Kent State Leader’s Creative Idea Named Finalist in Knight Cities Challenge
Kate Harmon knows that inspiring great ideas oftentimes involves generating them in inspirational environments. As associate director of Kent State University’s Blackstone LaunchPad, which has helped hundreds of students and employees become entrepreneurs, Harmon is always looking at the outside factors that help generate creative sparks.
“The Knight Foundation continuously offers the most diverse and creative funding opportunities that challenge one to experiment with unique ideas to further collaborative engagement,” Harmon said. “The Knight Cities Challenge particularly resonated with me given that our Blackstone LaunchPad program is all about promoting entrepreneurism as a viable career path and aligns with the challenges’ goals of talent retention and the spurring of economic development opportunities in Northeast Ohio.”
Harmon spearheaded a proposal for a collaborative weekend-only popup space in downtown Akron, Ohio, that would serve as a combined hacker space, art gallery, coffee shop and retail boutique for students of Kent State and the University of Akron.
“We are thrilled to partner with our regional sister institution Kent State to advance an idea that will enhance student success through entrepreneurship and engagement,” said Candace Campbell Jackson, vice president for student success and vice provost at the University of Akron. “Collaboration is the key to leveraging resources and growing opportunity for our students, institutions and the region.”
The idea has now been named a finalist from more than 7,000 submissions to the Knight Cities Challenge, an initiative to financially support opportunities that attract, retain and harness talent. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation solicited creative ideas from 26 communities that expand opportunities by increasing entrepreneurship and economic mobility, building places that accelerate the growth of ideas and bringing people from diverse social and economic backgrounds together.
The student-run enterprise would feature art, food and products for sale to the public (developed by students from each respective institution), and the venue would serve as a meeting space for Kent State and Akron students to collaborate on entrepreneurially minded projects that have the potential for economic and social impact in Akron.
The proposal calls for a location with 2,000 – 2,500 square feet that would be operated Friday through Sunday and could accommodate joint hackathons and other collaborations between the two schools.
“I am particularly thrilled to be working with the University of Akron on this initiative,” Harmon said. “Given the enormous student talent between our respective institutions, I am excited to see what entrepreneurial student collaborations will develop out of this project and look forward to the breadth of resources and connections that Torchbearers will be able to provide these young leaders to keep them engaged in Northeast Ohio.”
The venture would be overseen by an ad-hoc committee of staff from both institutions as well as from Akron’s Torchbearers to provide the students with connections to Akron’s existing talent and resources in order to build a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Akron.
Harmon and her team will submit a final proposal in three weeks, and the Knight Foundation is expected to announce the winners, who will receive a share of $5 million, before April 1.
For more information about Kent State’s Blackstone LaunchPad, visit www.kent.edu/blackstonelaunchpad.
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