Having undergone its own reinvention, Penn State Startup Week will welcome several entrepreneurs and business leaders to the University Park campus from April 17 to 21, providing a potential launch point for the next great idea.
But there will be more than presentations. More than 75 events are scheduled throughout the week, including pitch competitions, business consultations and group workshops, among others.
Founded by the College of Information Sciences and Technology in 2012, the former “IST Startup Week” has iterated, evolving into a universitywide event for the first time.
“For the first five years, it really had a digital focus,” said Andrew Sears, dean of the College of IST. “As we were going through the event last year, it became clear that there were some opportunities that we were missing, and that there were quite a few exciting entrepreneurial activities, but they were not necessarily within that digital framework.”
This year’s event features programs from nine academic colleges and two administrative units. They dovetail with the university’s strategic plan, including six thematic tracks that range from educational technology to innovations in health care.
The multidisciplinary approach is a natural progression for the entrepreneurial space, which has expanded rapidly in recent years across college campuses. According to the Kauffman Foundation, college course offerings in entrepreneurship have grown from about 250 in 1985 to about 5,000 in 2008. And by 2012, about a third of all business incubators were located at universities.
“In recent years it’s evolved dramatically because of the technology we can bring to it,” said Kelly Wolgast, assistant dean for online outreach and education and organizer of the Enhancing Health track. “It doesn’t really matter what discipline you’re in — there are people creating good things in all the disciplines.”
Featured speakers scheduled to attend include Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit; Anne Zummo Malone, chief of schools for AppleTree Early Learning; and David Rusenko, a 2007 graduate and co-founder of Weebly. Rusenko’s $400,000 gift to the university prompted the creation of the original showcase and founded a scholarship that helps IST students launch their own companies.
Others slated to attend include leaders from Dell, General Motors, The Players’ Tribune and more. The week’s events are open to students, faculty, staff and community members.
A full schedule of speakers and events can be found on the Penn State Startup Week website.
“We’re in a different world than we were 15 years ago, where the idea of starting your own business was daunting and resources were scarce,” said Brad Zdenek, innovation strategist for the Center for Online Innovation in Learning and co-chair of the Transforming Education track. “The resources are there — now the issue is finding them. That’s what Startup Week is providing. It’s providing access, it’s providing opportunity.”
As in past years, Zdenek added that connecting the speakers with students was a focus. About 30 of the presenters are Penn State alumni, with several not far removed from their days as undergraduates. With workshops and dedicated networking sessions, there will be opportunities for panelists to come off stage and meet with students face-to-face.
It’s the kind of inspiration, Zdenek said, that he hopes will take place during the week.
“We took that and built on it a bit, thinking how do we scaffold our participants from where they are right now to where these keynote speakers are?” he said. “How do you take that idea and realize it?”