Summer Startup

Penn State alumnus Matt Brezina and Marketing student Eli Kariv, behind the new Summer Founders Program to support student entrepreneurs, are just two on a long list of speakers slated for this year's #ISTStartup Week.

Alumnus Matt Brezina graduated from Penn State in 2003. While in graduate school, he started developing an idea for his own business, then landed a $12,000 grant from Y Combinator—a seed accelerator that funds early-stage startups. It was the push he needed to really get Xobni, a product offering search and people-based navigation of email archives, off the ground. 

"It changed my life," Brezina said of the grant. "Since then, I've gone on to sell two companies and have been on this crazy trajectory of career growth that never would have happened without that [grant]. I want to give Penn State students that same opportunity that was given to me." 

IST Startup Week returns to Penn State April 13-17.

IST Startup Week 2015

IST Startup Week 2015 returns to Penn State April 13-17. Successful entrepreneurs and innovators from around the country will converge at Penn State for the week. 

Image: Penn State

So Brezina, along with Smeal College of Business student Eli Kariv and with the support of Schreyer Honors College Director of Development and Alumni Relations Sean Miller, hatched a plan. They would raise enough money to provide a selection of Penn State student teams with $10,000 for the summer so they could forego an internship and spend the whole break working on their ideas—and the Summer Founders Program was born.

"We want to give these student teams ten weeks to do nothing but work on their idea," says Kariv. "We're giving them time to go heads-down on their own projects rather than accepting a summer internship—to just work for themselves full time." 

"I want to give Penn State students that same opportunity that was given to me."—Matt Brezina

Kariv was just a first-year student at Penn State when he put his entrepreneurial dreams into practice with his company, Crossed Clouds—a web design service focused on small businesses and nonprofits. A program like the Summer Founders Program would have helped Kariv immensely when he was building Crossed Clouds, he says: "I can't even put into words how amazing this would have been for me. I think the reason I want to build it is because it would have meant so much to me." 

Brezina, who has stayed close with the University through board memberships with the Schreyer Honors College and Innoblue, says he's seen institutional support for student entrepreneurship grow "massively" over the past several years. And the Summer Founders Program comes at a good time for Penn State as President Eric Barron ramps up his 'Invent Penn State' initiative, backed by a $30 million investment, in support of entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Kariv believes this kind of support from the University will provide an already enthusiastic student body with an extra push to really believe in their own ideas and take the leap into bringing them to life. 

"For the inaugural year of the Summer Founders Program, we received more than sixty applications," says Kariv. "At an average of two or three people per team, that means there are more than 120 students on campus ready to say, 'I want to start my own thing, and I'm willing to work nonstop over the summer so that I can make a difference.' I think that's a really powerful statement." 

Alumni Matt Brezina smiles surrounded by colorful greenery in front of Old Main.

Matt Brezina

Matt Brezina, a 2003 electrical engineering alumnus, is co-founder and CEO of Sincerely. He also co-founded Xobni, an email software company that makes your inbox and address book smarter.

Image: M. Scott Johnson

And, more than giving an extra push to a group of motivated and talented students, Brezina and Kariv believe this program will help to move the entrepreneurship and innovation culture forward at Penn State.

"I think this sends a much broader message to the community," says Kariv. "It's right in line with what President Barron is saying about accepting innovation and creating new things." 

Thanks to generous donations from Penn State alumni, community entrepreneurs, and others, the Summer Founders Program has already raised enough money to fund its first several years. 

"We believe the Summer Founders Program is part of the future of creating entrepreneurs at Penn State and in State College," says Brezina. "Our goal is to endow the program indefinitely in the future." 

IST Startup Week

IST Startup Week, hosted by the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, is an annual event that gathers successful entrepreneurs and innovators from all over the country at Penn State for a weeklong celebration of ingenuity and inspiration. 

Brezina and Kariv will present on Wednesday, April 15, at 4:15 p.m. in 113 IST Building.

From April 13-17, presentations—all open to the public and available via live stream—will feature founders and executives from a number of well-known startups and companies, including Dropbox, Scribd, Y Combinator, Exec, Inc., Reddit, Weebly, General Motors, and Conde Nast. 

Kariv and Brezina will present "Summer Founders Program: Seeding undergraduate entrepreneurship," on Wednesday, April 15, from 4:15-5:30 p.m. in 113 IST Building, Cybertorium. Their presentation will focus on entrepreneurial needs early in the startup process. 

"[T]here are more than 120 students on campus ready to say, 'I want to start my own thing, and I'm willing to work nonstop over the summer so that I can make a difference.' I think that's a really powerful statement."—Eli Kariv

Other events include an Innovation Showcase, where visiting companies as well as Penn State graduate and undergraduate students will display technologies and prototypes; the IST IdeaMaker Challenge, where a final group of six teams will pitch business ideas to a group of judges; and StartupTank, where student teams with an established business model will pitch to investors for funding. 

The full schedule as well as a list of speakers can be found on the IST Startup Week website at ist.psu.edu/startup