Penn State Startup Week to inspire digital entrepreneurs

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — From April 17-21 on the University Park campus, Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and College of Engineering will collaborate to host a series of events aimed at teaching, motivating, and inspiring the next generation of tech entrepreneurs. The effort is one of many during Penn State Startup Week that will connect successful innovators and thought leaders with current Penn State students.

Penn State Startup Week – an expansion of “IST Startup Week” which began in 2012 – is entering its first year as a University-wide event. The initiative includes speakers, workshops, and mentoring sessions around six themed tracks, five of which directly support the University’s current strategic plan.

Events within the Driving Digital Innovation track will look to foster technology’s next leaders by connecting technical skills with innovative thinking that creates digital solutions for global challenges. Events in the track will be held Monday, April 17, through Thursday, April 20, with all six Startup Week tracks converging for keynote presentations on Friday, April 21.

“There is already a plethora of entrepreneurial talent within Penn State,” Andrew Sears, dean of IST, said. “Startup Week and the Driving Digital Innovation track were created to reach those students who have an idea and passion but need that push, that actionable knowledge on how to get started, to pursue their entrepreneurial passion in technology.”

In addition to presentations from leaders in innovation, cross-disciplinary teams of enterprising students will share their digital ideas during the IdeaMakers Challenge from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19, in 113 IST Building. In the challenge, students will pitch and workshop their ideas with faculty and industry mentors. The teams will then collaborate to refine and expand on their idea that aims to solve real-world problems by leveraging information technology.

Conrad Tucker, co-chair of the Driving Digital Innovation track and assistant professor of engineering, said, "As the world moves towards more digital means of communicating and interacting, innovative solutions are needed that address the needs of society.”

“The IST and engineering students already have the marketable skill set they need, but this competition is an opportunity to come up with an idea that’s completely their own,” said Alison Murphy, lecturer of IST and co-chair of the Driving Digital Innovation track. “It lets them not only apply everything they’ve been learning but also allows them to identify a problem or issue that they find important, and then be creative and come up with their own solutions.”

Tucker agreed, adding, “As a former co-founder and vice president of a startup company, I understand and appreciate the passion that surrounds the startup experience and am very excited to see the innovations created by our students."

Finalists will pitch their idea to a panel of experienced judges, including Mike Black ‘16, CEO and co-founder of Parking Bee, a parking app he created in 2016 during the IdeaMakers challenge. “It'll be great to see all the exciting things everyone is working on [this year],” Black said.

Top teams from the Ideamakers Challenge will join winners from competitions within the other five tracks for a special reception with University leaders and Startup Week speakers on Thursday, April 20.

“It’s interesting to see the different passions the students bring into their ideas, from outside the classroom to classroom projects or hobbies,” Murphy said. “But seeing that light bulb go on in a student’s head when they’ve seen their idea grow and develop, that is my favorite part.”

Unique to the Driving Digital Innovation pillar, the winners of IdeaMakers will also earn a trip to visit successful startups led by Penn State alumni and network with their leaders. Black said this prize meant all this difference to launching and growing his business. “Being able to meet with executives of extremely successful companies was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced,” he said.

For all student and community members throughout the week, events will feature experienced innovators who are already making waves in the technology world, including David Rusenko '07 and Chris Fanini '12, co-founders of the tech startup Weebly, which lets users create their own website through drag-and-drop functionality. Rusenko — whose $400,000 gift to support scholarships for student entrepreneurs in IST inspired the launch of IST Startup Week in 2012 — will also participate in Friday’s keynote addresses, alongside Jerome Griffith '79, CEO of Lands' End; Eric Franchi '98, co-founder of Undertone; Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit; and several other leaders in global entrepreneurship.

Additional speakers in the Driving Digital Innovation track include Melissa Schipke, founder and CEO of Tassl; Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware; Jeff Almoney, global director for General Motors IT; Nayeem Hussain, co-founder and CEO of Keen Home; Hermes Frangoudis, an Augmented Reality Developer at Blippar; and many more.

For detailed information on Penn State Startup Week and the Driving Digital Innovation track, including the full week’s schedule, visit Participants can engage with speakers and ask questions by following @PSUStartupWeek on Twitter and using #PennStateStartup on social media.

Last Updated April 12, 2017