Centre Region Entrepreneur Network (CREN): Fostering a spirit of community, innovation and collaboration

Written by Staff Writer

July 20, 2021

“Silicon Valley is more of a spirit than a place,” says Todd Erdley, the founder, chairman and president of Videon. “And that spirit is based on entrepreneurs coming together, sharing best practices, enabling great outcomes, spurring one another on and fostering a sense of community.”

Erdley started the Centre Region Entrepreneur Network (CREN) about 10 years ago with that same spirit of innovation, grit and collaboration, creating a place to listen and learn. 

The group’s purpose was threefold:

  • Provide a forum where entrepreneurs could meet other entrepreneurs.
  • Host events that encourage a focus on learning about others. “Selling at CREN events is highly discouraged,” Erdley stressed. “CREN is not a sales networking event.”
  • Establish an organizational structure focused less on rules and order and more on “the free-flowing mood of the collective,” as Erdley put it. “There is no charter, there are no committees, there are no dues. We’re here to listen and learn from each other.”

Advocating for entrepreneurs and amplifying what’s happening in Happy Valley Industry

CREN initially focused primarily on tech companies such as BlueMountain, KCF, Actuated Medical, West Arete, Mission Critical, Videon and Goodco. After a few years, the group broadened their reach to include entrepreneurs in any type of business. As a result, participation increased from 10 people to nearly 100 people per event. Currently, the group’s participant list consists of more than 100 companies representing thousands of employees in the Centre Region.

“CREN is open to any entrepreneur from any sector—including nonprofits—along with people interested in entrepreneurship, supporters of entrepreneurs, and anyone who can spell ‘entrepreneurship,’” Erdley said. “It does not matter if you are a one-person company making candles or a big tech company—the challenges of entrepreneurship are the same.”

Still, he stresses that one does not need to own a business to attend and benefit from CREN’s networking events, which are typically held quarterly. Participating companies take turns hosting the events, where food and adult beverages are provided free of charge. There is no admission fee.

“Many subgroups have spawned from CREN based on people getting to know one another,” said Erdley.  One group formed to meet for soup and salad each Friday at venues including New Leaf Initiative. Another group gets together for breakfast each month. “Without CREN, these relationships might never have happened.”

Perhaps most important, CREN has been a driver in showcasing the need for a greater focus on private industry in the area. “A study I did showed that private industry employment decreased from 25 percent of the local workforce in 1998 to 7 percent in 2013,” Erdley said. “A key element of CREN has been advocating for entrepreneurship in order to change that trend and increase private industry employment in Happy Valley.”

2021: A new start with much growth and investment to celebrate

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, CREN was forced to suspend its large in-person gatherings. Now, with the need for lockdown measures largely behind us, CREN is ready to reconvene with their next big event, starting at 5 p.m. August 5 at the Ben Franklin Technology Partners building in Innovation Park on the Penn State University Park campus.

“There is much to celebrate,” Erdley said. “We will recognize three companies—Videon, INDIGO Biosciences, Inc. and BioMagnetic Solutions—for paying off their Ben Franklin loans in full. Ben Franklin has been key to company formation and growth within the Happy Valley ecosystem.”

He says that the meeting will also look at the significant outside money that’s coming into Central PA to amplify growth. “We’ll be affirming the amount of investment capital that has poured into this area over the last few years, totaling more than $100 million and helping to spur significant job creation,” he says.

He says that the meeting will also be celebrating growth and momentum that Industry 4.0 has been seeing in the Happy Valley ecosystem this past year, including the genesis of the HappyValley Industry platform. “HappyValley Industry is the voice of private industry in Central PA, and we as entrepreneurs are fortunate to have it in this area. We as entrepreneurs need to engage and amplify what is happening at HappyValley Industry.”

“In that spirit, we invite everyone to come to this event interested in others and wanting to learn,” he concluded.
As is tradition at CREN events, there will be complimentary food and adult beverages. Space is allotted for 150 people. To reserve your spot, contact Michelle Cook at mac80@psu.edu.

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