What happens when you take the power of one of the largest universities in the country and marry it to the focus on economic development of a local business organization?
Penn State President Eric Barron is banking on a fruitful union that produces a lot of new entrepreneurs.
A crowd of 300 turned out for an announcement from Invent Penn State and the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County on Friday. That announcement turned out to be the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the two, moving into a formal partnership aimed at “building a nurturing and collaborative environment in which professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes can thrive.”
But what, exactly does that mean? Is it just the next generation of incubators?
“Way more,” Barron said at the news conference afterward.
If an incubator helps a company take its first steps, the new partnership is planned to be more of a multiphased approach that takes a plan from inspiration to being a fully realized, stand-alone company that hopefully chooses to stay put in Centre County.
“I don’t think that we’ve ever had this intensity or commitment,” Barron said.
The partnership comes with the $30 million that Barron dedicated, part of his economic development initiative for the university, something he made part of his push to the state in campaigning for appropriations this year. Part of that will be a capital investment, he said, but it will also include a recurring investment.
“This is a long-term investment and a comprehensive approach to the issues,” he said. “If we are investing and our communities are investing, we can do things that go way, way beyond what we might.”
Under the plan, the university will work with the CBICC to turn Penn State ideas into businesses that stay in the community after the students graduate.
“It’s an opportunity for us to really come together,” CBICC President Vern Squier said.
The CBICC will facilitate initiatives, coordinate a community response, pursue financial support, market Invent Penn State and help mediate with local governments and other bodies to ease the process and create what the two are calling an “entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
And the ideas are there. In recent years, Penn State has seen student projects become big moneymakers. Barron pointed to one recent grad who had his startup sell for $60 million. Another business born on campus, Weebly, is now valued at $455 million, he said.
The partnership’s goal is to make it easy for the next Weebly, now based in San Francisco, to stay in Centre County, producing revenue and jobs for the local community and the state of Pennsylvania.