The Student & Innovation House is a platform for student-driven engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration, empowering students to stay curious and take action together. The 40 students behind the Student & Innovation House believe that they can change the world.
“By bringing the knowledge, curiosity, and engagement of the entire population of students out into the surrounding society, we can create a positive impact on society,” says Maria Flora Middelboe Andersen, co-founder of the organization and MSc Business Administration and Philosophy student at CBS.
The organization intends to create a platform for changemakers that brings students together across backgrounds and disciplines in an old police station in Frederiksberg. The students are refurbishing the old Police station on Howitzvej 30. The refurbishment will be finished in 2020, but they are already now building the organization and prototyping activities.
To get the most innovative design and ideas for their refurbishment project, the Student & Innovation House has decided to incorporate many students into the planning process. The house will host several events throughout the spring in order to collect more ideas, and students from every university in Denmark is invited.
“We have approximately 1,000 ideas, but unfortunately we don’t have infinite money. So, over the upcoming months, we are involving students because we know that we must prioritize our resources and we don’t want us to be the only ones who decide on behalf of everyone,” says Maria Flora.
Some ideas that have already been proposed are a research lab with eye tracking and brain scanning equipment, a virtual reality lab, and a maker space with 3D printers and laser cutters. However, Maria Flora believes that these ideas can change depending on the level of technological advancement from now until the Student & Innovation House’s official opening.
“The technology that we can conceive of right now will already be super outdated by 2020. So, we will try to keep our options open and create an infrastructure that can allow for whatever the cutting-edge technology of 2020 will be. Hopefully, we can still get a maker space though. Who knows, maybe the equipment we’ll use is not even invented yet,” she says with a spark of excitement in her eyes.
Aside from getting feedback from the broader student community, the organization has also started prototyping activities that draws more people towards the organization. Students have the option to be volunteers – or Falcons, as they call themselves – or members. Currently, there are 40 volunteers from a broad spectrum of educational institutions in the Copenhagen region engaged in the project, and they are always open to new ideas and more engaged students.
“What’s so nice about being a volunteer is that if someone has an idea that they want to try out, then it can almost always be turned into some type of prototype activity that the house could be involved in. It makes for a very creative house where you can try out projects,” says Signe Dreyer Elkjær Team Leader at the Student & Innovation House and BSc Business Administration and Service Management student at CBS
So far, some of the prototype activities that they have organized were a sustainable hackathon with private sector stakeholders validating the solutions, being judges, providing insights, and acting as mentors. They have also worked together with Aalto, a Finnish university, and a start-up called space nation to explore what kind of business models could arise once space travel is more prevalent. And the organization has designed a social science research lab to promote research that does not fit the bill for traditional institutional research.
Creating A space for innovation
In the very beginning, the Student & Innovation House had their eyes set upon Solbjerg Kirke. But when the police station in Frederiksberg went up for sale, the founders saw it as a blessing and immediately jumped on the opportunity.
“We quickly started researching into what we should do with 3,000sqm of police station. We have all the possibilities in the world. What should we do with this? And what we really wanted to do was to break down silos between students,” says Maria Flora.
But as the saying goes, nothing in life is for free. The students asked CBS to buy the building and they agreed to aquire the police station on the condition that the students fundraise enough money to refurbish the 100-year-old police station.
“Getting the critical amount of funding, so that CBS would believe that we could actually go all the way through with this project was our first big challenge. By now we have fundraised 52.5 million DKK for the refurbishment of the building,” says Maria Flora.
Part of the reason for the renovation is that the building is as old as CBS itself. And as it is now, the building is deemed unsafe due to fire regulations. However, this has created an opportunity to create a truly innovative space for students from a broad spectrum of academic backgrounds.
“There are several other reasons to renovate aside from the legal ones. For instance, if you go further up on the floors, it’s made up of very small rooms because it was used for offices. So, if you want to put together larger groups of people it wouldn’t be that fitting,” says Signe Dreyer Elkjær.
Although the students have the biggest say in what the Student & Innovation House should include in their newly refurbished building, there is still a steering committee – consisting of representatives from CBS and the organization – that oversees the whole project. According to Maria Flora, this is not an issue, as the two parties tend to agree on every proposal.
“It’s a very good balance with CBS. On the one hand, they’re like mom and dad. They want you to be your own person, but they are always there to hold your hand and make sure that if something bad were to happen, it would not be us as private persons that it would happen to,” she says and continues:
“We really have a lot of say in what happens, it’s quite extraordinary for such a big building project. We have a big voice, which is also why we are involving students from the broader student community.”
From student organization to NGO
Even though the Student & Innovation House is already considered to be a non-profit organization, it is moving into the next phase of its existence by changing into an NGO.
“We are changing our organization so that we can take in members. So far, the only way to get involved has been by becoming a volunteer. But in January, we made it possible for any student from any university to sign up as a member,” says Signe Dreyer Elkjær.
According to Signe Dreyer Elkjær and Maria Flora, the organization has a lot to gain from the shift and it will enable them to pursue many more projects.
“It is important because it will give us more resources. For example, when you donate to an NGO you can get some of your taxes back. This means it will be a lot easier for us to get funding for our organizational activities and therefore we can develop even more,” says Signe Dreyer Elkjær and Maria Flora adds:
“To attract sponsors that would sponsor us with products, we must have a certain degree of establishment and a certain buy-in from the surrounding community. So, we can actually leverage our ability to help and make a difference for students in the future by laying the bricks for that now,” she says.
But becoming an NGO is not without its challenges. To succeed in the task, the Student & Innovation House needs to gather 300 members and receive donations of 250 kroner from 100 of those members. And part of the reason why it has begun prototyping activities is to attract more potential, interested students into the organization.
“We have some plans and ideas, but really, what we want to do is to serve the students and what they want. So, right now we are just prepping everything for the students of the future. So that they can come in and say, ‘I want to have a workshop, or have a panel discussion’. We’re making it as easy as possible for future students to take ownership and initiate whatever it is that they want to use the house for,” says Maria Flora and continues:
“We could have a lot of ideas, but it’s like raising a child, maybe you want your girl to be a ballet dancer, but then she ends up wanting to play soccer. In terms of the Student and Innovation House, we can make it with something specific in mind, but above all, we think about how can we make it so that it’s flexible for the student of the future.”