Penn State

Penn State’s IST Startup Week expands efforts to celebrate student innovation

Banners and signs around the Penn State campus promote the IST Startup Week that runs April 13-17.
Banners and signs around the Penn State campus promote the IST Startup Week that runs April 13-17. CDT photo

It takes a village to raise a child, but what about an idea? How do you take a concept, nurture it into a plan and grow it into a business?

Penn State is doing it with IST Startup Week.

For four years, the event has celebrated the innovation and enterprise of students who are coming up with new ideas. This year, it is growing even more.

“IST Startup Week will be a showcase of what’s possible when Penn State alumni, students and professionals put their innovative ideas to work,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “The lineup brings together speakers from a wide range of disciplines, and it should provide practical tips for our aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs. I’m thrilled that the students, faculty and staff have fully embraced this event, and I look forward to its great success!”

Barron has been pushing the idea of entrepreneurship since taking Penn State’s reins last year. Part of that has been his Invent Penn State initiative. That investment in encouraging innovative thinking resulted in a partnership between the College of Information Sciences and Technology and a local business.

State College firm Rowland Creative is a design firm that wants to focus on more than just art. Dan Rowland is more committed to the overall “strategic thinking” behind a business or a campaign.

“We were looking for something fresh and new,” said IST communications and outreach director Julie Coughlin, “We knew they were a local company. They were a startup, too.”

What they came up with was an expanded event and a rebranding that is all built around the design of a spark of creativity.

“We want people to think of it as a whole,” said Rowland. “But we want to have an identity to each day’s events.”

Things really get started with a series of talks by people who know what innovation looks like. Leaders from companies as big as General Motors and Hilton to consultants much newer and smaller will talk about how to get started, how to protect your intellectual property, how to spread the word and how to keep it all going.

Some speakers might be coming to campus for the first time, but plenty of them, including Weebly co-founders Chris Fanini, David Rusenko and Dan Veltri, were Penn State students planning to make a splash in the tech world just a few years ago.

“We are really trying to spread it across the university,” said Coughlin.

That’s why not all of the events are tech-specific. The College of Communications is getting in on the act with a Freelance-a-Thon on Sunday and Monday. A pitch competition called Start-Up Tank, modeled after the popular “Shark Tank” television show, will let would-be entrepreneurs of all schools, or even State College locals, vie to get their ideas in front of real investors.

“It’s an innovative showcase that we are making really interactive,” Coughlin said.

Coming together with local business is part of that. Rowland said he wanted to participate because he cares about the event and wants to see student businesses become businesses that stay in the community.

“We want to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship,” said Rowland.