the CVL are both very important for U of M researchers and entrepreneurs. The lab will obviously allow our fledgling companies to grow in a supportive environment, but it will also allow them to do so in a location where we can easily demonstrate to potential investors the world-class research facilities just down the street, from which these ideas were hatched. Before the establishment of the CVL, this was not possible.”

Georgia Tech has a longer association with such facilities, and Dr. H. Wayne Hodges, vice provost for research emeritus there, told U of M officials it is important for research campuses to have such incubator facilities nearby, convenient to faculty and students, as the Crews Venture Lab will be.

— by Curt Guenther

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