School:Pennsylvania State University

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Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship

In the last 5 years, Penn State University has been expanding their entrepreneurial ecosystem by introducing new academic and extracrurricular programs, robust organizations focused solely on supporting entrerepeneurs, and expanded funding to initiatives across its 20 campuses statewide. The creation of Invent Penn State, acting as the leading entreprenerial organization for Penn State, has allowed centralized strategy and partnership between otherwise scattered resources.

In 2013, Penn State introduced an intercollegiate entrepreneurship minor (ENTI) that allows students across most colleges to venture into subject clusters of their choice. The entrepreneurship minor offers unique and diverse clusters: Arts Entrepreneurship, Digital Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Entrepreneurship as Advocacy, Food and Bio-Innovation, Hospitality Management, New Media, New Ventures, and Social Entrepreneurship.

Off campus, organizations like the Happy Valley LaunchBox serve as a great starting point for student, faculty, and community entrepreneurs, alike. With free WiFi, coffee, and co-working space from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm, anyone can utilize these resources. Several programs allow students and community members to start and launch a business:

  • Idea TestLab is a four-week program that gives curious minds tools, mentorship, and support to conduct customer discovery with potential users.
  • For entrepreneurs who are further along, the FastTrack Accelerator program is a 16-week accelerator program that offers intensive, hands-on guidance and tools to grow their startup.
  • Penn State is also home to the Summer Founders Program, an immersive 13-week program that gives student and local entrepreneurs $10,000 in grant funding, dedicated office space, one-on-one mentorship, and additional resources to work on their startup or non-profit full-time over the summer instead of pursuing classes or an internship.

Throughout the year, several signature events serve as great opportunities to engage and grow in the entrepreneurship community. In late fall, Global Entrepreneurship Week celebrates both the University and community's committment to innovation, offering presentations, keynotes, and networking opportunities. Also in the fall, HackPSU offers curious developers and students passionate about technology a 24-hour immersive experience with open-ended development and business challenges. In the spring, Penn State offers Startup Week, bringing leading minds in innovation and entrepreneurship to campuses across Penn State and offering the community opportunities to learn through workshops and pitch their startups.

Student organizations like Innoblue work hard to make sure that budding entrepreneurs have all possible resources to reach their goals. Innoblue holds workshops in subject matters of marketing, coding, brand creation, pitch delivery and more.

The accelerated undergraduate program that pushes an entrepreneurial mindset early on is the joint Science B.S./M.B.A. program. Penn State also offers the Humanitarian Engineering & Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program as well.

Along with an academic push for entrepreneurship, Penn State attempts to provide many resources for entrepreneurship, such as 3D printers, idea pitch competitions, TEDxPSU, and more. Penn State also offers many opportunities for funding for entrepreneurs on the rise.

Faculty Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Faculty play a large role in Penn State's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Many faculty commercialize their own research and turn projects into successful business ventures. Other faculty members choose to act as mentors for students and help nudge students towards the path of entrepreneurship.

There are three endowed chairs of entrepreneurs who can be found in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Smeal College of Business, and School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs. Faculty are provided with research centers, design and innovation centers, business plan advice, and funding programs.

Penn State also hosts its annual Venture & IP Conference, a way for existing entrepreneurs, researchers, and investors to connect.

University Technology Transfer Function

In order to assist entrepreneurs with technology transfer, two Penn State resources and one statewide resource has been provided. Penn State runs both the Office of Technology Management and Penn State Research Foundation. Through its TechCelerator program, Ben Franklin Technologies assists from the stages of research to startup. These programs exist to help entrepreneurs facilitate technology transfer.

University-Industry Collaboration

Penn State has a few programs that allow university-industry collaboration, but this is still an area of great potential and growth for Penn State.

One of the main initiatives that currently exists is the Nittany AI Challenge. Through the program, selected student entrepreneurs will spend eight months working on launching an artificial intelligence-based solution that solves a campus-specific problem. The challenge gives students the chance to win up to $25,000, receive project mentorship, and work alongside challenge partners like Google Cloud and Microsoft.  

Additional programs that exist today are The Learning Factory (where teams of students are given projects and budgets by industry to solve a problem within a semester), Hackathons (companies such as Microsoft and Google hold their Hackathons at Penn State), and the Engineering Design Program (where students learn to use industrial tools such as CAD) Currently, Penn State is working on increasing university relations with State College local entrepreneurs.

Regional and Local Economic Development Efforts

By collaborating with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Penn State's Innovation Park, Penn State Business Development Center, and Centre Region Entrepreneur Network (CREN), Innoblue and various other Penn State organization and university programs, Penn State is attempting to decrease the gap between university and State College local entrepreneurs. The goal for State College is to bring local industry revenue to $3 billion by 2033.

Landscape Canvas

To view various entrepreneurship and innovation resources at Penn State, check out our Landscape Canvas.

Penn State's Entrepreneurial Progress

Penn State is growing in its entrepreneurship ecosystem, but it's still very young. Before 2015, there was no centralized organization tasked with pushing innovation and entrepreneurship programs and organizations in a common direction. Now, with Invent Penn State, our university is moving in a great direction. There's still lots to be done, though. For example, resources are rather scattered across entities, making it hard for outside students to understand what's available and get involved. In addition, resources for pitch competitions and other student funding opporutnities are growing, but they're still not at levels comparable to other schools with great innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems.

Note: The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) consists of 20 campuses. Each campus promotes entrepreneurship in its own way. For consistency, only Penn State's University Park campus information has been included.

Related Links

Pennsylvania State University Student Priorities

Current Fellows:

Michael Miller

Hayden Long

Previous Fellows:

Mridul Bhandari

Related links