The Point Opens STEM, Startup Pathways for Students and Businesses

Otterbein University’s state-of-the-art facility is broadening horizons and creating opportunities

Thanks to big names like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, founding a startup is sometimes associated with dropping out of college. But what would the startup landscape look like if universities gave their students the resources they needed for invention and entrepreneurship before they left school? Answering that question is part of the goal of The Point in Westerville. Otterbein University’s 61,000-square-foot STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) center opened in 2016, and is filled with learning labs, a maker space, think tanks, networking facilities, event space and co-working areas in addition to hosting companies who want to grow while providing student experiences.

“We are an experiential learning facility for Otterbein students with three main pillars: academic programs, a community maker space and bringing businesses onto campus,” said Executive Director Erin Bender. “We lease space to local businesses who have an obligation under their lease to provide a student experience. We often get questions like ‘Are you an incubator? Are you an accelerator?’ Ultimately, The Point is about experiential learning. We’re combining theoretical learning with hands-on experiences for students in the city and beyond.”

Housed within The Point are a variety of resources that many students or entrepreneurs would have a difficult time finding or financing on their own. The facility has a design studio, virtual reality equipment, a heat press for t-shirt printing, a rapid-prototyping room, 3D printers, a laser engraver and shops for machinery and woodworking. In addition to the amenities, business partnerships are a big part of what makes The Point special. The facility hosts employees from central Ohio startups Nikola Labs and BeeHex, but also larger organizations like Nestle, exposing students to a variety of paths.

“We have a lot of capabilities to support not only small to midsize organizations, but larger companies who are looking to innovate,” said Bender. “You could move a small, growing business into this location, but you can also do what JP Morgan Chase does and put 75 of your employees here. We’re interested in working with a wide range of companies, and we’ve intentionally not been exclusive in the type of company we’re seeking because we know not every student is built to work in a startup and not every student wants to work for a JP Morgan Chase.”

But the facility isn’t just for existing companies; it’s meant to help young entrepreneurs and innovators grow as well. Louie Marrone is one student with firsthand experience leveraging The Point’s resources for that growth. The Otterbein junior started a business called Marzone Customs with his father after being tasked with crafting a picnic table for his mother, and the project grew over time. Now, Marrone has furniture and home decor items in stores around Cleveland and Columbus and has used machinery at The Point to help grow his business.

“The wood shop and laser engravers at The Point have both been amazing resources for me and my business,” said Marrone. “Those tools give me the ability to stand apart from similar small businesses in the area because most of them do not have access to that kind of equipment. The machines in the wood shop shave so much time off the production of our signs, and saving time is saving money. I’ve also used the metal shop for various projects. The equipment can be a little tricky, so the fact that there are instructors knowledgeable about the tools is very helpful.”

In the big picture, Otterbein sees The Point as a way to connect to the broader Ohio startup and STEM community. By providing a holistic approach that exposes students to technical resources while showcasing the campus and surrounding area, Otterbein can help retain the talent that’s already in central Ohio and bring high-potential learners to town.

“We can provide an opportunity to explore ideas and be thoughtful about how we’re attracting individuals to the state,” said Bender. “It’s an opportunity to go beyond a typical summer-intern experience where a student comes from elsewhere and only sees an extended-stay hotel. We want to help them experience Westerville, Dublin or the Short North as well. It’s great for those students to be here, thrive here and give back to the community because they had a great experience. Ohio is a great place to work and it’s well positioned from a logistics perspective. The skill sets and resources are right here.”

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