In the years since it began as a land-grant institution aimed at providing an agricultural education, Penn State has been inspiring entrepreneurs, innovators and small-business owners, helping them move their ideas from research to the marketplace. It’s a mix of infrastructure, expertise and research … with a big helping of Penn State grit and innovation … that is impacting the global economy, one idea at a time. Here’s how they do it.
In a presentation to the Board of Trustees on November 12, Penn State President Eric J. Barron said that Penn State has impacted Pennsylvania’s economic development through a collaborative network of entrepreneurial support and resources.
“Early in my presidency, I recognized an opportunity for the University to further maximize the collective knowledge and skills of faculty, staff, students and partners to grow a statewide ecosystem of collaboration, programming and mentorship to support entrepreneurs throughout our communities,” Barron said. “We were uniquely positioned to deliver this valuable resource, and the impact has been powerful.”
This support can be seen in Invent Penn State, which was launched in 2015 to leverage the University’s infrastructure, expertise and research to help bring Penn Staters’ intellectual property to the marketplace. In the past five years, the Invent Penn State ecosystem has supported 4,976 entrepreneurs, graduated 464 startups from accelerator programs, and helped start 218 new Pennsylvania companies. In 2020, Invent Penn State graduates have raised more than $27 million total in venture capital — an all time high.
In 1989, Penn State University Trustees designated an area near the university’s football stadium for a research park “where collaboration between the university and private sector companies can grow,” transferring university-based knowledge “to the market place and to foster economic development.” Today, Innovation Park at Penn State is an ecosystem where business, education and research come together.
Its unique offering of office, manufacturing and research space, along with access to Penn State’s scientific, engineering, technology and business resources, has made Innovation Park a catalyst for innovation and industry. Global companies like Morgan Advanced Materials, Xact Metals, HigherEd Jobs and Salimetrics join startups like Magnitude Instruments and SpotLESS in the park. (You can find more about how Innovation Park fosters success stories here.)
Penn State’s entrepreneurial support extends beyond Invent Penn State. 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.
Penn State also organizes a range of competitions — from HackPSU and the Nittany AI Challenge to Mont Alto LION Tank and Inc.U Competition — that encourages interdisciplinary teamwork and awards prizes and funding for winning ideas.
The University recently placed first among 250 international programs for “Exceptional Activities in Entrepreneurship Across Disciplines” and second out of 348 teams from nine countries in the international Creating Shared Value Challenge.
The accolades are well earned, but the greatest testament to Penn State’s entrepreneurial spirit are the companies that have formed, in ‘dark basement labs’ and on maxed-out credit cards — cultivated and grown by Penn State talent and resources — that are changing the world.
High growth Penn State startup KCF Technologies deploys mostly wireless vibration monitoring into factories to reduce unexpected equipment failures, reduce process and energy waste, and dramatically improve the safety of the operating conditions. They serve a variety of industries including pulp/paper, automotive, power plants, and even museums like the Smithsonian.
“There’s such a breadth of expertise across the faculty and departments,” Cofounder and President Jeremy Frank said in a previous interview. “Anytime there’s a topic we don’t have expertise in, we can find the individual or lab that does. We have access to the talent and global experts on nearly every topic that comes up. And because the nature of our business is to optimize American manufacturing, which is very broad, we’re talking about many diverse sectors. There’s an expert at Penn State in nearly every one. It’s a wonderful partnership, and we’re thrilled to be connected.”
Salimetrics was founded in 1998, and has led the cutting edge in salivary bioscience from Innovation Park ever since. It is committed to supporting saliva research around the world. Salimetrics assays have been used in more saliva-related published papers than any other assay in the field.
Founder Douglas Granger continues his work as chief scientific and strategy advisor for Salimetrics and is also a Chancellor’s Professor of Psychology, Public Health and Pediatrics and founding director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research at the University of California, Irvine. He muses that if he had started Salimetrics while he was a faculty member in California, it never would have gotten off the ground.
“The workers would have been much more expensive, and it would have taken a much larger investment to get it off the ground. Plus there weren’t resources like Ben Franklin to help us in California. There is startup help, but most investors are looking for the next big thing – the next million-dollar idea – not the next little thing that could grow…. It was Dan Leri and his team [at Innovation Park] who got Penn State to realize that this was something it should endorse.”
Cara Aungst writes about industry, innovation and how Happy Valley ideas change the world. She can be reached with story ideas and comments at Cara@AffinityConnection.com.