Image: Innovation Park
Since 1992, the Technology Center at Innovation Park has been at the epicenter of the region’s most formalized small business incubation program… the “garage” to dozens of startup companies. Schoolwires (now Blackboard), Mission Critical Partners, and Real Time Devices are just a few companies founded in this facility that have grown within the Tech Center. Some have relocated to bigger offices within Innovation Park, or graduated to larger facilities outside of Innovation Park. In essence, the Technology Center Incubator has been and remains the home field for our community’s farm team of next generation community employers.
A pre-pandemic renovation project brought advancements to keep tenants of the Technology Center at the cusp of emerging tech and innovation.
Image: Innovation Park
The Technology Center was constructed in 1992 as part of the Park’s phase 1. Its purpose is to serve as the location for Penn State’s Technology Commercialization groups, along with the Centre region small business incubation effort. The incubator was initiated in a collaboration between the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County (CBICC) and Penn State University. The space serves as an incubation facility for startups, emerging businesses, and entrepreneurial education sessions. It’s a location where like-minded people learn from and support each other.
According to Dan Leri, Director of Innovation Park Offices, recent renovations to the Technology Center were necessary to keep up with technological advances and to continue providing the resources that come with being a tenant at Innovation Park.
"A smart person learns from their mistakes. But a wise person learns from other people’s mistakes. That’s a core piece of the value proposition when a start-up team is in the Technology Center Incubation Program at Innovation Park."
“The University dedicated funding to upgrade the fit and finish of the Technology Center, along with the IT infrastructure of the building,” Leri states. “In total, $2.7 million was invested in the facility to provide necessary upgrades, such as a new roof, restrooms, lobby finishes, conference room technology amenities and commercial tenant IT service.”
In addition to the fresh physical look of the building, the technology upgrades in communication services and conferencing capabilities make it easy to conduct business virtually, a boom during COVID.
Image: Innovation Park
The Technology Center is home to numerous support services for startups, giving them the best chance of succeeding in their early stage of development. Leri says, “a smart person learns from their mistakes. But a wise person learns from other people’s mistakes. That’s a core piece of the value proposition when a start-up team is in the Technology Center Incubation Program at Innovation Park.”
Companies within the park have quick reach to many resources, including the Ben Franklin TechCelerator program, offering financial, market research, business model development, sales strategy advice, marketing, and human resource support to early stage entrepreneurs; Small Business Development Center Penn State; the coolBLUE program, an employee engagement program that works to provide a dynamic environment and make a positive impact on the quality of work-life; meeting space; research facilities; capital formation introductions; and access to Penn State departments and researchers on the leading edge of the latest technologies.
Michelle Cook, the CoolBlue Lady at Innovation Park, is constantly evaluating and initiating new ways to keep the tenants connected. Through networking picnics, holiday parties, field trips, lunch programs, walking and running clubs and other activities, Innovation Park is unique in how they help companies connect with each other and retain their top talents. Happy collisions between talented people is a consistent goal of the CoolBlue efforts.
“I think that one draw for tenants in the Tech Center is that we are able to offer a plethora of services they may not have available if located somewhere else,” she says.
Through the “happy collisions,” tenants not only get to know their neighbors better, but they also have opportunities to enhance their communication and leadership skills. “We’re human, we need to be with each other, we need to commune. All good things start with a conversation!” says Cook.
This vast and incomparable networking scene is perhaps the greatest appeal for both prospective and current tenants, and today, as we see the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID, researchers and innovators are able to network even better. They are also able to gain more use of the space at Innovation Park, utilizing Penn State's research and resources along with the Park's many amenities to help their companies succeed.
“The upgrades provide a more productive work environment. Young companies need to present a professional face to potential and current customers when they visit.”
“Co-locating with dozens of other companies in various stages of development provides a community of collaborators to help grow your specific business,” Leri shares. “Each tenant company and its management group’s experience allow the less experienced folks to learn more quickly what’s needed to succeed. Forget about all the puffery you read, starting a business is not for sissies. Yet, those who manage the risk successfully help make this a great community.” The significant investment in renovations to the Technology Center will serve to enhance the already productive collaborations between the tenants.
Paul Morris, CEO of BlackHawk Energy, which is located in the Tech Center, agrees. When he was looking for a place to locate his office, he says, “We considered several locations for Blackhawk Energy’s offices, but we decided on Happy Valley because we believe it’s a great place to raise our children. Once we established the office at Innovation Park, we discovered the incredible professional community which is always at work supporting businesses of all kinds. The Innovation Park network is invaluable to us and has been one of the greatest positive influences on our business.”
He says that the atmosphere at the Tech Center and Innovation Park is a “win-win.” “It’s a great community for entrepreneurs, business start-ups, and seasoned professionals to tap into,” he says.
For more information about Innovation Park’s incubator for success, see their website at innovationpark.psu.edu.