Raleigh, N.C. — Charlie West is hard at work behind the microscope, his soldering tools within reach as he puts together components to build his own robot.
“It's my first time doing this, which, hopefully, is why I'm messing up so much,” he said.
But messing up is all part of the experience at North Carolina State University’s Entrepreneurs Garage.
Located on Centennial Campus, the Garage is a business startup incubator – a place where any student can brainstorm, collaborate and come up with new products and inventions.
West, a graduate student in computer science, wants the robot to power his new business, Vision Mosaics, which would create big glass mosaics out of pictures that can be uploaded to his website.
“We're trying to create pathways for students coming out of their own jobs, for themselves and others,” said Tom Miller, executive director of the Entrepreneurship Initiative at N.C. State.
Founded in 2008, the program teaches students how to start companies, write business plans, market their products and find funding through courses, training and networking.
Red Hat sponsors the garage, which is open to any student. Campus officials said the university hopes to raise money to expand the concept into an Entrepreneurs Village on the Centennial Campus in the next few years.
As West works on his robot, recent graduate Angela Hollen is looking over website designs.
She used the Garage to launch Spitter Spatter -- her own line of stain- and bacteria-resistant clothing for infants and toddlers.
“The smart boards were really helpful,” she said. “I could sketch out designs and patterns, save the file and send them to my pattern-maker.”
Junior design student Sharon Bui has launched Frill, a business that allows sororities to get custom clothing for rush week.
She says the Garage has given her a big advantage.
“Instead of meeting at Panera, I have a professional space to bring in investors and clients,” Bui said.
Students say it's a place where they can turn their dreams into reality – and launch ideas that could change the world.
West says if the glass-mosaic business works out, he will set his sights even higher.
“I have an idea for a space company, actually with solar sails,” he said.