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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Innovation Hub receives a $5 million donation from Kelson Foundation

The Innovation Hub is located at 132 Blinn Lane.
The Innovation Hub is located at 132 Blinn Lane.

Middlebury recently announced that the Innovation Hub will be receiving a $5 million gift from the Kelson Foundation in order to support creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship on campus. The goal of the donation is to provide all students with the opportunity to take creative risks and share their ideas without any barriers.

The Kelson Foundation is a private non-profit organization founded in 2017 and currently based in San Francisco. The mission of the organization is to support programs that provide the possibility for everyone, especially those underserved and overlooked, to foster their own growth.

Jake Mortiz ’11 is the current president of the Kelson Foundation and hopes to give back to the Middlebury community to make sure that all Middlebury students have the opportunity to create and try out their endeavors in a supportive environment.

“I graduated from Middlebury in 2011. At the time, the entrepreneurship programs that included MiddCore, summer internships, Oratory Now and others were just getting started, or hadn’t even begun. My classmates and I played a small role in helping to form and steer the programs, with the direction and support of [Director of the Programs on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts] Liz Robinson,” Mortiz said.

The donation will honor Elizabeth (Liz) Hackett Robinson ’84 who has been a longtime mentor for Moritz, as well as many other Middlebury students in years past. Robinson founded the Programs on Creativity and Innovation in 2007, which has evolved into focusing on internships, social entrepreneurship, public speaking and global health initiatives for students. The Innovation Hub will now be known as the Elizabeth Hackett Robinson ’84 Innovation Hub..

“I wanted to honor Liz’s work and contribution to the school,” Moritz said. “As well as help ensure that students in years to come would have ample opportunity to experiment, build, and mess up, as a complement to their classroom experience.”

Robinson herself is excited for the opportunities the donation will give for many of the programs. “This incredible endowment will support the core creativity and innovation programs at the Innovation Hub, such as Old Stone Mill, MiddChallenge, Vermont Innovation Summer, MiddEntrepreneurs, TEDxMiddlebury, the Hunt, MiddDev, MiddSTART, Vermont Ventures Trips, and just as important, it will help secure the professional staffing needed to effectively run these programs and advise students,” Robinson said in an email to The Campus.

The Innovation Hub, located on Blinn Lane, guides and supports students who want to learn and build skills in innovation through many programs and events that range from working on strategic thinking and leadership skills to providing work spaces for students and many more unique opportunities.

“All students who are curious about creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and social impact are welcome to participate in Hub programs,” said Heather Lovejoy ’08, director of the Innovation Hub. “A student interested in an introduction to our programs may join a Vermont Ventures Trip to a local business or participate in a design-thinking workshop, while a student with a project idea may become a tenant to use the space at the Old Stone Mill or receive a MiddChallenge grant to work on their idea over a summer.”

One of the spaces the Innovation Hub provides is the Old Stone Mill in the heart of downtown Middlebury. It provides a space for students to develop creative projects or entrepreneurial startups all under one roof.

Athena Antippas ’26 is a current tenant at the Old Stone Mill and owns a nail tech start-up called Nails by Athena. “Being a tenant with the Old Stone Mill has been a great experience and allowed me to have a workspace of my own. I am very excited about this donation, and I do hope it is invested back into the students, perhaps partially in grant funding so that students could apply to use it for funding their projects and small businesses,” Antippas said.

Students that have ideas for projects can use the Old Stone Mill space, and in some cases may be given grants in order to pursue their interests. MiddChallenge helps turn student projects into a reality — the program selects two proposals every year in which students receive $4,000 for a summer project.

Lynn Yan ’24.5, a 2022 MiddChallenge recipient, used her grant money and was given the opportunity to paint a mural depicting student mental health at the Old Stone Mill.

“I spent the summer painting murals as a studio art and psychology double major,” Yan said. “The grant single handedly funded my journey as a muralist and allowed me to show off my art as an international Asian artist. It made such a large scale art project affordable and accessible to me.”

Sam Segal ’23, another student who received funding from the Innovation Hub, took his grant in a different direction through the help of alumni connections the Hub provided, which later turned into mentors that help him to this day. Segal helped found another program within the Hub called MiddVentures which provides assistance to Middlebury entrepreneurs in their potential endeavors, and helps host MiddChallenge, from which Segal received grant money previously to help take his startup Bulletpitch to the next level.

“Through the funding, I was able to buy software and explore growth strategies, which have helped my team create a name for ourselves in the startup ecosystem.” Segal said. “Conversations with Heather and other Hub staff have been extremely helpful, fulfilling, and transformational in my Middlebury experience.”

Both students and Hub faculty are excited about the donation and the opportunities it will provide for future students at Middlebury.

“I was thrilled to find out that the Innovation Hub received a 5 million dollar donation,” Segal said. “I can only imagine how the Hub will transform to add more programming and resources to foster innovation on campus. I find an entrepreneurial education to be useful for any career path, and through the funding, the Innovation Hub will be able to amplify this message and impact an even bigger share of the student body.”

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The Hub’s success has even been noticed outside of the college, as Middlebury has built an incubator for entrepreneurship because of the Hub’s programs.

Middlebury has a decades-long partnership with the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) which helps startups develop their businesses in the state of Vermont, and many have started at the Innovation Hub. Sam Roach-Gerber, the vice president of VCET, spoke to the impact the Innovation Hub has on student’s potential. “We have seen firsthand that the Hub's programs are truly life changing for students. Innovation and entrepreneurship creates a lens that allows students to see themselves in a whole new light. It helps them crystalize their paths after graduation, and gives them the confidence to create change that the world so desperately needs,” Roach-Gerber said.

“At Middlebury, students are able to take real-world skills and apply it to their liberal-arts education in order to pioneer new ideas and solve important problems, which is unique,” Robinson said. “Middlebury has a powerful tradition of creativity and innovation that has sustained the institution for more than 200 years. I am proud that so many have made the Innovation Hub become an integral part of this important tradition.”

Mandy Berghela

Mandy Berghela '26 (she/her) is a Local Editor. 

She previously served as the SGA Correspondent and contributing writer for the Campus. She plans to major in Political Science, with a minor in Arabic. Along with the paper, Mandy serves on the Judicial Board, social media manager for the Southeast Asian Society (SEAS), and is also involved in many campus theatre productions. On her free time, she enjoys long walks, cycling, and reading fantasy novels.