With a $30,000 prize on the line, six student startup teams went head-to-head in this year’s Inc.U Competition, competing on WPSU’s show, “The Investment.” Much like the show it’s modeled after, “Shark Tank,” the show and the competition give participants hope to fuel their entrepreneurial dreams and valuable experience pitching their ideas to the panel of judges. As with the 2020 competition, this year’s Inc.U was held virtually, with three Penn State student startups each winning $10,000 to boost their startups.
Happy Valley is a hub in Industry 4.0 and amazing innovation, with the students at Penn State being no exception. As director of the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP), which is the competition’s host organization, Tanna Pugh noted, “There were a lot of great applications this year. These six teams really stood out as having great potential.”
“The Investment” is a Student Competition with Significant Investment Dollars on the Line
The Inc.U Competition started out as a pilot program in 2015, funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, as a collaboration between Penn State, Bucknell University and University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown to help fan the flames of entrepreneurship among undergraduates. Each of the partners grew the initiative by working within their local areas. Beginning in 2016, the competition evolved under the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program’s (PennTAP) management and with partial funding from a five-year grant provided by the U.S Economic Development Administration and Invent Penn State.
“PennTAP and this competition can largely benefit entrepreneurs like ourselves by providing a platform to get that ‘push’ towards the next level in an organization, no matter what that may be. Whether a startup is at the very beginning of this process or has already incorporated and has been around for many years, connecting with high-level individuals like the judges from the competition and/or being provided with financial opportunities is a great way for organizations to excel.”
Every year, student entrepreneurs are invited to submit their applications. This year, six teams were chosen to compete in the virtual program. During the process, competitors gain experience pitching their businesses, conducting themselves with professionalism and listening to questions while answering in a timely manner – all skills that can aid them now and in their future endeavors.
And the Winners Are….
The 2021 winning student startup teams included Girls Code the World, a nonprofit empowering young girls in STEM-related fields; Miss Monroe Collection, an organic hair care company; and Table Rock Markets, an e-commerce solution that connects consumers to local farmers.
“Winning this competition has provided us with enough funding to execute at least 3 weeks of STEM programming this summer and to onboard five high school interns to train in running their own programs and working with young girls,” says Mina M. Shokoufandeh, co-founder of Girls Code the World. “Further, talking with the judges after our win has provided us with many new directions that we want to take our organization in the future. We have been able to really focus our thoughts on what the future of Girls Code the World is going to look like. Overall, it was a fantastic experience!”
That same enthusiasm was echoed by fellow winner, Jaelyn Monroe of Miss Monroe Collection, a sophomore at University Park, who credits the competition and the prize money as helping the company advance its audience while preparing its branding to hit stores. “This summer after winning the money I was able to host multiple events which I gained a lot of networking opportunities from, a lot of revenue and the opportunity to expose newer people to my brand. It’ll also help me to travel to different areas for events for my business and to put out great marketing campaigns.”
PennTAP is a Valuable Resource for Innovators
Having a great idea isn’t enough to get a business off the ground. That’s where the resources found in Happy Valley’s unique ecosystem come into play. PennTAP is a statewide organization that supports businesses and anchor institutions throughout Pennsylvania, including manufacturers, municipalities, educational institutions, entrepreneurs, farmers and economic development agencies. Its network of experts provides a connection point between small to medium sized businesses and Penn State student and faculty communities that are looking for opportunities to engage.
As Shokoufandeh notes, “PennTAP and this competition can largely benefit entrepreneurs like ourselves by providing a platform to get that ‘push’ towards the next level in an organization, no matter what that may be. Whether a startup is at the very beginning of this process or has already incorporated and has been around for many years, connecting with high-level individuals like the judges from the competition and/or being provided with financial opportunities is a great way for organizations to excel.”