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Syracuse iSchool Prof. Lee McKnight receives Chancellor's Leadership Project grant to create urban garden

Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) Professor Lee McKnight is part of an interdisciplinary team of SU faculty who received a $150,000 Chancellor’s Leadership Project Grant, matched by $50,000 from the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Energy and Environmental Systems (COE) for a total award of $200,000. Chancellor Nancy Cantor made the announcement Thursday, March 19 during her annual address to the University community and in support of the University’s commitment to Scholarship in Action. The money will support the Syracuse Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development (SEED) Project.

The SEED Project sets out to create an eco-friendly urban farm, including a high-tech greenhouse, in the Near West Side neighborhood that pulls together the services of several local start-ups, academic researchers, community residents, and area college and high school students. McKnight is leading the project with Edward Lipson of the College of Arts and Sciences Physics Department, Craig Watters of the Whitman School of Management, and Kevin Lair of the School of Architecture.

The envisioned greenhouse will use new technologies and information systems that have been developed by companies affiliated with the Center for Advanced Systems and Engineering (CASE Center) at Syracuse University and the Syracuse Technology Garden, These new technologies will control the temperature and conditions within the greenhouse remotely, and create a social network around the project for communication and security.

Among the new technologies used in the project is Innovaticus. This new award-winning wireless grids software (Top 10 Best New Product, Network World, October 2008) manages shared information technology resources and is being developed by McKnight’s Wireless Grids Corp. It is undergoing beta testing on the Syracuse University campus. The development of this software initially received funding from the National Science Foundation.

“The NSF PFI award that contributed to the project's development was initially aimed at creating a virtual marketplace within grids,” says Sara Nerlove, director of the NSF’s Partnerships for Innovation program. “This project shows that NSF-supported technology often finds applications beyond the initial concept, and here a technology that is innovative on its own merits is showing promise for facilitating development of a truly green project.” The SEED project would extend use of the new software for further testing and feedback into the Near Westside neighborhood, in and around the greenhouse.

The greenhouse will give the local community members an opportunity to plant and cultivate their own vegetables that they could, in turn, consume or sell in the neighborhood. The greenhouse would create new local entrepreneurs while also sustaining and providing a showcase for the already formed start-ups who are developing and servicing the greenhouse.

“We hope the Syracuse Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development (SEED) project will become a model for integrating green technologies, business models, and community-development initiatives around the physical structure of this high-tech greenhouse,” McKnight says. “We envision the urban greenhouse to become an anchor for community development that spurs other new businesses and attracts residents into the neighborhood. If this model is successful, we can create other greenhouses or apply the integrated entrepreneurial ecosystems model, possibly with a wireless grid inside to foster information sharing across social networks around the businesses and related activities, into other completely different businesses, in Syracuse and in other cities nationwide seeking to revitalize neighborhoods through green innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Syracuse University students enrolled in three courses—the iSchool’s Innovation in the Networked Information Environment and Whitman’s Entrepreneurship for Engineers and Scientists and Innovation to Venture--will also have hands-on opportunities to engage in the project. The classes will call on students to participate in the design of the new structure, the related new ventures, and community asset building that is the product of new technologies developed and commercialized in Syracuse.

“The students may very well be offered summer positions, continued work opportunities after graduation, or even want to develop their own business venture in the area following their experience with this project,” McKnight says.

Here is an overview of some of the local start-ups and their expected role in the project:
     • MOD-ECO Design of Syracuse will provide sustainable and innovative architecture and design for the greenhouse.
     • Wireless Grids Corp., a CASE Center company, will provide the wireless grids software to share information technology resources for improved, efficient communication and workflow.
     • CollabWorx Inc., a CASE Center start-up now at the Syracuse Tech Garden company, will provide web video technology to facilitate collaboration and communication.
     • SenSyr, a CASE Center start-up, will provide the electronic interface and visual software applications through which the greenhouse systems can be controlled.
     • Summerhill Biomass Systems of Cayuga County will provide an experimental high efficiency, carbon-neutral, biomass (fuel from wood chips, corn stalks and other plant waste) heating system
     • Innoventure, a Tech Garden start-up, will provide the collaborative, green management plan for the greenhouse to ensure a sustainable business partnership with the multiple parties involved

About the Chancellor’s Leadership Grants

Funded by a combination of the Carnegie Corporation and Hendricks Foundation grants totaling $2 million to Syracuse University in the Chancellor’s name, the Chancellor’s Leadership Projects were awarded in a the highly competitive process to 19 projects across the University. The projects exemplify the University's vision of Scholarship in Action and bring together faculty, students, and experts from various disciplines to address critical societal issues affecting the Central New York community and the larger world. By investing “seed money” in these projects, the University affirms the mission of each project as well as their potential for enriching the student experience while making a difference in the world.

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