MSU’s Montclair Innovation Lab Opens with Intent to Kickstart Small Business

Now located in the heart of Downtown Montclair – bridging the physical gap between the town and Montclair State University – is the new Montclair Innovation Lab.

The Montclair Innovation Lab. (Photo by Mike Peters, Montclair State University)

The Montclair Innovation Lab, located at 10 Lackawanna Plaza, is the University’s first off-campus incubator. The 1,200-square-foot space, formerly Bobbi Brown’s studio, officially opened its doors to the public with a grand opening on Monday, June 22.

“The hope is that this becomes a space for creative thinking and innovating and great ideas for the community as well as the students,” said Carley Graham Garcia, Executive Director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at MSU.

Graham Garcia spearhead this two-year pilot project with intentions to scale the learnings of MSU’s MIX Lab, support the 2020 Startup Montclair pitch competition winners and host retail pop-ups for student and community entrepreneurs.

The incubator space offers a ground-level kiosk for retail pop-ups to introduce their brands, product or service to the already-established Montclair retail district. This provides the opportunity for businesses to either test out Montclair as a potential home for their company, or simply test out their business model as a pop-up to see how it works.

“Our students can learn about building a brand and a business,” Graham Garcia said.

SoLo’s Food. (Mike Peters, Montclair State University)

Culinary startup SoLo’s Food occupied the retail popup space during the grand opening, selling food items from their menu. SoLo’s Food, created by MSU students Diamonique Lundy and Kheyyon Parker, won the $10,000 second place in the 2020 StartUp Montclair Pitch competition, and is using the Innovation Lab to grow the business.

“We’re a soul food restaurant but we’re unique in that we sell healthy food. The main staples [of soul food] are fried food, really salty,” said Lundy, a Master Candidate in MSU’s food science program. “We don’t fry any of our foods and we cut down on the salt.”

SoLo’s Food operates as a free home delivery service to Essex and Union county, with the goal of helping the African American community consume more fruits and vegetables.

The opening also featured MSU alumna and Montclair resident Jennifer Bladel’s powerful COVID-19 Small Business Photography Exhibit, part of Fresh Air Montclair Art Exhibitions.

Bladel’s photography was scattered throughout the lab, featuring small Montclair businesses during the pandemic. Each photo was black and white, but each with a different color of the rainbow overlaying it to promote a feeling of hope.

“I wanted to highlight small business owners in Montclair and showcase their resiliency during the pandemic and what they were doing to pivot that was bolstering their spirits,” Bladel said. “These small businesses are hurting, and they’re the fabric of our community and what makes it so beautiful. It was really a privilege to meet them and see how they’re innovating.”

Jennifer Bladel and her COVID-19 Small Business Photography Exhibit.

Initially the lab was also set to promote a coworking atmosphere, where startups or nonprofits could rent the space at a nominal cost. However, due to the limitations on indoor gatherings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the coworking opportunities are on hold.

The lab also features one of the 48 3D printing devices from MSU’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation MIX Lab, currently being used by the first place 2020 pitch competition winners Dr. Floss.

The Montclair Innovation Lab hopes to have a continuous rotation of new businesses in the retail pop-up and exhibit spaces, and also to raise awareness about the access of 3D printers that community members can take advantage of at the University for any prototypes they may want to print.

“We’re supporting our student and community startups first and then hoping to broaden it,” Graham Garcia said.

To book the retail pop-up space, feature an exhibit or inquire about accessing a 3D printer, email entrepreneurs@montclair.edu.

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