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Innovation and Impact: Laker grad to lead Innovation Center grand opening

(October 3, 2023) - When Jalen Teal, a two-time Clayton State graduate, first stepped into what is now the College of Business’ Innovation Center back in December 2021, she called the space a “madhouse.”

Jalen Teal of the College of Business earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Clayton State University

“There was no carpet, no furniture, no paint on the walls,” said Teal, the center’s manager. “There were only some vending machines. This area had previously been a break room.”

But now, that “madhouse” has become “her baby,” as the Innovation Center now stands ready to usher in a new chapter of student and community engagement on Clayton State’s often quiet east campus.

With a grand opening event set for Tuesday, October 24, Teal is ready to watch the project she took charge of “nurture and grow.”

“When I got here, I worked with the vendors to bring everything to completion,” Teal said. “I actually got to have some say. Some things were chosen – the carpet and furniture were ordered – but I got to pick the paint and the colors of the glass marker boards. I kind of felt like part of the foundation.”

While it’s true that the space’s interior has been completely overhauled, Teal said that the new Innovation Center is more than just its successful remodeling.

For the Laker grad, the center is incomplete without one key component – student engagement.

While she said the space has been used occasionally in the past for small events, such as local delegation functions, Teal believes that the space has only been viewed and used by many in “passive” ways and is ready for its true purpose and potential to finally be utilized.

“Any type of [event] that is beneficial for getting students in the space and interacting with the space – we haven’t had anything like that yet,” Teal said. “I want this room packed as much as possible.”

However, Teal said that there is a specific distinction between how she envisions the space being utilized.

She clarified that the intent of the Innovation Center is not to host steady streams of retreats or meetings, saying it may impact student accessibility and use.

“It was brought here to be a creative and innovative instructional space for students, whether that be by way of seminars, lectures, or hosting workshop series – whatever that looks like,” Teal said.

Additionally, Teal hopes to see members of the community benefit from the new center, as well, adding that she wants to see local small business owners come in with access to resources so their businesses can grow alongside the university in the years to come.

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“Some of our students and community members are entrepreneurs and don’t know it,” Teal said. “They have small businesses, but they’re not looking at themselves as business owners. They haven’t gotten their LLCs, they’re not filing their taxes properly to itemize business costs, they’re not strengthening their marketing and trying to grow their customer pool. They’re just kind of existing and doing what they’ve always done.”

Teal said that “partnership” is the answer to both properly utilizing the center’s resources as well as “bringing in experts” to help lead workshops that assist those looking to take the next step in their business pursuits.

She’s additionally visited similar innovation workshops at surrounding colleges and universities in the Atlanta metropolitan area for inspiration, saying she wants to see Clayton State become part of the city’s conversation regarding entrepreneurship and innovation.

“We have a lot of good talent here,” Teal said. “Some of the students I’ve interacted with ... just giving them that little boost of confidence, whatever that looks like to help them reach their next level, that’s what my hope for this space is. I’m hoping that as we raise awareness of the space, we can get more partnerships and interest.”

Teal said that, currently, Clayton State’s Innovation Center has no budget line.

But, she added that others at neighboring institutions have no budget, as well, and are instead either completely sponsored by outside entities or even fully self-funded.

“It’s not impossible to thrive and to get funding,” Teal said. “You just have to get yourself out there, show that you’ve been making an impact, and then people [will become] interested and pour into your pot.”

Finally, while the Innovation Center is under the College of Business, she said she can’t stress enough that the space will be open for all students at Clayton State.

Teal also intends to collaborate with all of the university’s departments, “both academic and non-academic,” to host meaningful events for all Lakers.

And to her, there’s no better day to get a first look at what’s in store for the new center than at its grand opening celebration.

The event will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, October 24, and will feature heavy hors d’oeuvres, networking, and free “swag” and t-shirts.

Mr. Wesley Eugene from IDEO will even serve as a keynote speaker in the event’s second half.

While she does understand that many students may be uninterested in trekking all the way to the university’s east campus, she believes everything the new Innovation Center already is and will soon be makes the trip well worth it.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are in everything,” Teal said. “If you’re a psychology, English, or chemistry major, there is some intersectionality there. We have an entrepreneurship minor. So, if students start to come through the space and realize, ‘oh, I am interested in this and I want to start a business,’ we can then refer them to the minor so they can put it on paper and make it official. Even if not ... just giving them that exposure to it, I think, is important.”

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