If you’ve been in downtown Midland lately, you may have noticed some changes on the corner of Main and Ashman.
What used to be the Northwood University (NU) Gallery — a space for selling art — has been repurposed into the NU Idea Center.
Everything is on wheels so the space can easily be rearranged for a variety of purposes. The Entrepreneur in Residence — a student’s or community member’s business — are displayed in the window.
The Idea Center is a learning lab focused on experiential learning. Rather than an off-campus classroom, it’s a flexible, modular space offering hands-on experiences to business-minded people; including local high schoolers.
Moreover, it’s student-run.
“You come down here and you’re not just going to sit — you’re going to be involved, you’re going to take something away from it more than just being talked at for like two hours,” says Aidan Keyes, vice president of the Idea Center and a sophomore at NU studying entrepreneurship.
Webinars are often hosted from the fully outfitted podcast studio. Check the Idea Center's Facebook page for event information.
The director, John Gustincic, is there for students when they need consultation or run into major issues but otherwise, the Center is run solely by Northwood students. A junior studying automotive aftermarket and management at NU, Brendon Krimmel, is the CEO. Together, Krimmel and Keyes do all the staff scheduling and event planning. They’re even trusted with the keys to the building.
“It’s honestly a great opportunity to manage a space like this and I like it a lot,” says Keyes. Keyes expressed that most job opportunities for students don’t have the same level of responsibility. “Here, you get to run it.”
Aidan Keyes, a sophomore studying entrepreneurship, is the vice president of the Idea Center.
Six student ambassadors also help around the Center doing bookkeeping, cleaning, generating event ideas, and running events.
Even the layout of the Center was developed by students. Student team Tristan Korzelius and Jon Perrault won the competition to develop a business plan for the Center. They visualized how the space could be utilized and came up with marketing and branding concepts.
Walking in from Main Street, the first thing you’ll see is the Timberwolf Studio — a bright, glass-enclosed, and fully outfitted podcast studio. Every Wednesday, the room is booked for a webinar (see their Facebook page for event information). Other days, the room is open for reservations. Students have expressed interest in starting podcasts about various topics, such as fashion, automotive, politics, and comedy.
Students can relax and reenergize in the student union area. Soon, there will be a machine stocked with healthy snacks.
“Having an opportunity to come do something — to put your voice out in the world and say what you’re thinking — it has drawn the attention of a lot of people because they can express themselves without having to go out with people,” says Keyes.
Stepping inside, the Center is divided into three main spaces. First, it’s all business: tables, chairs, whiteboards, a large TV, and displays showcasing the business of a student or community member. All of the furniture is on wheels so the layout of the room can easily be rearranged.
“We can move literally anything around,” says Keyes. So far, the space has been used as a classroom, boardroom, and a movie theater, to name a few examples.
There are two small, private study rooms in the back facing Ashman Street. Deeper into the Center, you’ll find the student union area, equipped with a coffee machine — featuring Creation Coffee — a ping-pong table, leather couch, and a full kitchen. Soon, there will be a machine stocked with healthy snacks.
In the back is “The Create Space.” While still under development, the area is fully funded and will soon be equipped with Cricuts and 3D printers. This area is intended to be used for product development.
“So many people at Northwood have an interest in creating a business or creating a product or something like that,” says Keyes. “People in the community have wanted to come and use the area back here because they have an idea for something, and so we’re trying to help that that’s completely possible.”
As COVID-19 restrictions start to lift, the Idea Center hopes to fully open later this spring and engage more with the community. They’re planning events that will appeal to all kinds of people, such as painting, yoga, and perhaps even karaoke.
While still under development, The Create Space is fully funded and will soon be equipped with Cricuts and 3D printers. This area is intended to be used for product development.“[We want to] help bring people together in a time where everything is so messed up, and people need to be there for each other. We just want to help do that for people,” says Keyes.
Keyes’s goal is to work for another company for a few years and contribute actively in that role. Eventually, he wants to go his own way and find something he’s really passionate about. For now, he’s grateful for the opportunity to lead the Idea Center along with his peers.
“It’s literally the dream job … We’re here to connect with all kinds of people and I think that’s a really valuable experience,” says Keyes.
To see the Idea Center’s hours or to stay up-to-date on events, check out their website and Facebook page.