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While celebrating 30 years, UND’s Center for Innovation is looking toward its future

The Center of Innovation at University of North Dakota is celebrating it's 30th birthday this coming month. Much of the credit can be attributed to founder Bruce Gjovig, one of the leading members in the creation of the Center in 1984. When founded the Center for Innovation was one of only a handful in the nation. It has since become one of the premier entrepreneurial sources for up and coming entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors. (Luke Franke/Grand Forks Herald)

The hallways of UND’s Center for Innovation are lined with paintings and photographs.

But it’s a piece that only exists there in the form of a photograph in a newsletter that Bruce Gjovig makes sure to point out. “The Entrepreneur,” a statue located on the University of St. Thomas campus in Minneapolis, depicts a man hammering a chisel into a stone with his eyes blinded by a cloth.

The entrepreneur, Gjovig explains, can’t always see where he or she is going next.

Gjovig founded the Center for Innovation 30 years ago Friday, and since then the organization has expanded and helped launch hundreds of new businesses. And it has marked another milestone in its history when it became part of the newly established School of Entrepreneurship, which is officially launching this fall.

“There’s going to be an increased demand for experiential learning opportunities for students,” Gjovig said.

New frontiers

Gjovig, previously an employee of the UND Foundation, started the Center for Innovation in Harrington Hall before moving to where it is today on James Ray Drive off of North 42nd Street. The center can provide start-ups with everything from physical space to operate, coaching, help with raising funds and office support.

But the center doesn’t just help new start-ups. S&S Promotional Group, which was already established in Fargo, is among the businesses that have come through the center over the years.

Matt Fischer ran the Grand Forks S&S branch out of his basement for a couple of years, but realized he would need a more professional atmosphere for the business to grow. He moved into the Center for Innovation, where having access to information technology and front office staff helped him do just that.

He has since moved out of the center, and now S&S has its own office in Grand Forks.

“They’re not just a landlord, they’re a partner,” Fischer said of the center. “Their goal is to help you grow your business.”

While the center’s initial focus was on manufacturing, market demands have now shifted it toward more technology-based industries. Gjovig said he expects unmanned aircraft systems, biosciences and data systems to be growing industries going forward.

“There’s a huge future in all of those industries,” he said.

The center has set aside 18 spaces for the UAS industry in its incubators, and seven of them are already taken. He expects continued interest from similar firms now that Grand Forks has been selected as one of six national test sites for testing UAS before integrating them into the national airspace.

Next steps

Gjovig has been spending a lot of time lately preparing the center to become part of the new School of Entrepreneurship, which is forming out of a department within the College of Business and Public Administration. The State Board of Higher Education approved the change in May.

It will become one of the first of its kind in the nation, and officials hope that it will mean more visibility across campus and region, attracting more students and faculty. About 900 students were enrolled in at least one entrepreneurship class in 2013-2014.

“We would expect that to grow significantly as we go across campus,” Gjovig said. It may also help attract more students to UND, he said.

The Center for Innovation has attracted a number of entrepreneurship interns over the years, and they said the hands-on experience they’ve gained has been invaluable. One of them, Emily O’Brien, has been working with the developers of a planned boutique hotel in downtown Grand Forks.

“I want to be fully engaged so I understand what (the project developers) are going through,” she said.

Gjovig said the extent that students are involved in the center is what makes it different from otherwise similar organizations.

“When you’re looking back 30 years and going forward, I hope we never stop doing that,” he said. “Because I think it speaks so well to the talent that’s here.”

Call Hageman at (701) 780-1244, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1244 or send email to

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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