At the board meeting, Barron welcomed four Penn State entrepreneurs, including Syndey Gibbard; student and co-founder of Girls Code the World; Leo Girlando, student and president of Happy Valley Venture Capital; Joseph Kitonga, who founded Vitable Health as a Penn State student; and Hunter Swisher, alumnus and founder and chief executive Officer at Phospholutions, Inc., which he launched as a student.
During his presentation Barron outlined Penn State’s end-to-end approach to support entrepreneurs through:
Expanding educational opportunities
Penn State has the most accessible entrepreneurship program in the world, according to Barron. To set students up for success, entrepreneurship education is available across campuses through a variety of academic programs and the Commonwealth Campus Fellows Program. As a testament to the program’s reach, 19,000 students from 169 majors have enrolled in at least one course offered in the Center for Penn State Student Entrepreneurship’s Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation over the last decade.
At the meeting, students Gibbard and Girlando spoke about their experiences using Penn State resources to advance their entrepreneurial ventures. Gibbard, who is studying biomedical engineering and pre-medicine, co-founded Girls Code the World, a nonprofit that offers STEM educational programming and mentorship to young girls. Girlando, an international student who is majoring in finance and Chinese, is president of Happy Valley Venture Capital and the Global China Connection Penn State Chapter and recently co-founded the inaugural blueStart Festival hosted in October 2021.
“Despite not being an entrepreneurship major or minor, I was still inspired by the entrepreneurship ecosystem and became deeply involved in it,” Girlando said. “After a handful of semesters working within the Penn State entrepreneurial ecosystem, I began exploring opportunities to enhance the student experience at Penn State.”
Creating a path to get ideas into the market through programs and competitions
Penn State organizes a range of competitions — from HackPSU and the Nittany AI Challenge to Mont Alto LION Tank and Inc.U Competition — that encourage interdisciplinary teamwork and award prizes and funding for winning ideas. Among the University-wide events is Global Entrepreneurship Week at Penn State, hosted annually in collaboration with partners across the state since 2009. In addition, Penn State Startup Week annually brings the leading minds in entrepreneurship and innovation to Penn State campuses across the commonwealth. In 2021, the event included pitch competitions and online events featuring 122 entrepreneurs, speakers and judges.
The University also is recognized globally for its entrepreneurial efforts. In 2020, the Center for Penn State Student Entrepreneurship earned first place among 250 international programs for “Exceptional Activities in Entrepreneurship Across Disciplines” from the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers. In 2021, a Penn State team earned second place out of 348 teams from nine countries in the international Creating Shared Value Challenge.
Recognizing faculty for entrepreneurial research
Penn State is focused on supporting Penn State innovators with resources through the Invent Penn State Resource Navigators. The resource connects startups, researchers, and industry partners to resources, IP support and each other. Among faculty recognized for entrepreneurial innovation is Jim Adair, professor of materials science and engineering, biomedical engineering, and pharmacology, who was named Invent Penn State’s Inventor of the Year. His research has led to $5.1 million in grants for cancer research, he has filed 23 invention disclosures and he holds 17 U.S. patents. In 2021, John Mauro, professor of materials science and engineering, was recognized with a Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal Award in the entrepreneurship category for advancements in glass science.
Giving community members access to assistance and support
Penn State makes business training and entrepreneurial support — across 21 LaunchBoxes and Innovation Hubs — available to local community members and startups. For example, the Hazleton LaunchBox has assisted more than 500 local entrepreneurs and hosted 48 community events and offers bilingual programming to help local entrepreneurs make their business ideas a reality. At University Park, the new Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank, a multi-use home for innovation, is now open in downtown State College to make interdisciplinary research and innovation more accessible to the community. Among other community-focused programs are Penn State Law’s Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic, which provides pro bono legal services to support underserved small businesses in Pennsylvania, and a Startup Leadership Network, guided by a council of Penn State alumni, which has helped create 26 ventures and 127 jobs.
Creating visibility for intellectual property in locations outside of typical tech hubs
Helping to highlight innovation in Pennsylvania, the Invent Penn State Venture and IP Conference is one of the largest tech startup conferences in the mid-Atlantic, attracting more than 800 attendees, including more than 70 startup ventures and 40 investment firms, from across the country. Annually, the event highlights innovations from high-growth and emerging markets including IT, energy, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, health care and more.
Penn State students and recent alumni with successful ventures and fundraising are supported through entrepreneurial education; competitions; assistance through boot camps and Summer Founders Program; events that create visibility for IP; and local partners that provide funding to take ideas to market. For example, with initial support and funding from the University, Swisher’s Phosphosolutions has grown to 20 employees and recently raised $10.3 million in venture capital and Kitonga’s Vitable Health now encompasses a network of 100 nurses and advanced practitioners to provide urgent, acute and preventative health care in patients’ homes.
Developing partnerships to make investment possible
As a foundational element of its entrepreneurial ecosystem, the University partners with other leading research institutions to enable and scale research and advance economic development. In September 2021, Penn State was selected to advance research commercialization across the region. As one of eight universities, Penn State was awarded $1.5 million to participate in the Mid-Atlantic NSF I-Corps Hub led by the University of Maryland. The funding will enable Penn State to expand entrepreneurial training to help faculty and graduate students commercialize their technologies, translate their work to the marketplace and generate economic value.
“I chose Penn State because I knew it was a big school with a lot of opportunity, and I knew I could create my own path through Penn State,” Gibbard said. “I couldn’t have asked for more from this University so far — from what they’ve given to me as a student to what they've given to my business.”
Barron’s full presentation is available to view online.