Penn State

Budding student entrepreneurs take advantage of resources in effort to find cash cow

Eli Kariv leads fellow Penn State students as they brainstorm on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at New Leaf Initiative to work on the Summer Founders Program.
Eli Kariv leads fellow Penn State students as they brainstorm on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at New Leaf Initiative to work on the Summer Founders Program. CDT photo

Every summer, savvy college students get a jump-start on their future careers, wetting their feet in the job pool with internships.

Journalism students might pick up a notebook at a newspaper. A political science major might try out a campaign or a government office. A future engineer could score a slot at a design firm.

But what if your ultimate goal was to work for yourself?

A new program is stepping up to make it possible for some would-be entrepreneurs to spend a summer working on their big ideas.

“It is like being your own intern,” said Eli Kariv.

The Penn State senior fell in love with taking his own ideas and turning them into reality with his first company, Crossed Clouds, designing websites and Internet solutions for other small businesses or organizations. But as president of Innoblue, the university’s support group for other students with million dollar ideas stuck in their heads, he also found a passion for helping other entrepreneurs find their way.

That is where the Summer Founders Program came in, with a helping hand from an alumni who understands young innovators.

Enter Matt Brezina, a veteran idea man whose first company, Xobni, was sold to Yahoo. He has moved on to developing for the mobile e-commerce industry with his new venture, Sincerely.

He remembers having that idea that just needed a chance.

“I was lucky enough in the summer of 2006 to get a $12,000 investment,” he said.

Brezina was a grad student then. That first investment paid off, with him being able to then score $100,000, and then $4 million. “That whole thing was because someone gave me an opportunity,” he said.

“That is the whole magic of entrepreneurship.”

Brezina and Kariv want the Summer Founders Program to be that first shot for Nittany Lions with a dream.

Four or five projects will receive $10,000 in support. The plan is to allow team members to spend the summer months in State College, working on their ideas without worrying about paying the rent.

They are also looking at entrepreneurship as being more than turning a profit, but nurturing ideas that might be about something that makes the world a better place or a new charity that helps people who have been overlooked.

“Maybe we will see the next Thon come out of this group,” said Brezina.

Kariv understands the value of an internship. He is actually doing one this semester with Remind.com, but he also knows there is something totally different about the education gained being his own boss and being responsible for considering every facet of a business instead of just one portion.

Brezina agrees.

“You work a lot harder and a lot smarter,” he said.

They are both encouraged by new Penn State President Eric Barron’s focus on pushing more entrepreneurship at the university.

Kariv also took his message to the university’s board of trustees meeting in January, where he pitched the value of the project to important business leaders from across the country. He even scored a donation from trustee Ira Lubert.

Other donors include Weebly founders David Rusenko and Chris Fanini, Penn State entrepreneur in residence Brad Bogolea and Michael Seibel, co-founder of Socialcam and Justin.tv and partner in the innovation incubator Y Combinator, which gave Brezina his start.

Right now, Brezina says funding is in place for three years but the goal is to build a bankroll to keep it perpetually funded. Donors can reach out to the program through the website.

The first round of funds will be distributed for this summer. Applications will be accepted starting Friday with a deadline of March 8 and decisions issued by March 16.

“There are plenty of great ideas at Penn State,” said Brezina. “What they need is commitment, dedication and an opportunity.”

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