Free Enterprise Center Advances

Photo by Janet Rogers, Strategic Marketing and Communications

Governor announces state funds to match private donations for prototyping center

Gov. Jay Nixon announced today that he is releasing $7.4 million to allow construction of the new Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The state funds, provided by a bill put forward by the Kansas City delegation in the Missouri Senate, represent the public half of funding for the $14.8 million building, funded under a 50-50 matching program for public-private partnerships to fund capital projects at public colleges and universities in Missouri. Multi-million dollar grants from the Robert W. Plaster Foundation of Lebanon, Mo., and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation are providing the private half of the match. JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced last year that it would donate a $50,000 grant for tech equipment for the center, including 3D printers to help it develop new products.

The Free Enterprise Center, a prototyping and product development hub, will be available to entrepreneurs, local industry, and high school and college students as they pursue entrepreneurial ventures.

The Free Enterprise Center will be housed in a new building to be constructed at the site of a vacant structure at 215 Volker Boulevard. The multi-disciplinary center will serve the School of Computing and Engineering and the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, UMKC’s fastest-growing academic units, and provide a platform for invention, research and education for entrepreneurs, educators, researchers, industry and students.

“The Free Enterprise Center at UMKC will provide greater opportunities for creativity and collaboration among students, faculty and businesses, and strengthen the Kansas City region’s position as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship,” Nixon said.

UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton said the project is emblematic of “the partnership between Kansas City, and Kansas City’s university, UMKC.”

“This facility will support education and economic development across the board. It will help entrepreneurs, inventors and small business be more successful in their ventures. And students from middle school to graduate school will be get a first-hand taste of entrepreneurship and become grounded in the discipline of innovation,” Morton added. “We’ll be building a better Kansas City and a better Missouri for the long term, one generation after another.”

The Free Enterprise Center will include laboratory space, rapid prototyping equipment and educational/collaborative space. The center also will support business and technology transfer advisors to serve students, faculty and researchers from both schools, as well as local industries, entrepreneurs, artists and K-12 students.

The KC STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Alliance within the School of Computing and Engineering is reaching more than 13,000 middle and high school students in the Kansas City region. This center would provide the KC STEM Alliance space to work with high school students on projects that involve robotics, manufacturing, material science and engineering design. UMKC Enactus students, who compete in entrepreneurial challenges, will work with these students on the entrepreneurial and business aspects of technology and manufactured products and projects.

The facility also will be used as a laboratory, incubator and prototyping center for all students within the School of Computing and Engineering and all entrepreneurship students within the Bloch School of Management.

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