Business Dreams; Start-up Reality

The College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) is celebrating innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit with its third annual Start-up Week, April 7–11.

First held in 2012 as a celebration of successful young entrepreneurs and innovators in the fields of technology and security, IST Start-up Week has grown to showcase the wealth of possibilities that exist for enterprising IST students as emerging thought leaders in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. All students, as well as the University community, are welcome to attend.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our students to interact with successful entrepreneurs and innovators across a wide spectrum of applications associated with information sciences and technology,” IST Dean David Hall said. “The speakers and guests are very direct and interactive with our students, in some cases providing proprietary case studies found in elite MBA programs.” 

Through this annual event and other initiatives, such as scholarships for students with an interest in starting their own companies and the addition of an entrepreneurial minor in the curriculum, the College of IST is strengthening its commitment to the active support of thought leadership both in and out of the classroom.  

Becky Kang, a sophomore majoring in Security and Risk Analysis with a focus on Information Cyber Security in the College of IST, said that all students can benefit from attending Start-up Week activities.

“Technology is applicable to everything,” she said. “Many of the speakers are Penn State alumni who were in the same position as we are just a couple of years ago. It would be cool to hear how successful their Penn State degree has been for them and what opportunities they have had.”

 

A man gives a presentation at the front of a classroom. A poster about IST Start Up sits next to him.

IST Start Up Speaker

Bryson A. Nobles, a 2004 graduate of Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts, speaks at the 2013 IST Start-up Week about the importance of executing ideas. An entrepreneur who has launched more than a half-dozen startups, Nobles says, "No matter how cool your technology is, it doesn't really matter if you can't convince people to buy it."

Image: IST

“This is an amazing opportunity for our students to interact with successful entrepreneurs and innovators.”—IST Dean David Hall

One of the alumni speakers on the schedule is Phillip Ayoub, who earned a Ph.D. in IST at Penn State and is a senior consultant at Doblin, the innovation strategy practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP. At Doblin, Ayoub guides clients in setting their innovation strategy, creating breakthrough businesses, and building effective innovation capabilities. 

Another speaker is Daehee Park, who graduated from the College of IST in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA). Park is a co-founder of the startup Tuft and Needle, a mattress company. With a background in ecommerce platforms and monetization, he has successfully launched scalable business models for more than six years. During the early part of his career he created data-driven marketing platforms helping brands as diverse as Macy's, Visa, American Family, and Shell adapt to emerging media channels.

Ryan Glynn, a 2012 graduate who majored in SRA with a focus in intelligence analysis and modeling as well as cyber security, also is slated to speak. While an undergraduate, Glynn did extensive research in areas of security with faculty and as part of research center projects.

Since graduation, Glynn has bootstrapped a startup in digital retail, CinemaRama, as well as co-found a technology company called mhoto. CinemaRama’s mission is to give artists complete control over how they sell their creations and the purpose of the sales (commercial or personal use). Mhoto is a technology company that works on composing brand new musical soundtracks based on analysis of text, photos, and videos.

Glynn has been interviewed by Forbes and Al-Jazeera America, along with being published in Engadget and Entrepreneur Magazine. In addition to founding startups, he has also worked for KPMG in New York City and currently is employed by Capital One in Virginia.

 

A woman spins a brightly colored wheel to win a prize at the IST Start Up booth in the HUB.

IST Start Up Spinning Wheel

Evan Friedenberg, a student IST Start-up Lead for 2014, explains the upcoming IST Start-up Week to a student during Start-up Madness, which took place March 20 in the IST Building and the HUB on University Park campus. Students had a chance to spin the wheel for prizes as part of the many activities at the event.  

Image: Michelle Bixby

Glynn credits his education with giving him a solid foundation for his work. In addition to learning from professors, Glynn said, he got advice during the inaugural IST Start-up Week, held in April 2012, about starting his own company from those who have gone through similar experiences.

“(Start-up Week) was amazingly convenient for me because I got to talk to David Rusenko (IST ’07, CEO of Weebly) and Steve Huffman (co-founder of Reddit/Hipmunk) all about my business and advice that they had to give to me,” Glynn said. “It was probably the most beneficial week I have had in my entire college experience.”

Among the 40-plus speakers, more than 30 of whom are Penn State alumni representing five colleges, Rusenko and Huffman are scheduled to speak this year, as well as Todd Bacastow IST ’05, director of product management for DigitalGlobe, a leading provider of geospatial information and insight, and Chris Fanini IST ’12, chief technical officer and a co-founder of Weebly, a company that helps anyone create a website, blog, or online store. 

 

A man stands in front of a classroom of students speaking while gesturing towards a screen of information.

IST Start Up Presentation

Presenting during the 2013 IST Start-up Week, Brennan Burkhart, who graduated in 1999 from Penn State's Smeal College of Business, is founder and managing principal of Redkite, a consulting firm that specializes in the design and implementation of technology solutions built on the Salesforce.com platform. 

Image: IST

“It was probably the most beneficial week I have had in my entire college experience.”—Ryan Glynn, IST ’12

Evan Friedenberg, a College of IST student serving as a one of seven student IST Start-up Leads, believes that the life lessons that can be learned from entrepreneurs during Start-up Week are valuable for all students. "How to take risks, overcome challenges, become a leader, develop a strong work ethic, and challenge your mind—all can be applied to any job in any career field," he said.

Whether students have specific ideas about starting a business or not, Friedenberg said, "The speaker presentations can help teach them how to refine their ideas, think more creatively, and anything else they would need to start their own business or expand the ways they think in any job they may have." He added that with Q&A sessions, entrepreneur office hours, workshops, and networking opportunities, students can interact with the entrepreneurs to "learn about their experiences, get inspired, and maybe even get a job."

Steve Vannelli, a junior majoring in SRA with a minor in IST, said that Start-up Week speakers “show us that no matter your focus area, your skills, your strengths, or your weaknesses, you still have the ability to become an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship doesn't have boundaries and neither does Start-up Week.”

Vannelli, who attended previous Start-up Weeks, has a stronger interest in striking out on his own than he did last year because of an IST course he is taking this semester called Digital Entrepreneurship. “This class is teaching me how to go about starting my own business and encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone in order to make it work."

Because he is so inspired, he can’t wait to go to activities during IST Start-up Week 2014 and recommends that his fellow students do the same.

“I can almost guarantee it will have some sort of effect on you,” Vannelli said. “Who knows? It might just inspire you to start your future multibillion-dollar business!”

About Start-up Week and the College of IST

IST Start-up Week began three years ago to celebrate the success of Weebly.com, a company started by alums David Rusenko ’07 IST, Chris Fanini ’12 IST, and Dan Veltri ’07 Bus, and recognize the generosity of David Rusenko in supporting scholarships for entrepreneurial-minded undergraduates students. Since then, the event has developed as an ever-growing source of valuable information for students.

The College of Information Sciences and Technology serves approximately 2,100 resident undergraduate students University-wide, 500 non-resident degree-seeking students via Penn State’s World Campus, and 120 resident graduate students in master’s and Ph.D. programs at the University Park campus. An additional 400 non-resident students are pursuing online master's of professional studies programs. The college has a full-time equivalent faculty of 64, a staff of 60 and a budget of approximately $20.4 million. The undergraduate curriculum is offered at 19 Penn State campuses by another 100 faculty affiliated with the college.