It’s easy to get lost in the jargon surrounding UC’s new 1819 Innovation Hub. Reading about it requires parsing phrases like “interdisciplinary collaboration,” “solution-based innovations,” and “institutional flexibility.” Its goals are lofty as well. 1819 promises to be a game-changer and a difference-maker. It will, according to UC President Neville Pinto, “bend the arc of the future in Cincinnati’s direction.”
Great stuff, no doubt. Raise your hand if you know what it means, though. Indeed, reading about it, your takeaways will likely be as generalized as mine: 1819 is very important to the city, and it’s apparently impossible to undersell. So for the moment, let’s shelve the question of why 1819 exists and instead focus on what’s happening there.
Just a month after 1819 opened, nearly all its space is spoken for. The first tenant to commit was the P&G-backed UC Simulation Center, which uses computer modeling to improve products and manufacturing processes. It’s joined on the fourth floor by UC’s Office of Innovation and 1819 staff. The fourth floor’s most significant tenant might be CincyTech, a startup investor previously located in Over-the-Rhine whose local impact has surpassed $1 billion.
Cincinnati Bell and Kroger have committed to space on the third floor. There, Cincinnati Bell will create applications leveraging the company’s fiber network, while Kroger will develop solutions to challenges in the retail and e-commerce sector. Beside them are the Village Life Outreach Project, a nonprofit working toward solutions for remote Tanzanian villages, and Live Well Collaborative, which works on projects for General Mills, Citi Bank, P&G, and the like.
One floor down sits the Venture Lab accelerator program, where professionals are helping students develop startup ideas from the harebrained to the genuinely disruptive. Across the way sit classrooms, huddle rooms, conference rooms, multipurpose group gathering spaces, and, in 1819’s largest coup to date, what will soon be a self-serve Starbucks kiosk.
Then we come to the first floor’s maker space. This is where the real magic happens thanks to sanders, table saws, wood and metal lathes, drill presses, cold saws, welders, and a water jet cutter that can cut steel plates 6” thick. More decidedly futuristic is the prototyping area, where you’ll go slack-jawed watching the myriad 3D printers at work.
As you can imagine, 1819 is already abuzz with activity. A spirit of creation permeates every floor. Ideas are being hatched, concepts tested, and things made that'll have you scratching your head as often as you step back in awe. Speaking of what it takes to make something new, that’s half the battle won. No doubt the other half is on its way.
The building is often described as UC’s new “front door.” That works. It hinges (no pun intended) on the importance of place. We may be living out the future, but we still need a physical place to work, to meet, to exist—and to mainline Starbucks. Still, the metaphor begs these questions: Who’s behind the door, and who’s knocking?
Behind the door is talent, and talent innovates. But talent, like innovation, is tricky. Neither one is finite. Talent can be nurtured, and innovation can be taught. Doing so in Cincinnati requires UC students be given a place where they can learn how to create—and fail. What they’ll do in that space is to be determined. But the university trusts with proper guidance, they’ll do something worthwhile.
As for who’s knocking, it’s largely the business community. That’s a tad ironic, considering UC pioneered co-ops (“Go out!”) and now it’s built an innovation hub (“Come back!”). Nevertheless, 1819 is an indispensable asset to companies like P&G and Kroger. They need new ideas. More, they need talent, lest an upstart Amazon comes to knock them off their perch.
The problem is, innovating for Fortune 100 companies isn’t necessarily glamorous—at least not yet. With UC’s help, though, there will soon exist a new generation of doers, thinkers, makers, coders, database architects, systems analysts, and product life-cycle engineers working in what promises to be Cincinnati’s own Silicon Valley. Sure, today 1819 stands alone. Eventually, though, it'll be part of a vast innovation corridor where companies and talented individuals from around the world come to invent what's next.
Alas, you're still not sure what 1819 is, are you? No worries, I'm not either. I'm not sure we're supposed to. I'm not sure it matters. What matters is this: It's pivotal to the city, and it’s just getting started.
- - -
UC's 1819 Innovation Hub is located at 2900 Reading Road (45206).