Start-up Week began three years ago to celebrate the success of Weebly.com, a company started by alums David Rusenko (’07 IST), Chris Fanini (’12 IST), and Dan Veltri (’07 Bus), and recognize the generosity of David Rusenko in supporting scholarships for entrepreneurial-minded undergraduates students. Since its inception, the event continues to grow larger and ever more successful.
This year’s event, scheduled for April 7 – 11, brings together more than 40 speakers representing 5 colleges and 14 majors across Penn State. These speakers are successful entrepreneurs representing a wide range of companies – from fledgling start-ups to well-established international corporations such as Verizon, MorganFranklin, Comcast, Tripwire, and Videon. Founders and executives from a veritable “who’s who” of exciting start-up companies such as Weebly, DuckDuckGo, Mediabarn, Sincerely, and many others, will be on hand at Start-up Week. The agenda will include a Hackathon, classroom lectures and discussions, town hall meetings, formal social events, and networking opportunities for students and visiting entrepreneurs. We are pleased that the annual event has continued to grow and to become increasingly inclusive across Penn State.
This is an amazing opportunity for our students to interact with successful entrepreneurs and innovators across a wide spectrum of applications associated with information science and technology. In the past, our speakers and guests have been very engaged with our students, sharing their personal experiences and describing challenges associated with entrepreneurship. By attending, students can obtain the equivalent of an “instant” MBA and make personal connections with highly successful people.
A key aspect of Start-up Week is the inclusion of both young entrepreneurs associated with new start-up companies as well as engineers and business professionals who have lifelong experience with entrepreneurship and innovation in large and small enterprises. The resulting dialogs bridge the gap described in the recent New York Times article about Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem.
The discussions that will be held during Start-up Week, and emphasized in our own new entrepreneurship minor, stress that entrepreneurs need to be able to understand not only the rapid changes in information technology (and develop new apps, web services, etc., in response), but also the fundamental needs of human users, and develop useful tools and services for them. The New York Times article cited above presents a graphic showing a young man (presumably a young start-up entrepreneur) facing an older man (presumably a mid- to late-career software engineer of manager). The young man is saying, “When will you make something cool?” while the older man says, “When will you make something useful?”
Our IST curriculum, focus, and manifesto espouse that this is not an “either/or,” but rather a “both/and” choice. Our emphasis on a combination of information technology (fundamentals of computing, data base, networking, etc.) coupled with an understanding of individual users, social phenomena, and business aspects, is aimed at developing entrepreneurs and “intrapreneurs” who can be innovative and make a difference in the world.
At our recent IST Advisory Board meeting I asked David Rusenko to describe how he would characterize IST graduates. His reply: “IST graduates are well rounded technologists.” In my opinion, it’s an apt description for an emerging generation of entrepreneurs who can make things (apps, new business processes, new services, new web sites, etc.) that are both “cool” and “useful.”