Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ex-Va Tech frat house will be home for innovators

VA Tech gets creative with the former SigEp House.

Ex-Va Tech frat house will be home for innovators - Richmond Times Dispatch: Technology:

 BY JACOB DEMMITT The Roanoke Times

Ex-Va Tech frat house will be home for innovators
This fall, the former Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house at
Virginia Tech will become the Innovate living-learning
community, which will include three dozen students.
BLACKSBURG Virginia Tech is inviting a group of young entrepreneurs to live in the new $5.1 million house that was left empty when the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity was kicked off campus in May for bad behavior.

The announced plan sounds like the plot to a new reality TV show: Fill a mansion with innovators, give them some guidance, and then watch startups roll out the front door.

The so-called Innovate living-learning community is accepting applications as it looks for 35 male and female freshmen from any major. Applicants need only have an “entrepreneurial spirit.” The university has 16 similar programs for groups ranging from female engineers to volunteers, but this will be the only one stationed in a former fraternity house.

University officials were excited to talk about the new program as they danced around the touchy subject of the previous tenant. But Nathan Latka, an entrepreneur involved with the program, probably wasn’t the only one who saw the irony of the situation. He laughed at the thought of the new tenants sitting around the same table where party themes used to be hatched. The only difference, he said, is that this time, they hope to create million-dollar startups.

Latka knows how productive this kind of space can be. The 23-year-old worked out of a Virginia Tech dorm room when he was one of the founders of Heyo, a startup that designs social media campaigns for companies such as Lilly Pulitzer. Heyo is now a multimillion-dollar operation with 16 employees. But Latka said it all started with Red Bull-fueled brainstorming sessions with classmates in Tech’s Barringer Hall.

He says new ideas require “random collisions.”

The house “has got all the amenities built in,” Latka said. “It allows random ideation to happen at any moment. It increases the chances that two freshmen who would have never known each other from two disciplines to really collide and engage and ideate.”