SUWOn March 18 – 23, 2013, the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) will host its second annual Start-up Week, which I have dubbed Start-up Week 2.0. This event is an expansion and extension of a similar event held for the first time on April 9 -13, 2012. The event involved a week-long celebration of entrepreneurship and start-up companies founded by IST recent graduates and other Penn State alums. You can check out photos from last year’s event on our Flickr account.

The original Start-up Week was motivated in part by the celebration surrounding a major $ 400K scholarship gift provided to the college by alumnus David Rusenko, founder of Weebly.com.  This company, based in San Francisco, has become very successful.  The concept originated when Rusenko was taking an IST course which required developing ideas on how to make it easier to develop web sites.  Rusenko’s story is an almost archetype of a young entrepreneur who started on a shoestring investment, moved to California, labored along with his colleagues, and launched Weebly.  Rusenko was the youngest recipient of the Pennsylvania State University’s alumni achievement award and recognized by Forbes Magazine in 2011 as one Forbes “30 under 30” in recognition of 30 “young disruptors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who are impatient to change the world,” according to the magazine. Rusenko continues to support Penn State and charities by making significant contributions to causes such as THON.  He is also a member of the IST Advisory Board.

Because of its success and the high level of interest generated throughout the university, we elected to conduct a sequel that is even bigger and better than the original.  Start-up Week 2013 will feature more than 25 speakers and visitors from recognized internet companies such as Weebly, Reddit, Sincerely, Dropbox, Scribd, Social Cam, SongSplits, and others. The owners and founders of these companies are literally changing the way we work, collaborate, share data and information, and interact socially.  These visitors will provide lectures in IST classes, conduct workshops and Hacking sessions, interact with students, faculty and staff, and hold town hall meetings.  All presentations and discussions will be video-streamed live and recorded for access to anyone throughout the Commonwealth.  The event will involve collaboration with other colleges at Penn State, including the College of Engineering and the Smeal College of Business.

In addition to highlighting and celebrating the success of Penn State alumni and friends, Start-up Week provides an opportunity to showcase a number of on-going activities and plans.  These include a new inter-college minor in entrepreneurship, the Lion Launch Pad, which provides funding, facilities and mentoring for entrepreneurial student teams; Innoblue, a Penn State student organization that seeks to connect people with resources to accelerate development and commercialization of ideas; the College of Engineering Learning Factory, which provides students with practical hands-on experience through industry-sponsored and client-based design projects, and the Smeal College of Business Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship . These are only a few of the many resources available at Penn State.  Start-up Week is only one of a number of events and competitions related to start-ups and entrepreneurship.  Some of these include the interdisciplinary design summit organized by the College of Engineering, Idea Pitch conducted by the Smeal College of Business, Global Entrepreneurship Week held each fall, and multiple Hackathons.  Because of the large number of activities, events, courses, and resources available at Penn State, we are developing a web portal that will provide easy access to, and recognition of, these resources and activities.

Penn State continually seeks new ways to encourage and nurture that creation of new companies, products, and services.  In December 2011, Penn State announced significant changes in their intellectual property policies to encourage industry sponsored research and collaboration. At that announcement, Dr. Hank Foley, vice president of research and dean of the Graduate School stated, “Our goal then is to flatten any and all barriers or impediments to innovation, and that includes our own past stance on intellectual property.” The changes also included co-location of Penn State’s new Small Business Development Center with the Office of Technology Management, the Office of Sponsored Programs, The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania, The Centre County Industrial Development Corporation, incubators, and Innovation Park.  Notably, Dr. Foley announced on February 10, 2013, the creation of a new Entrepreneur-in-Residence position within the Office of the Vice President for Research.  The position will be held by Mr. Peter Linder, recently chairman of the board for the Penn State Research Foundation. In this role, Mr. Linder will advise faculty, staff, and students regarding entrepreneurial aspirations and activities, evaluate Penn State start-up companies, contribute to the TechCelerator programs at State College and at Hershey, and assist in evaluating new ventures, investment opportunities, and support identification of funding sources for new ventures and start-up companies.

Penn State’s “industry friendly” stance is one of the reasons that Penn State continues to be ranked as one of the top universities in industry-sponsored research, typically partnering with over 400 companies annually. Start-up Week 2.0 recognizes and celebrates Penn State’s commitment to entrepreneurship, job creation, and industrial partnership.  This continues a long tradition at Penn State.  We look forward to many more Start-up Week events in the years to come.


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