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Launching an entrepreneurial spirit in West Virginia with the Lane Innovation Hub

E. Gordon Gee, Pedro Mago and the Lane family cutting the ribbon at the new Lane Innovation Hub.

It was a beautiful brisk morning on November 19, 2021, and in true Mountaineer spirit, students, faculty, alumni and other members of West Virginia University and the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources community gathered outside the Engineering Sciences Building on WVU’s Evansdale area of campus to celebrate the dedication of the new Lane Innovation Hub.

Story by Adrianne Uphold, Multi-Media Specialist
Photos by Brian Persinger

Glen H. Hiner Dean Pedro Mago opened the celebration by welcoming everyone to the formal unveiling of the first prototyping center on campus and honoring those who established it, Ray and Stephanie Lane.

“Without your continued support of our College, this would not be possible,” Mago said. “The establishment of the Lane Innovation Hub opens the doors for young entrepreneurs to make their dreams into reality. Greatly expanding our research capabilities, the facility serves as an engine to stimulate economic diversity in the state of West Virginia.”

Jason Lee shows Ray and Stephanie Lane art projects made using the industrial water-jet.To make the Lane Innovation Hub possible, the Lanes provided leadership, resources and expertise to the College, WVU Foundation President and CEO Cindi Roth said. The Lanes have contributed to many different areas across WVU for several years, including funding for scholarships in engineering and music, faculty and outreach support, research at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and funding for the Raymond J. Lane Park at the WVU Erickson Alumni Center.

“Just like many of our accomplished alumni, Ray and Stephanie have never forgotten their roots, the incredible impact that WVU has made on their life and their career,” Roth said. “While most of this wonderful philanthropy has benefited our Statler College, where the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering is named in Ray and Stephanie’s honor, the significance of the support is demonstrated more by the impact this gift has made.”

Ray Lane speaking from a podium. The Lane family has a strong commitment to entrepreneurship in hopes of inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit among students, researchers and the West Virginia community to provide them opportunities to make their dreams a reality.

“Technology innovation in the maker environment has been profound — transforming how engineers learn and work,” the Lanes said. “The Lane Innovation Hub offers vast new opportunities for WVU students and future West Virginia entrepreneurs statewide.”

Dre Hodges shaking the hand of E. Gordon Gee.In 1964 Ray was a high school graduate planning to go to Purdue University. That same year, the Engineering Sciences Building was built on the Evansdale area of campus. The exciting new space was the reason why he decided to give WVU a chance and tour the college.

“I was headed to Purdue University, and my adviser said, ‘you know they built a new engineering campus at WVU,’” Ray said. “I looked at this building and it looked like a spaceship. It looked so new and fresh, and so I said ‘yes, I would go here.’”

Ray and Stephanie Lane demo the thermal imaging camera and digital microscope.Ray said that has been the greatest decision he has made in his life.

When Dean Emeritus Gene Cilento first approached Ray with the idea to create a maker lab in the University, Ray wanted to expand the resources offered from just students and faculty to allow anyone to use the space — including high school students.

“In my and Stephanie’s dream, a couple of parents are sitting with their high school student trying to decide whether they should go to college or not, and what they should do,” Ray said. “And maybe this student sits at the kitchen table and says, ‘I know what I want to do because last summer I visited this thing called the Lane Innovation Hub. I want to design products for a living.’”

Kaleigh Gilroy (left) shows the Lane Family (right) custom etching vacuum sealed tumblers.That dream is now possible for not just high school students, but any entrepreneur across the state interested in designing their product.

The nearly 9,500-square-foot space is comprised of three main workshops dedicated to advanced manufacturing, rapid prototyping and electronic prototyping, with an additional lab area for metal additive manufacturing. Users can go to the Lane Innovation Hub Service Center to have components made for various projects.

“Even though we have only recently opened, the Lane Innovation Hub has already been able to be a part of a handful of projects outside of WVU. The Lane Innovation Hub is committed to reaching and supporting the entrepreneurial community of West Virginia,” said Dustin Spayde, director of the Lane Innovation Hub.

Pedro Mago, Jordan Friend and Kelsey Crawford listen to Ray Lane.The Lane Innovation Hub capabilities include coordinate measuring, cutting, engraving, routing, milling, turning, welding, printed circuit board prototyping, soldering, circuit board rework and PCB inspection.

For those interested in taking their designs to creation, the first step needed to get involved with the Lane Innovation Hub is to create a free account on iLab. Once you’ve created your account, you can submit service requests ranging from electronic prototyping and 3D printing to advanced manufacturing prototyping.

“Each one of those services goes to one of our lab managers, Kelsey Crawford or Jordan Friend,” Spayde said. “From there, one of our managers will review your design, reach out with any clarifying questions if needed through iLab, share the project cost and after you approve of the cost of the prototype, we can get started on fabricating your product.”

A wall in the Lane Innovation Hub reading "Mountaineers go first."The process from design to creation is made easier by the expertise offered by the Lane Innovation Hub. The prototyping center bridges the gap between those who are not familiar with the technical skills required to produce a professional prototype or design with Statler College experts.

“The Lane Innovation Hub Service Center allows users to have their design created on state-of-the-art equipment, with experts that help guide them through the production process step by step,” Spayde said. “The Lane Innovation Hub connects individuals to a wide range of experts, funding opportunities and extension offices within the WVU innovation ecosystem.”

To start your design, visit Students and student organizations share their experiences (below) in using the Lane Innovation Hub to help them on their path to success.

Constructing robots for Mars exploration

Trevor Smith standing with a rover.As humans explore and colonize Mars, there is a need to have autonomous and remote-controlled rovers to work alongside and aid human teams. Students in WVU’s Robotics team annually compete in the University Rover Challenge, hosted by the Mars Society. Students are tasked with designing and building the next generation of Mars rovers that will one day work alongside astronauts exploring the Red Planet. Mechanical and aerospace engineering seniors Tyler Wolf, Trevor Smith and Adam Burns used waterjets, 3D printers, plasma tables, bandsaws, CNC routers and various other types of welding machines at the Lane Innovation Hub to construct their robot.

“We construct a new robot every year, and with the help of the Lane Innovation Hub, we’re able to create our needed parts with a quick turnaround time,” said Trevor Smith, senior mechanical and aerospace major.

Engineering innovative fashion designs

Jillian SmithStudents from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design used tools at the Lane Innovation Hub to support their dreams in fashion by designing dresses for the WVU Fashion Show. Fashion, dress and merchandising majors Jillian Smith, Natasha Yarowenko and Emily Quarantillo started with their original design, scanned the design into Adobe Illustrator and then began the process of using the laser cutter to cut intricate pieces of fabric for sleeves, belts, headpieces and other design elements. The method of cutting the fabric took about 15 minutes, which saved the students hours of having to cut fabric by hand.

“I was absolutely thrilled with how my design came out, and it would not be as beautiful if we did not use the laser cut addition. I am thankful for the resources the Innovation Hub has given the Fashion Department,” said Jillian Smith, senior fashion, dress and merchandising major.

Building the winning components for Mountaineer Racing

Tanner Miller standing next to WVU's Formula SAE racing car.With the help of the machines at Lane Innovation Hub, WVU’s Mountaineer Racing team can design and build highly competitive Formula SAE race cars. Students construct everything that goes into the race car, and the team has created many of those components within the four walls of the Lane Innovation Hub. Students gain real-world engineering experience using machines like waterjets to cut high-density foam for the car’s front wings or when they are powering CNC routers to cut the car’s body panels. Students used aluminum molds to design the layups for the wings and filled medium density fiberboard molds with carbon fiber to create crisp rigid panels.

“Working on this project is the first time I’ve been able to use first principles engineering in a real-world setting,” said Tanner Miller, Mountaineer Racing graduate assistant and second-year mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student.