Earlier this year, Penn State President Eric Barron unveiled Invent Penn State, an initiative to spur economic development in Pennsylvania, propelling Happy Valley into a hub for innovation. This is an audacious goal, and the announcement has created significant activity and a groundswell of optimism from those eager to get involved.
Invent Penn State is an enormous undertaking, aiming to charge entrepreneurship not only in the Centre Region but also in many of the Commonwealth Campus communities we serve. It may take a decade to see the true fruits of our labor, though we should see indicators of success within a few years. This may seem daunting to some but Penn State is in a new mode with regard to entrepreneurship and we are resolute. We feel confident in our mission primarily because, together with our community partners, we’ve already achieved milestones.
In 2015, both in and outside the university, we enhanced infrastructure for entrepreneurship and startups. Inside Penn State we continue to develop entrepreneurship minors and majors that better prepare students to start businesses. Dedicated alumni and community members created a Summer Founders Program that coaches students to turn their ideas into businesses. Six new student businesses completed the program in August. We also established The Fund for Innovation, which allocates $2.5 million in matching grants to aid faculty and post-doctoral students in advancing and commercializing promising research. Twenty-two such awards have been granted to perform proof-of-concept work that can potentially evolve into companies that contribute to our community’s prosperity.
Outside the university, in collaboration with our community partners, we redoubled our startup efforts. Penn State added resources to the Ben Franklin TechCelerator, expanding its proven Boot Camp to coach 18 startup companies annually compared with the previous 12. With Penn State support, Ben Franklin also is providing new resources — professional consultation, mentorship and courses — for our community’s 39 existing incubator companies. Barron also signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County to cement a partnership for regional economic development.
We are working to stimulate local and outside investment for our growing number of startups. One mechanism for achieving this is the inaugural Invent Penn State Venture & Intellectual Property Conference scheduled for Oct. 6-7, 2016 in State College. For the first time our whole ecosystem will gather to network and showcase our entrepreneurial community — startups, Penn State intellectual property and student innovations. Startups will pitch their businesses to angel investors and venture capitalists from Pennsylvania and beyond. We expect 300 attendees, including dozens of startup companies and investors.
In response to community need for early-stage startup training and accelerator space, Penn State collaborated with local entrepreneurs to concept Happy Valley LaunchBox in the former Verizon Building at 224 S. Allen St. Programmatic LaunchBox offerings include a startup toolbox, a 10-week, no-cost training program with office space. Three times per year the LaunchBox team will select entrepreneurial teams with good potential for success to have space and go through the accelerator, facilitating 30 potential startups per year. Community members and students are welcome to apply starting Nov. 16 at: LaunchBox.psu.edu.
The first 5-team cohort will start in January.
The first Invent Penn State website, invent.psu.edu, went live in September, enabling anyone in the ecosystem to find resources for business startups or connect with us. We respond to inquiries within 24 hours. This site will evolve to become a portal for the vast resources in our ecosystem, from research capabilities and intellectual property to facilities, programs, events and funding. If you’re an investor, an entrepreneur seeking community, a business startup, an owner that could benefit from Penn State research or intellectual property, or a community member that wants a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Happy Valley, we invite you to contact the initiative: invent.psu.edu/getinvolved.
Importantly, Penn State wants to express gratitude for our community partners’ long work hours, dedication and collaboration. Together, we’ve strategized, networked and resourced our regional entrepreneurship ecosystem, and we will do much more. Key partners include CBICC, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, New Leaf Initiative, Centre Region Entrepreneur Network, and numerous other organizations and entrepreneurs. Todd Erdley, Videon CEO and entrepreneur, has worked tirelessly to realize many shared accomplishments. We also want to thank our local media that has informed our community about entrepreneurship. The passion and dedication of these individuals and organizations is inspiring. I have no doubt that, together, we will accomplish our audacious, substantive goals. There truly is an ingenious power in partnership.