Happy Valley’s heritage of research and innovation has shaped it into an Industry 4.0 hub, and there’s no better evidence of its influence on global industry than what’s happening among businesses and incubators and in research facilities right now.
There’s no denying that Penn State research is a big deal. After all, Penn State’s research expenditures exceeded $1 billion during the 2019-20 fiscal year. The total figure of $1.01 billion reflects the interdisciplinary strength that the university has been building over the past three decades, and puts Penn State even higher in its rankings among fellow research universities. According to National Science Foundation rankings of Higher Education Research and Development (HERD), Penn State surpasses all other universities in the country in terms of research expenditures by key fields and subfields.
And all those numbers and rankings are resulting in big changes for real-world problems. Smart sensors are learning to mimic human movement, to enhance the lives of those with disabilities. Agriculture research is impacting the COVID-19 pandemic, while bioenergy research addresses global warming and other endeavors take a look at the way we can combat racial injustice through myriad efforts.
Unlike many other universities where research plays a large role, though, in many instances, the research conducted at Penn State stays in Happy Valley — as researchers and academics, as well as a range of other professionals with ties to the university, go on to form startups and then successful industry-changing corporations right here in the region.
For example, take a look at QuantumBio. QuantumBio was founded based on technologies developed between 1995 and the mid-2000s at Penn State University, while President Lance Westerhoff was a grad student in the lab of Dr. Kenneth Merz, Jr. In 2003, QuantumBio grew into a startup with help from the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and investments from family and friends. The company started out bringing highly accurate methods to pharmaceutical research through quantum mechanics, and has evolved by adding cutting-edge tools to improve structural refinement and better simulation methods for drug discovery scientists and those in life science fields.
Meanwhile, TZero is changing the way that brewers go about the millennia-old process of brewing beer. Founders Stephen and Nicholas Wells grew up in Altoona and they both, along with co-founder Eli Hughes, attended Penn State, working in the Applied Research Lab, as so many industry movers and shakers do. Stephen and Hughes were a part of Penn State’s world-renowned acoustics program, Stephen specializing in structural acoustics and working for Boeing on launch vehicles for a time. The three considered starting a company together for a while, but when Stephen and Nicholas began homebrewing as a hobby, the pieces fell into place and TZero was born.
While RTD Embedded Technologies, Inc., doesn’t have such a direct and explicit Penn State research tie, it does its research and business out of a Penn State business park, Innovation Park, where the young company’s team creates highly-specialized engineering computer and tech solutions for some of the most rugged, extreme and life-or-death environments in the world — think spacecraft and oil rigs.
Happy Valley’s entrepreneurial and innovation-minded ecosystem targets talent right from the beginning, as soon as they step onto Penn State’s campus. With the Farrell Center for Entrepreneurship, a major in Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI) minor, undergrads have a range of resources when it comes to exploring their own entrepreneurial options.
For those who would prefer to work under the tutelage of some of the already well-established tech firms in Happy Valley, opportunities abound as well, at companies such as Videon Central and Actuated Medical.
Then, for those who’ve established their businesses here, Happy Valley’s unique blend of talent, resources and work-life balance, alongside a low cost of living all are factors that keep them around. As Juan Mario Gomez, CEO of Xact Metal, says, “Before starting Xact Metal, I thought about moving, but I quickly found the culture so favorable, I asked myself, ‘Why would I move?’ Anywhere I would go, I wouldn’t be set up to be this successful.”
Are you a part of this unique formula that adds up to the new hub of Industry 4.0? Whether you’re involved in ground-breaking research, part of an exciting new company or doing your part to ensure innovation stays in Happy Valley, we want to hear from you and tell your story.