Invent Penn State: Facilitating Connections and Creating an Ecosystem Where Entrepreneurs Can Thrive

An exclusive interview with Nena Ellis Koschny, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications for Invent Penn State

In just its first year of operation, the Invent Penn State initiative has created or strengthened several new promising programs to support a culture of entrepreneurship in the Penn State community across the Commonwealth: 

Happy Valley LaunchBox, a pre-accelerator program, which graduated its first cohort of teams on April 28, 2016, provides community entrepreneurs with free business training, co-working spaces, access to mentors, and opportunities for business consultation. Ten more companies start in May. Capacity is estimated to be 30 companies per year. Two other LaunchBoxes have opened at Lehigh Valley and Abington campuses. 

The Entrepreneurship Seed Grant Program awarded $50,000 to six of its 24 campuses in 2015 to start or enhance community entrepreneurship centers. Six more campus grants will be announced in May. Already, the effort has connected hundreds of community entrepreneurs with innovators and each other, and started dozens of companies. 

The Summer Founders Program gives student companies $10,000 and a chance to develop their business concepts over the summer. Companies are connected with Penn State alumni and community mentors, provided space to work, and given opportunities to participate in business-development workshops. The first year six companies participated. 

The Fund for Innovation, a commercialization program through which the Penn State Research Foundation partners with academic colleges within the university to provide matching grants to advance research for early-stage ideas. These grants can be used by faculty-led groups to pay for activities—such as creating prototypes or developing market intelligence—not typically covered by academic research funding. 

The Invent Penn State Venture and IP Conference, Penn State’s first, to be held on October 6 and 7. The VIP Conference will showcase the latest innovations from faculty, student, and alumni startups. The most promising ventures will be selected from a broad spectrum of business sectors, including life sciences, agriculture, energy, advanced manufacturing, and communications and will have an opportunity to pitch potential investors. 

These programs and events are a direct result of Penn State’s effort to create an environment that welcomes entrepreneurship. According to Nena Ellis Koschny, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications for Invent Penn State, there is daily work being done to continue to grow the initiative and its eco-system. 

“What we do is look at the gaps in resources—space, funding for commercialization, investment, a lack of business training—and we work to facilitate the creation of resources,” Koschny said. 

Invent Penn State, she explained, aims to create, coordinate, improve, and communicate about entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training, space for incubation, funding for commercialization (intellectual property licensing or startups), and visibility and access to Penn State programs, intellectual property, and startups. 

“A big part of the initiative is connecting people,” she said. “It’s also creating a culture change at Penn State to let faculty know we encourage them to start businesses, and that there are startup resources available.” 

That culture change also applies to students. “We want to make students aware that there are entrepreneurship paths for them, so we’ve created the Entrepreneurship and Innovation minor—it’s called ENTI. Students across colleges can receive an entrepreneurship minor.” 

Through the ENTI minor, students learn entrepreneurship principles and can get involved in events like IST startup week. ENTI enrollment reached 250 students this year, a tangible reflection of the Penn State student body’s strong interest in entrepreneurship.

In terms of results and success for Invent Penn State, Koschny acknowledges there is a long road ahead. “Economic development doesn’t happen in one year. We are developing the ecosystem and momentum needed help to drive economic development longterm,” she said. “Over time, we anticipate seeing an increase in intellectual property licensing, startup companies, students who stay in Pennsylvania to live and work, and in general, a more vibrant economy,” she said. 

If you have an interest in any of the programs above, have a business idea, or would like to mentor, invest or just connect, go to involved

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