Innovation Co-Lab Offers $5,000 Challenge

'Creativity incubator' challenges students to improve Duke life using technology

The Innovation Co-Lab drew about 30 participants to its first
The Innovation Co-Lab drew about 30 participants to its first "studio night" in February.

Student innovators can win a share of $5,000 for using technology to improve life at Duke this semester, thanks to a new "creativity incubator" organized by Duke's Office of Information Technology (OIT) and Center for Instructional Technology.

The Innovation Co-Lab is sponsored by the offices of the President, the Provost and the Executive Vice President and Duke's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative.

"We hope the activities emerging from the co-lab will touch every aspect of the university, from supporting academic activities to students' co-curricular experiences, as well as the basic underlying IT infrastructure at Duke," said Tracy Futhey, the university's chief information officer and vice president for information technology.

The co-lab is organizing a series of challenges to encourage Duke students to produce creative media projects, including applications, websites, videos, simulations and more, according to organizer Michael Faber.

The first challenge: identify a need facing the Duke community, and develop an innovative technological solution to address that need. (Students have until April 2 to submit their projects. Read more about the co-lab's first challenge at

The co-lab hosts weekly "studio nights" (every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the RENCI conference room in the Telecom Building) to foster community and encourage "serious play" among innovation-minded students. The studio nights also provide access to tools and resources students might need to build a project. 

"Need access to Duke's identity management system? Want to use a stream of data from a Duke service? Got a great vision but need to connect with a partner? Tell us what you need, and we'll do our best to make it happen," Faber said.

The co-lab's mission is to support students who see problems as opportunities for innovation, Faber said. The $5,000 prize will be divided among winning projects as judged by a panel of students, Duke technologists, university leaders and members of the local entrepreneurial community.

Future projects will test students' ingenuity in a variety of innovative media projects. "We hope to see challenges around visualizations, design and process improvement, in addition to programming and development," Faber said.

Students are already excited about the possibilities.      

"The most striking thing about the co-lab is that it's less an idea incubator and more an action incubator," said Suyash Kumar, a first-year biomedical engineering and chemistry major. "It's the home for students with great ideas at Duke. There's free food, tons of collaboration, technical support and instant expert advice, everything you need to build your project, while also giving you a unique community space to have a lot of fun while you’re doing it."

Kumar needed a server configured with a Ruby software stack for a project he was working on.

"I filled out a co-lab form and had a server provisioned for me at OIT in less than 12 hours," he said. "They really give you everything you might need to make your idea a reality, no matter what level of technical expertise you come in with, and that's critically valuable to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship at Duke."