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VALPARAISO —  Come fall, Valparaiso University students needing to brainstorm entrepreneurial ideas will have a place to do that.

They'll also have a one-stop facility to seek advice on anything from marketing to developing a business plan.

Thanks to donations, the university will open the Innovation Hub at McMillan Hall, an interdisciplinary center of entrepreneurship learning, next school year.

"Our approach to this at Valpo is we want to set an innovation mind-set," said James Brodzinski, VU's College of Business dean.

The "hub," housed in a former bank building at 1806 Lincolnway, will be a place where a student with an idea can come and bat it around. They'll be able to get advice from other young entrepreneurs, faculty members and community members, he said.

The hub, which will be dedicated on Sept. 29, will become a reality due to the support of a late alumna and a Valparaiso businessman. Nearly $1.4 million was received from the estate of the late Deborah "Deb" A. Tschetter Spannraft, Class of 1971. Stewart McMillan, CEO of Task Force Tips, donated the building to house the facility. Spannraft’s gift will serve as the initial investment in an endowed fund to support the programs and operation of the Innovation Hub.

The building will be named McMillan Hall, in memory of Stewart McMillan's father and founder of Task Force Tips, Clyde McMillan.

"Valparaiso University is grateful to Deb Spannraft and Stewart McMillan for providing the resources to launch the Innovation Hub at McMillan Hall," said Mark A. Heckler, president of Valparaiso University. "It will become a place where Valpo students can gain hands-on experience working with faculty, alumni and business and community leaders, preparing them for success in a dynamically changing world that needs innovative thinking and strong moral character."

Brodzinski said those two donations came on the heels of smaller donations.

Brodzinski said the hub will address the needs and wants of today's students, many of whom want to develop ideas and work for themselves.

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"They can come here to talk about their business plan, their market plan or to the university's law department to learn how to set up a business," he said. It will be open to all students, not only those in the colleges of business and engineering, which will operate the project. "Students are pushing for these ideas."

"In many cases, we all have ideas, but taking that idea and putting (it)  into practice is the difficult part," he said.

Brodzinski said he also sees the hub sponsoring campus and community-based entrepreneurial competitions as well as inviting local, national or international business leaders to share their knowledge.

"The opportunity for our students and faculty to work with local business leaders is a win-win situation," said Eric W. Johnson, College of Engineering dean. "The students will gain real-world experience by working alongside the entrepreneurs in Northwest Indiana. It is our hope that the business leaders will benefit from the academic research, workshops and innovative solutions provided by relationships."

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.