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Westcliff University Opens Innovation Hub for Emerging Tech

The center will give students research experience with companies such as AONDevices and BrainLeap Technologies, developing new products with artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other emerging technologies.

Westcliff officials say the school has been outfitted with additional computers, tech tools and facilities to accommodate its new Innovation Hub.
(Westcliff University)
Westcliff University has formally launched a new research and education center that officials say will give students a chance to work with technology companies developing products in emerging fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality, among others.

According to a recent news release, the Irvine, Calif., university’s new Innovation Hub was launched this month to serve as a collaborative space for cross-pollination between academic experts, students and tech companies to explore new product ideas, marketing strategies and advancements in emerging tech.

The hub will house training courses for critical skills in emerging tech fields, as well as a business incubator program dubbed IGNITE, which will partner tech startups with students to create new business strategies and products for an ever-growing tech sector.

The goal of the hub and its incubator is to help startups grow their businesses and give students real-world experience, according to the university's announcement.

The launch of the hub follows the lead of other schools like Purdue University's Experience Innovation Center, or XCenter, founded earlier this year for university faculty, students and companies to create new tech tools in fields such as AI and cloud computing.

Westcliff President and CEO Anthony Lee said students will gain valuable hands-on experience with product developers such as AONDevices, a semiconductor company specializing in application-specific edge AI processors; Saya Life, a water management company using machine learning to predict water overuse, leaks and changes in water quality; and BrainLeap Technologies, a game development company researching the use of video games for measuring and improving cognitive skills among children with ADHD.

Through work with companies like these, Lee said, students will have their finger on the pulse of industry trends and gain insights into companies developing new products and concepts.

“Our focus is really to try to integrate that into the academic experience of our students as much as possible. We’re trying to have more opportunities for this intersection of business and education with the industry,” Lee said. “I think every university should have something like this because there’s going to be more research, and [new tech] applications."

Other key Innovation Hub initiatives include the Strategic Management of Applied Research and Technology (SMART) program, designed for MBA students to work directly with established local and multinational companies in capstone courses to create strategies for emerging technology products.

“Ultimately, these companies are coming to us with new ideas, and they want our students to do the research to let them know if it’s a good strategic direction for the company,” Lee said, adding that students will work with startups to help “guide their growth.”

In addition, the Innovation hub will house Westcliff’s Distinguished Innovator Speaker Series, where students can access discussions with tech innovators like Martin Cooper, the “father of the cellphone,” and Paramount Pictures’ futurist-in-residence Ted Schilowitz, as well as an entrepreneur-in-residence program for one-on-one mentorship and coaching services to student entrepreneurs.

The hub builds upon existing offerings within the university’s full-stack coding bootcamp certification program, where students can take accelerated courses in coding, web design and other in-demand skills. The bootcamp holds online courses to accommodate remote students and is planning to add courses in cybersecurity, AR/VR game development and data analytics to its portfolio in 2022, Lee said.

“We want to prepare students for the workforce as fast as possible to get them the best [jobs], but at the same time we still want to encourage students to finish the bootcamp to complete their bachelor’s degree," Lee said, noting the growing popularity of accelerated tech bootcamp programs in higher ed in recent years.

According to Lee, the Innovation Hub is just one component of an effort to build upon the school’s current tech ed offerings, like its bootcamp and SMART program, which predates the launch of IGNITE earlier this year and the formal launch of the Innovation Hub.

He said the new hub is part of an overarching strategic goal to expand the school, which recently invested in a brand-new campus in Irvine and allocated over $1 million to the development of its facilities, including space for active learning classrooms, computers and other hardware.

The university held an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the new campus last summer after partnering with startups for its IGNITE program in early 2021, according to an email from the university.

“Current programs are still being expanded with new programs on the way, and we expect all Innovation Hub programs to continue to grow throughout this year and into the future,” Westcliff University’s Director of Entrepreneurship Barry Sandrew said in a statement.

Lee said the Innovation Hub is also the culmination of a vision of the late Provost Dr. David McKinney, who sought to put Westcliff University "at the direct intersection of education and industry” before his death last year.

“His sudden passing intensified the university’s effort to make this vision a reality,” Lee said.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.