PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Hundreds of students packed three food-filled study breaks in recent days to mark the opening of a new, dedicated home for Brown University’s Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. Located just steps from campus in a built-from-scratch building at 249 Thayer St., the new site will serve as a physical hub for Brown’s diverse entrepreneurial community.
Three floors of light-filled space are designed to be multipurpose, user-friendly and flexible in configuration. Tables, work spaces, couches, chairs — even the walls — can be moved as needed to create intimate meeting areas, co-working areas for student ventures or large lecture and event venues. Corkboards and glass whiteboards throughout the building are already crowded with student brainstorms, equations and questions.
It’s easy to see the space as one where innovative ideas will be inspired and brought to life. That is exactly what it is designed to do, said Danny Warshay, Nelson Center’s executive director.
“Students are bursting with excitement,” Warshay said. “Having a dedicated, centralized location for the Nelson Center will transform Brown’s entrepreneurial landscape. It will encourage the accidental interdisciplinary collisions that lead to breakthrough insights and provide the student co-working space that helps to translate these insights into successful ventures.”
The location on Thayer Street places the center directly within College Hill’s bustling retail district, which intersects with a wide range of University buildings and lends itself to both academic and commercial activity, Warshay added. Brown is leasing three floors from Capstone Properties and the Discovery Group, which developed the four-story building, including retail space on the ground level.
Since its launch in 2016 — supported by a $25 million gift from Jonathan M. Nelson, a Class of 1977 Brown alumnus and founder and CEO of Providence Equity Partners — the Nelson Center has operated temporarily from a third-floor suite in Brown-RISD Hillel.
Providing programs and support to students at every stage of the entrepreneurial process, the Nelson Center has quickly become a nexus for entrepreneurship at Brown. The center has centralized funding opportunities for students engaged in startup ventures; launched new courses on entrepreneurship; created a Peer Entrepreneurs-In-Residence program; facilitated Breakthrough Lab, Brown’s intensive summer student venture program; and hosted a diverse range of entrepreneurs and innovators as speakers.
It has also cultivated a strong sense of student community among those at Brown interested in all facets of entrepreneurship, something the new space will further establish and support, said junior Samantha Noonan.
“I am in love with this space,” said Noonan, who is co-president of Brown EP, a student-run entrepreneurship initiative based out of the Nelson Center. “I think it will help foster a really tight-knit entrepreneurship community, and its visibility will encourage other people to get involved.”
The building is already humming with activity. In addition to the study breaks, staff and students are preparing for a Startup Synapse trip to San Francisco from May 18 to 22, where they will explore the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Bay Area. The center will also host a Commencement Forum and reception on May 25. And just days later, 14 teams of students will take over the building for the fifth annual Breakthrough Lab.
An official opening celebration for the Nelson Center’s new space will take place next fall.