The IDEA Center: Bringing Notre Dame's Best Ideas to Market

Author: Ryan Millbern

Idea Center Notre Dame Logo

The University of Notre Dame has long been a hub of intellectual and creative activity. Groups and centers devoted to entrepreneurialism, innovation and commercialization had long been peppered throughout the Notre Dame campus, however, they were singular units that reported to different entities within the University. The IDEA Center is now the umbrella organization under which these programs operate, and the combined efforts are now far more efficacious and aligned.


Standing for Innovation, Discovery and Enterprise Acceleration, the IDEA Center will provide technical services and expertise for idea development, technology translation, business formation and commercialization. The Center will do so in a new facility tailored to accommodate the processes that drive innovation.


Through the newly launched IDEA Center, the University will help Notre Dame students, entrepreneurs, researchers and inventors channel their creativity into products that will change the world for the better.


For MBA students, the IDEA Center will bring the startup universe to Notre Dame’s campus, providing access to resources for fine-tuning entrepreneurial ideas, funding opportunities for products and a place to meet potential future business partners.


The new home for innovation at Notre Dame

The Thomas H. and Diane G. Quinn Hall for Innovation and Change—scheduled for completion in mid-January 2018—will be a 40,000-square-foot, three-level facility located adjacent to the current Judd Leighton Hall at Innovation Park. It will provide space for 25 to 30 startup companies, incorporating thematically designed pods for open collaboration between teams and prospective investors from particular commercial technology sectors.


Bryan Ritchie Outside
Bryan Ritchie, Vice President and Associate Provost for Innovation

“Our goal is to start 16 companies this year: 10 from faculty, five from students and one outside community startup,” says Bryan Ritchie, vice president and associate provost for innovation at the University of Notre Dame, and director of the IDEA Center.


In just its first few months, the Center is already well on its way to achieving its goals. “We have 20 technologies at various stages in the pipeline right now,” Ritchie says. “Everything from pharmaceutical and therapeutics to software and engineering.”


Ladies and gentlemen, start your Engine

Here’s how an idea travels through the IDEA Center: student and faculty researchers disclose their invention to the Center via an online submission form. The invention enters the Center’s Commercialization Engine, a three-stage de-risking process that strives to find the idea’s value, determine its market fit, scalability and feasibility, and act on feedback from potential customers.


“The idea is that you can’t ever really succeed at the cutting edge of anything if you’re not willing to take risks and try stuff,” Ritchie notes. “This de-risking mantra is, ‘Let’s start with an idea and see what we can make with it. Let’s fail quickly, through a systematic, stage-gated effort that allows us to really test the hypotheses we’re going after. And then let’s make sure we’re rigorous in our learning from that failure.” 


Notre Dame students drive the Engine  

The Center relies heavily on student involvement throughout the de-risking process. “We currently employ 10 students to help with faculty projects and to help train other students,” Ritchie says. “They’re working with top-tier startups, doing lean business model canvas work, customer contacting, the testing of technologies, helping with prototypes—whatever we need to do to move the tech forward.”


If an invention makes it through the de-risking stages of the Commercialization Engine, the end goal is to have a team and a plan in place ready to raise the first round of professional investment for a new startup; or for the technology to be licensed to an established company.


How MBA students can connect with the IDEA Center

From submitting your idea to investing in a technology already in the pipeline to securing an internship, there are a number of ways that MBA students can get involved in the groundbreaking work happening at the IDEA Center.


“If you have an idea and you want help de-risking and systematically testing that idea, this would be the place to go,” Ritchie notes. “If you want to be connected with that startup universe—funding, venture capital, etc.—and you’re looking for a really interesting job that pays great while you’re completing your MBA, the IDEA Center would be a good place for you as well.”


Get in on the ground floor of Notre Dame’s next great creative contribution to the world at There, you can submit your idea, join a startup, invest in an existing venture or find funding for your latest project.

Originally published by Ryan Millbern at on September 21, 2017.