Collaboration?California Style

At California State University, Fresno, an ambitious attempt to cultivate technology entrepreneurship in a traditionally agriculture-dominated region has gotten off to a fast start. In 2003, the university launched the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, uniting the academic community, local business leaders and venture capitalists seeking to diversify the local economic landscape. Today, 10 local community colleges and nine area high schools have joined the effort, strengthening curriculum offerings for students who want to develop their own business enterprises.

The center routinely brings business leaders on campus for lectures to give students a firsthand account of what being an entrepreneur is all about. Its technology commercialization unit works with local inventors to bring new IT creations to market. And an annual contest is held in which students present their business plans to a panel of seven venture capitalists: The winning team gets $15,000 in seed money and an office in the center?s headquarters.

With so much going on, the center needs to bring together many people from different backgrounds and communities. Before long, those running the center realized they had a logistical challenge on their hands.

?We?ll have a meeting once a month with individuals at the community colleges to talk about curriculums and other matters,? says Timothy Stearns, executive director of the Lyles Center. ?Some of them would have to drive two hours to get to our building. It wasn?t a good thing for the carbon footprint, and asking them to drive four hours total and spend another two hours in a meeting was asking a lot.?

Seeking a better way, Stearns and his staff opted for the Avistar C3 Desktop video conferencing solution and its related C3 Conference and C3 Tunnel Server. For just $30 a seat, staff and teachers connect face to face in the virtual world. It?s also mobile, which means staff can access it while traveling, which is useful because many teachers lecture at schools throughout the globe. Users see each other during a meeting and can share documents on the same screen.

?That was a key factor for us,? Stearns says. ?We go over many documents during these meetings, such as those relating to course work being offered. This way, people can discuss and work on it right on the screen.?

The Avistar solution launched a year ago with 25 users and is now expanding to 75. Before long, Stearns would like to add even more, extending to local chambers of commerce and business leaders in communities the center serves.

?There?s a great need to collaborate within the 300-mile footprint in which we operate,? he says. ?This system allows us to bring more people into what we?re doing, which brings us closer to our ultimate goal of having a stronger entrepreneurial presence in our communities.?