“Invent Penn State” Initiative Enhances Thriving Ecosystem at Innovation Park

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Penn State President Eric Barron commits $30 million to convert knowledge to impact and increase the number of technology business start-ups in communities where Penn State has campuses.

Penn State, Local Chamber, Innovation Park, Developer Collaborate on Economic Development

GLP Development Co. Began $17.8 Million Building Project in Innovation Park at Penn State October 2014

It's an opportune time to be at Innovation Park at Penn State

On the heels of an exciting 2014, Innovation Park at Penn State found further cause for encouragement when Penn State president Eric Barron announced the university’s “Invent Penn State” initiative at its January trustees meeting. The $30 million initiative broadly aims to spur economic development. “This is a hub of innovation in our town,” Barron said of Innovation Park. The “Invent Penn State” initiative intends to increase the number of technology business start-ups in communities where Penn State has campuses, better promote Penn State faculty and student innovations, bring greater awareness to Innovation Park at Penn State and integrate innovation activities into student career success.

The $30 million investment includes development of additional knowledge commercialization space, venture fairs and competitions; matching of experienced entrepreneurs with new opportunities; recognizing faculty who focus on commercial applications of their research; and communications. Many components of the initiative expand or build on activities already underway throughout the University and Innovation Park at Penn State. Barron announced a new $1.5 million annual program that had a “soft start” 2014, The Fund For Innovation. The program provides Penn State colleges matching awards from The Penn State Research Foundation for faculty and primarily graduate student proof-of-concept and proof-of-relevance work strongly focused on commercialization. The Fund For Innovation is just one example of a much needed financial “feeder resource” to provide more early stage prospects for the incubation program at the Park.

“It’s an opportune time to be at Innovation Park at Penn State,” says Innovation Park Director, Dan Leri. “We’re excited the President and the entire administration is focusing effort and resources on converting Penn State knowledge to commercial impact. It’s a heavy and difficult lift to convert raw knowledge into a meaningful value proposition for a set of customers – with the goal of creating shareholder value, economic impact, and net new wealth. We need additional experienced, domain-specific talent and more financial resources to increase our chances of success.”

With all space at Innovation Park leased for the past three years, the Innovation Park team broke ground last October on Building 331, an 82,000-square-foot project with Class A office and research space. The $18 million facility is privately funded and is in addition to the overall $30 million economic development commitment by the University. “We believe the public – private development model of Innovation Park is an example of how to partner with the private sector to achieve the goals President Barron has outlined in his economic development plan. We need to do more… and to keep getting better”, said Leri. Building 331 owner, GLP Development of Baltimore Maryland, expects the building to be completed in August 2015. Though excited about the LEED certified commercial space being developed at Building 331, Leri says “Multiple types of space are necessary for what we want to do throughout Penn State and with our partner communities, yet we always remind ourselves space is simply a necessary evil. The happy collisions of talented, experienced, properly motivated, and inspired doers who can identify or create market opportunities that will pay for solutions is paramount. Creating and case managing those unique collisions is a major component in a vibrant business startup ecosystem.” He has spent the past several years working with many others to develop an environment where happy collisions can occur. With the announcement of additional resources, the eco-system at the Park is eager to make the run to a new level of engagement.

Currently Innovation Park is home to numerous organizations focused on assisting business startups: technology licensing, business training, financing, investment, commercialization, business planning, networking, mentoring, and incubation space. “When you come to Innovation Park to start a business, we have a triage group who meets with you to determine what you may need and how we might help,” says Leri. “We diagnose, prescribe and then the real work begins,” says Leri. The process may include myriad park tenant resources: The Ben Franklin Technology PArtnership of Central Pennsylvania, The Ben Franklin TechCelerator business incubation program, The Penn State Small Business Development Center (SBDC), The Venture Investment Forum, The Centre for Business and Industry in Centre County (CBICC) and The Centre County Industrial Development Corporation. Innovation Park also is home to technology resources like Penn State’s Office of Technology Management, Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization and Center for Innovative Metal Processing Through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D), as well as educational resources like Penn State’s World Campus, which includes Penn State College of Communications, Continuing Education and Conferences and Institutes. Penn State World Campus was ranked #1 in online bachelor programs in the country in U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 "Best Online Programs”. Penn State ranks in the top 10 for best online graduate programs in business, engineering, education, computer information technology and MBA, which provide can provide a talent pool for businesses. Innovation Park also offers tenants easy access to The Penn Stater, a premier conference center and hotel, Daybridge Child Development Center, and the coolBLUE employee program, all proving invaluable amenities to businesses and organizations in the park.

The ecosystem is working. Innovation Park is full with 55 tenants and has many long-term success stories, including Salimetrics(a biotechnology firm offering saliva testing services and salivary assay kits), Schoolwires (a provider of K-12 educational websites and community management) and HigherEdJobs (a top career building website specializing in jobs and careers information in academia).
The pipeline for new businesses is also filling. Key tenant and partner, the Ben Franklin TechCelerator, recently began offering entrepreneurs a 10-week “Boot Camp”. The program has graduated 36 entrepreneur teams in diverse fields ranging from drone technology to medical devices to educational technology, resulting in 34 new companies. Graduates include a Vodafone contest winner and a Nokia Sensing Xchallenge finalist.

“Starting a new business is difficult and risky,” says Don McCandless, director of business development for Ben Franklin Transformation Services. “We provide training and resources that help to mitigate unnecessary risks and improve startup outcomes. As importantly, we help build crucial relationships. So many graduates come back to us and say, ‘We didn’t think we could do it, but after participating in the program, we did it.”’

A recent Boot Camp graduate, Doug Carnahan, founder of OurFlee t, concurs. “In boot camp, I learned exactly what I need to do,” says Carnahan. OurFleet recently won a $10,000 business concept award from Ben Franklin TechCelerator for developing a mobile application to help oil and gas exploration and production companies manage resource delivery traffic on their worksites. Carnahan is a big fan of Boot Camp. “It’s really valuable to be surrounded by peers who are on the same journey. You can’t imagine how important that is.”

The next TechCelerator Boot Camp starts March 31st at Innovation Park at Penn State. For more information about Innovation Park, TechCelerator Boot Camp, Building 331, or residents in the Park, please contact Nena Ellis Koschny at nena@affinityconnection.com.

About Innovation Park
Innovation Park at Penn State is a 118-acre technology park that provides office, manufacturing and research space for commercial use near Penn State University, one of the premiere research institutions in the world. The park offers unique business development value to startup companies and tenants, including established relationships with Penn State University Technology Transfer, Ben Franklin TechCelerator, the Centre County Chamber of Business and Industry and local and regional entrepreneurs and investors. In addition to business development support, Innovation Park offers tenants extensive networking and park programs through its coolBLUE program for tenant employee engagement, as well as access to indoor and outdoor fitness and recreation and an onsite daycare. Innovation Park at Penn State will have 82,000 square feet of new leasable space available August 2015.

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