UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit, College of Information Sciences and Technology senior and Schreyer Honor Scholar Hayden Long wants to inspire other Penn State students to learn from like-minded self-starters and receive support for their innovative ideas. So, through his role in the student entrepreneurship organization Innoblue, Long co-created the inaugural blueStart festival, happening this week.
The weeklong festival, organized by students for students, introduces the University’s entrepreneurship pipeline and facilitates access to opportunities and resources on campus. It is designed to inspire and inform attendees on how to get started on their own big ventures.
“Penn State is a big place, and often times entrepreneurial-minded students have difficulty navigating the many resources and opportunities available to them,” said Long. “We wanted to give them a way to start their journeys.”
With the help of blueStart co-creators Shakay Simpson, a senior studying management, and Leonardo Girlando, a Schreyer Honors Scholar studying finance and Chinese language and culture, Long wanted to make sure that students who want to find entrepreneurial opportunities could easily do so. They worked to coordinate events throughout the weeklong festival to include a student startup demo, a mini-pitch competition, keynote speakers and workshops.
Receiving help across interdisciplinary collaborations and backgrounds was key to producing the event. Long had existing working relationships with many of the organizations involved, so it was easy for him to reach out.
“It would literally be impossible to accomplish this without these interdisciplinary collaborations,” said Long. “Starting a venture, changemaking or entrepreneurship is an inherently interdisciplinary field not only within Penn State, but generally.”
He added, “Each college and academic unit has strengths that we want to show off with this event. Each of these individual strengths is what contributes to the robustness of our ecosystem.”
Long began thinking about the idea for blueStart nearly two years ago, when he worked as an intern for Invent Penn State. Now, that the festival has come to fruition, Long has been working on the event’s logistics, including identifying keynote speakers, coordinating participants and promoting the event.
Long’s entrepreneurial background dates to his childhood when he would draw new inventions in notebooks and describe them to his parents. At Penn State, he helped a friend launch a small show-painting business. Since then, he has been hooked.
“I have always been a self-starter,” said Long. “I became president of Innoblue for two years and I worked to strategically reposition the club to serve the greatest needs of the Penn State community.”
blueStart is Long’s attempt to give students like him the chance to pursue their ideas.
“If you are like any of us organizers, you've always had a secret business idea or passion project that you've said you'll start eventually,” said Long. “This is your chance to do it with the help, support and backing of the entire Penn State community. We want to see you become a successful founder and we are here to help however we can.”
Throughout his time at the College of IST, where he is pursuing a degree in information sciences and technology, Long has learned the importance of collaboration in developing big goals and projects. This summer, he also worked as an undergraduate research assistant where he studied machine learning applications.
“None of us planning blueStart would have been able to do this alone; we had to rely on one another to hold up their end of the bargain, just like with a big software project in IST,” said Long. “Those experiences of working late nights to finish a class project taught me that I can trust my peers to push me over the finish line if things are getting difficult.”
He says that he would have never learned to code or feel confident in his ability to learn new codes and technologies had it not been for the College of IST. He feels that he was given the chance to build a foundational skill set that is going to assist him in his future.
“I love how much the College of IST emphasizes students to get involved outside of the classroom,” said Long. “I feel like it has made me a more holistic person and candidate in the job market.”
Long’s advice for fellow student entrepreneurs is to remember that entrepreneurship doesn't just mean starting a business, but rather it is the desire to create and improve the things around them.
“No matter what field you are in, you can become an innovator and you should explore the resources no matter where you are in your venture's maturity,” said Long. “Who knows how things can change for you.”