Harvard i-lab Leader Leaving for Boise State to Revamp Education

The head of the Harvard Innovation Lab, Gordon Jones, has accepted a new position as dean of the College of Innovation and Design at Boise State University in Idaho. Jones will continue to serve as the lab’s managing director through the end of the academic year in June, and then head west.

“This isn’t your conventional move,” Jones says. “It could be an example to other public universities.”

Jones isn’t a conventional academic, either—and that’s probably why he got the job. He came to Harvard in 2011 as the inaugural head of the i-lab, which started as a $20 million project to unify entrepreneurship across Harvard. Jones previously taught marketing and entrepreneurship at Bentley University, but he was better known in industry, having worked in sales and other positions at places like Gillette, American Biophysics, and Universal Pest Solutions.

Now in its fourth year, the Harvard i-lab has become a place that incubates some 200 new ventures annually, in addition to hosting events and serving as a gathering spot for student entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors. Jones says just under 20 percent of Harvard’s student body uses the lab’s facilities in Allston. The center also has recently expanded into corporate entrepreneurship, as well as supporting startups led by Harvard alumni at its recently opened Launch Lab space.

So why leave now? “I’ve always been interested in ‘where can the i-lab model be applied?’” Jones says. “Universities in general need to deliver new ways of learning,” particularly in areas like entrepreneurship and job preparation.

He was recruited by Boise State president Bob Kustra last fall, he says, after the state of Idaho approved the creation of a new college around innovation and design. The college needed a founding dean to oversee things like “new majors, minors, and experiences to really prepare students for the vocation they pursue,” Jones says. There are lots of “schools that don’t get students through with the right skill sets,” he says, adding that one of the goals will be to prepare graduates to “be better at their jobs than their colleagues from other state universities.”

Jones says he and his family have no direct ties to Idaho. He does tout the area’s schools, quality of lifestyle, and cost of living as attractive features. But it sounds like he’s just ready to do something new that involves revamping university education. “This could be a chance to apply the experience and story of the Boston ecosystem, and Harvard i-lab, to a place like Boise,” he says.

Harvard hasn’t said who his successor will be yet, but an obvious candidate would be Jodi Goldstein, who currently serves as director of the lab under Jones.

As for the i-lab’s future, Jones points out the importance of continuing to deliver programs and mentorship to large numbers of students across a wide range of sectors that includes tech, life sciences, healthcare, and social entrepreneurship. And the need to keep all the different schools and deans collaborating for the greater good. (Ironic that he’ll be one of those deans at another university soon.)

“I do believe it’s a very bright future, a high-growth environment,” he says.

Meanwhile, Harvard is in the midst of major development projects on its land in Allston, which could eventually remake the whole context around the i-lab. Jones likens the area to Kendall Square 20 or 30 years ago—ripe for development in corporate R&D, real estate, and engineering education.

“This is a massive platform,” he says. “The i-lab could move from being a contributor, a node in the network, to being one of the centers of gravity within the network.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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One response to “Harvard i-lab Leader Leaving for Boise State to Revamp Education”

  1. Boise State says:

    We are very excited that Gordon Jones will be joining #BoiseState’s newest program, the College of Innovation and Design. Look for big things to happen!