Shawnee State Debuts New Innovation Hub to Accelerate Entrepreneurship

How the university’s renowned game design program inspired a new mission

Kricker Innovation Hub at Shawnee State University

Did you know that one of the most consistently recognized video game design programs in the United States sits in southern Ohio? In Portsmouth, Shawnee State University has been among the industry greats for years, most recently ranked on the Top 50 Game Design Undergraduate list published by The Princeton Review for the 13th consecutive year. Now, the school is trying to capitalize on that success by parlaying it into an entrepreneurial venture. Shawnee State officially opened the Kricker Innovation Hub in March, a new flagship facility in downtown Portsmouth meant to inspire entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity in the southern Ohio region.

“The Kricker Innovation Hub is the entrepreneurship center for the university,” Innovation Hub Director David Kilroy said. “We’re a bridge between campus and community in both a physical way — the first downtown building for the university, a flagship center to intentionally rebuild that relationship between downtown Portsmouth and the university — and also programmatically, where we don’t just serve students, we also host events and other groups who aren’t student-facing.”

The idea for the facility dates to more than a decade ago, when the state of Ohio designated SSU as a center of excellence in digital and immersive technology. That left the university with an impressive designation, but not a physical space. When Kilroy arrived in 2017, the university began working on a feasibility study to create a place of innovation and worked with LIGHTS and a variety of other Ohio organizations to help find funding, build programming, and expand connections. With those entrepreneurial roots, Kilroy said, advancing and developing will be the center’s main goals.

“If we are successful, that success is coming from building a digital and immersive technology accelerator,” he said. “We have a third-floor accelerator studio that I describe as the beating heart of the building and what we’re doing because that’s the threshold for what success looks like for us. The university has a top-ranked undergraduate game development program, and we want to leverage that to go from learning game development to applying those skills to an entrepreneurial venture. That’s the catalyst for this investment from the university.”

The 27,000-square-foot space that houses the Kricker Innovation Hub is a 129-year-old building in downtown Portsmouth and renovations began in 2020. The first-of-its-kind project for Shawnee State offers conference rooms, classrooms, workshop space, event space, and more, in addition to its dedicated accelerator space. It also is developing a digital maker space, which will eventually house technology such as 3D printers, 3D scanners, motion-capture suits and technology, and a recording studio.

But for Kilroy, the most important part of the space isn’t the amenities, it’s the change in focus. The hub will represent Shawnee’s outreach to the Portsmouth community and beyond, blurring the lines between school and city. Rather than creating dedicated studying and working spaces, the Kricker Innovation Hub aims to connect students with the broader economic and talent pools. Shawnee State doesn’t just want to cultivate talent and let it leave, it wants to be able to make the connections that lead to growth right from its Portsmouth home.

“It’s really not about the space, it’s about the people who are in this space doing whatever it is that they’re doing,” Kilroy said. “The most important investees in the space will be people who are going through that accelerator studio, where we have this unbelievable tech talent pool and we can connect it with the broader ecosystem in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, and all of Ohio to bring those resources, connections, and capital down to Portsmouth.”

The hub ultimately comes from the university’s plans, but it likely couldn’t have happened without both investment and support from the wider Ohio community. The space’s long list of partnerships include resources such as LIGHTS, the Central Appalachia branch of the ECDI Women’s Business Centers (which is hosted at the hub), TechGrowth Ohio (a partner of Ohio Third Frontier), The Ohio State University Endeavor Center, and more. With that kind of support behind the hub, Kilroy said he hopes it can create a new avenue to success for the talented minds of southern Ohio.

“Talent is equally dispersed, but opportunity is not,” he said. “We’re creating opportunities for the people who live here, study here, and work here, by connecting to the broader Ohio ecosystem. Our supporters in Ohio have been supportive of that vision. We had two capital cycles for investment in the hub, and at every opportunity, our partners around the state have been willing to step up and work with us to advance our vision.”

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