Startups

UMD is officially opening its IDEA Factory building for entrepreneurship

The E.A. Fernandez IDEA Factory will support student founders in multimedia, robotics, rotorcraft, quantum engineering and more.

The IDEA Factory Building.

(Photo credit Stephanie S. Cordle/University of Maryland)

Today, the University of Maryland (UMD) made a major move for collegiate entrepreneurship by opening the latest facility, the E.A. Fernandez IDEA Factory Building, on its flagship campus in College Park.

The building, which broke ground in 2018 (although construction began in 2020), boasts seven stories and 61,000 square feet of labs, workspaces and more resources for student entrepreneurs. According to UMD, it will be “drastically different” from any other building on campus and is specifically designed for students looking to make changes in fields such as multimedia, robotics, rotorcraft and quantum engineering.

The building is named after alumnus Emilio Fernandez, cofounder and CEO of railroad engineering company Pulse Electronics. Fernandez currently holds 25 patents, largely in transportation, but one in computer technology was crucial for e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle and eventually became the most-cited patent in the US. The “IDEA” portion stands for “Innovate, Design and Engineer for America.”

Fernandez said in a statement from UMD that he hopes the new building will inspire students to collaborate on new projects and technologies.

“Today’s problems are complex, and they require interdisciplinary solutions,” Fernandez said. “We have to combine our specialties so that our knowledge evolves into products and services that help humanity.”

A view of the IDEA Building. (Courtesy photo)

Floor one will house Startup Shell, an incubator and student-run coworking space that a former student created out of a storage closet in 2012. Startup Shell is made to help student companies move off the college campus and scale up. It will also accomodate the ALEx Garage, a space for student competitions and a prototype lab featuring 3D printers.

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Floor two will be an “engineering community hub” featuring workspaces, a cafe and conference rooms for student entrepreneurs to host meetings. The third floor will host the Robotics and Autonomy Lab from the Maryland Robotics Center, featuring both lab and office space to advance robotics tech.

The fourth and fifth floors will house the Alfred A. Gessow Rotorcraft Center, which is subsidized by a $2.5 million gift from Lockheed Martin. The space will be dedicated to aeromechanics and rotorcraft research. The building will also house the Quantum Technology Center, for students of both the engineering school and physics departments, for using quantum physics in tech. The university and IDEA Factory affiliates hope the space can be a center point for a National Quantum Initiative, according to the university’s website.

UMD said that the new building is the latest piece of infrastructure for the university’s “innovation ecosystem.” It joins the Discovery District, made for local founders, as well as new builds such as the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering (completed in 2019) and the A. James Clark Hall (completed in 2017) for engineering students.

“The IDEA Factory is a spectacular addition to UMD’s robust and growing innovation ecosystem,” said UMD president Darryll Pines in a statement. “Its world-class facilities for education, innovation, research and product development in robotics, quantum, engineering, transportation and manufacturing will be transformative. Inspired by a namesake who brought pioneering ideas to market, our community will conceive ideas, create designs, build prototypes, develop business plans and bring to market products that will spur economic prosperity in the region, state and nation.”

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