New Kensington

New Kensington campus wins $50,000 Invent Penn State grant

Campus earns seed funding for new entrepreneurs to spur economic development in local area

The corner building of the 1000 block of Fifth Avenue in the city of New Kensington could become an incubator for Penn State New Kensington and local community innovation and lead the renaissance for downtown New Kensington. Credit: Bill Woodard / Penn StateCreative Commons

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. -- Penn State New Kensington announced that it has received a $50,000 grant to enhance local partnerships and entrepreneurial environments in communities across the Alle-Kiski Valley, it was announced by Madlyn Hanes, vice president for Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses. The New Kensington campus was one of six Penn State campuses to receive seed funding from Invent Penn State, a new initiative by Penn State President Eric Barron. The other campuses are Abington, Erie, Harrisburg, Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre.

“We’ve been building partnerships with our University, community and the Pittsburgh region to bring resources to the valley that will help drive economic development and growth,” said Kevin Snider, chancellor of the New Kensington campus. “This funding, along with President Barron’s focus on building entrepreneurial pathways in communities, is the spark we need to get that effort up and running.“

The initiative is a collaboration, one in which students, faculty and campuses work with businesses and communities across the state to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians. President Barron committed $30 million to build the entrepreneurial pathways needed to cultivate ideas into young and prosperous companies. The idea is to involve students, faculty and community members in generating ideas, then helping to kick-start those ideas into promising new companies. The effort also involves bringing Penn State’s massive intellectual resources, alumni, outside companies and investors together to support the efforts.

The New Kensington campus initiative, called the Alle-Kiski Economic Generator (AKEG), is designed to attract and nurture innovation and small business development in the local community. While the goal is to serve the entire Alle-Kiski Valley, the focus of the first several years will be on the twin cities of New Kensington and Arnold. The two municipalities are adjacent to each other and share a common school district.Snider was at the forefront of the campus effort. The chancellor envisions a downtown New Kensington that serves an incubator for innovation and small business development. Community and regional partners, such as Bridgeway Capital, Idea Foundry and Riverside Center for Innovation, have pledged their support in developing the city and surrounding areas.

“This type of activity is driving economic development across the country and across the Pittsburgh region,” Snider said. “The city of New Kensington has tremendous potential with its great location 17 miles from Pittsburgh, low tax rates, regional economic development partnerships and a downtown area with solid infrastructure and space. The only thing missing is an innovation mindset that can inform, create, guide and support entrepreneurial thinking and economic development activity. AKEG will develop this mindset right in the heart of the city.”    

Snider envisions AKEG creating modern meeting and office space in the area. The designated sectors will accommodate programming and training, and serve as a regional gathering place for campus faculty, students, as well as entrepreneurs, funders, and the business community. Companies will be able to utilize the space to meet clients, hold retreats and host seminars. The campus community will have opportunities to network and develop ideas with community partners.  

AKEG is expected to spur economic development in the city through a four-phase process -- idea generation, idea refinement, idea funding and proof of concept. The process melds Penn State’s intellectual resources with the valley’s local assets to drive economic development. Campus students, faculty and staff, community groups, and individuals will benefit from the process.

“Penn State New Kensington faculty and staff will have research and engagement opportunities in all phases of the idea generation process, and some of our most enterprising students will be able to pursue their innovative ideas in a supportive environment,” Snider said. “In doing so, they will play a significant role in bringing a new era of creativity and job creation to the Alle-Kiski Valley.”

The first phase, idea generation, will provide guidance and training on developing entrepreneurial and business ideas.  Partners will supply training at little or no cost. The next phase, idea refinement, augments promising ideas and projects with mentors and business plan development workshops. The third phase, idea funding, will offer resources for projects that merit investment. Entrepreneurs will be paired with financing partners who will help secure funding for the project.  

The fourth phase is expected to be the key to the revitalization of downtown New Kensington. Proof of concept will support entrepreneurs who are ready to “test” their product or idea by making vacant properties available to them for free or for a nominal fee. Temporary store fronts, developed through grants obtained by the three financial partners, will be set up for provide businesses with a low risk, time-limited opportunity to sell their product in an area.   Successful vendors will be offered low-cost loans if they move into permanent store fronts in the same area and agree to hire local people.   

Penn State has a tremendous opportunity to drive economic development in New Kensington and across the Valley,” Snider said.  “Thanks to President Barron’s initiative, AKEG will bring energy, innovation, and a sense of progress and quality not seen in the area in a long time. Working with tested and proven partners, Penn State will turn that energy into action by attracting and keeping entrepreneurs, businesses, and start-ups in the area.”

The first two phases will be implemented during the inaugural year of the initiative. The third and fourth phases will get underway in the second year.

Last Updated May 18, 2015