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Campus Development “Ambitious, global and bold thinking” Eight-metre-high ceilings, high-tech workshops and moveable walls and tables. At DTU Skylab, students test their ideas in practice and develop the best of them into start-ups. Thoughts can soar at DTU Skylab. Really soar. From the tables at which the students work, it is 7-8 metres up to the ceiling in this vast, central room. An old industrial crane is suspended from the ceiling, a sign that this was once a production hall. At the almost 1,600 m2 facility, students have access to advanced equipment such as an IT and prototype workshop with 3D printer, 3D scanner, laser cutter and CNC-milling machine as well as wood, metal and electronics workshops. The complex also houses office space and a function room for courses and workshops. The various workshops are situated around the central space, which is filled with students working in small groups. The room’s single interior wall is a huge glass partition, offering direct views of the course being taught in the auditorium. Before DTU Skylab opened in its current form, a prototype version of the idea was tested for 18 months. Mikkel Sørensen, team leader at DTU Skylab, says: ‘It was on a much smaller scale. The facilities were nothing like what we have now. But we tested the model, trying out events, workshops, coaching, and so on. The strategy was to simply make the leap and learn from our mistakes. If we hadn’t tried it out first, I don’t think we would ever have been able to create the DTU Skylab we have now.’ The DTU Skylab prototype soon demonstrated its potential, rapidly recording a string of concrete successes with students progressing from idea to product and company, succeeding in attracting external funding, or creating positive results in existing enterprises. From 2013 to 2014, the number of registered start-ups by DTU students increased from 10 to 23. Post-its on windows The window in DTU Skylab’s central space is dotted with post-it notes. ‘Yesterday, all the rooms were booked, but then someone found a corner and created their own workspace with tables and chairs on castors and post-its on the windows. It was only possible because of the building’s flexibility. The rooms can be split up in many ways, and everything is moveable,’ says Mikkel Sørensen, adding: ‘You often make mistakes when trying to predict the needs of users and how they will use the facilities. The place is constantly changing, and people make the space their own. Therefore we have to see DTU Skylab as a living organism which can adapt.’ Mikkel Sørensen highlights the flexibility of DTU Skylab as one of its three main features. The other two are transparency and edge. ‘Here, the focus is on interdisciplinarity and meetings across the entire organization—therefore it’s important that you can see each other and see right through the building. One thing that students stress is that this where they meet and find out who can do what,’ says Mikkel Sørensen. Moreover, it’s important that the building has ‘edge’: ‘It must be wild and dynamic and not too ‘nice’. DTU Skylab should be a place where you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Using Euro-pallets as sofas and preserving the old industrial crane in the ceiling reinforces this aspect,’ says Mikkel Sørensen. Plenty of room for error DTU Skylab’s rawness and flexibility go hand in hand with the view that making mistakes is all part of the process. Actually, as the saying goes: To err is human. ‘DTU Skylab is a place for learning. We are very proud of the start-ups which have taken off, but you also need the freedom to test out bold ideas and be prepared to learn from your failures. The sky is–quite literally– the limit, and students must be ambitious, global and fearless in their thinking. Trying to push the limits of what is possible, sometimes you invariably overstep the mark. That’s why the commercial breakthroughs often happen after the second or third attempt, but the experience can be extremely instructive and valuable,’ says Mikkel Sørensen. He stresses that innovation is much more than just being issued with a company registration number—it’s also about creating broader knowledge on the basis of what you know. ‘Of course, some start-ups create jobs immediately, but society also benefits from people learning how to transform their practical knowledge into real value—in new or existing business. This is how we believe we can contribute. This is why DTU is doing what it’s doing,’ he says. DTU Skylab has succeeded in attracting significant companies such as IBM and the business community in general. Also, exciting courses are held, which provide inspiration and make DTU Skylab come alive. ‘We have successfully created a hub that supports student innovation and offers unique opportunities for interdis-ciplinary knowledge sharing. We find we can play a positive role, but this also happens to a large extent in cooperation with other initiatives at DTU and external partners,’ says Mikkel Sørensen. DTU Skylab belongs to all Situated high above DTU Skylab’s central space is Skybox, a teaching and meeting room in a black box which is painted a glaring yellow inside. In the basement is a bar area—where the sofas are made of Euro-pallets. One of the walls at DTU Skylab is referred to as the ‘Wall of Opportunities’, and presents students with the spectrum of possibilities and activities that can help them to develop their competencies within innovation and entrepreneurship. There is intense activity at DTU Skylab, and the basis for a very different study environment. Mikkel Sørensen and the other employees sit in open rooms which also have workplaces for students, where they can bounce their ideas off the employees. ‘My impression is that this environment encourages a lot of practice based learning, and it creates a different dynamic. Several lecturers have said they enjoy working at DTU Skylab, because it exposes the students to an environment which is very different to the usual university milieu. For example, students can meet companies, investors and foundations here, and having direct access to workshops or group rooms is a huge bonus,’ says Mikkel Sørensen. In February 2015, DTU Skylab broke its own record with over 6,000 visitors. And in this high-ceilinged playground, there is also room for people who are not necessarily DTU students, says Mikkel Sørensen: ‘DTU Skylab does not belong to a single department, but to DTU as a whole. In reality, the strongest teams are often those which also involve outsiders. As long as a group includes at least one DTU student, then the entire team is welcome.’ By Signe Kirkegaard Cain, journalist 09/2015 Transforming DTU 34


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