Thoughts on Current State of Entrepreneurship at Penn State

Posted: June 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments »

Recently, an alum interested in supporting entrepreneurship at Penn State asked me for my thoughts on the current state of support for student entrepreneurs. Given my involvement with the Lion Launch Pad, an accelerator for students at Penn State that I co-founded, this is a topic that I have a strong interest in.

I have a much longer post on ideas to help support student entrepreneurs that I’m working on, but for today, I’m just going to stick to the current state.

I wrote a summary of the various groups, individuals, and programs at Penn State that I was aware of, which are involved in supporting student entrepreneurship in various ways. That document is embedded below.

If you’re an entrepreneur at Penn State, or even just someone interested in entrepreneurship, I would be very interested in your feedback and thoughts on the programs listed, along with my thoughts.

From the document:

Key Strengths:

  • There are a number of programs on and around Penn State’s campus that are dedicated to helping students explore and succeed in entrepreneurship. These include both academic and business resources. If students know where to look, there is generally something that can help get them moving in the right direction.
  • Penn State has both a history of entrepreneurial success and some recent entrepreneurship success stories. This is in addition to a fantastic resource in its alumni base, spread out across all areas of business.
  • The past several years have seen huge growth in programs for supporting early- stage entrepreneurs. No longer is there a gaping void between idea and venture capital funding. Entrepreneurs have a number of programs beyond Penn State to turn to and benefit from.

Key Opportunities:

  • Despite the large number of available programs, unfortunately, the entrepreneurship landscape is heavily fragmented and resources are not integrated. Consequently, students interested in entrepreneurship use their time looking for the necessary resources rather than taking advantage of them.
  • There is an issue of general awareness. Without high profile recent wins, there is a limited number of students who consider entrepreneurship as a viable career path or application of their ideas/creativity. Furthermore, students are seldom aware of academic entrepreneurship programs beyond their college/major.
  • The third section of this document provides a highlights of the recent growth in external programs for early-stage entrepreneurs – there is a large opportunity to align with these programs and incorporate their best practices.
  • Penn State’s alumni base is a tremendous resource, yet, unfortunately, it is difficult to access and leverage. There is an opportunity to structure this resource more effectively, thus benefiting all Penn State entrepreneurs.

Existing Programs

For details about the existing programs, along with some thoughts as far as how to improve upon the current state, please read the full document and leave your thoughts and reactions in the comments!

You can download the document in PDF format.

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  • Brendan Falkowski

    My impression of entrepreneurship at Penn State was “idea people” seeking “builders” without seeding control, equity, or contracting. After unintentionally sitting on the technical end of a few inquiries it became obvious they weren't prepared to helm anything but thought leadership. For a builder, that's not attractive – everyone has a dozen ideas. I didn't meet any undergrads with the pitchman skills to sell an idea with renumeration on success only.

  • Robert Shedd

    Brendan, thanks for the thoughts! I think that there's unfortunately a lot of misinformation about the process of building startups that leads to a lot of this. It's a common misconception that the first step is that they have to run out and find a developer to work on equity. Unfortunately, this ignores the necessity of customer development. Hopefully, as more information spreads regarding lean startup best practices, this will be reduced going forward!

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  • Linda Feltman

    Hey Rob, Thanks for the note about the SBDC in the pdf (and thanks to Ethan for pointing out your blog). We are acutely aware of our remote location – as far as the students are concerned – and I make it a point to meet with students on campus. If they are Smeal Business students, then I can usually secure a conference room in the Business Building. Other colleges I do the best I can finding meeting space on campus. During the 2009/10 academic year I worked with about a dozen students. I also hope to consult in the Keller incubator on a regular basis. The SBDC offers our First Steps of Starting a Business seminar twice a year – free to students and held in the evening on campus. The next one will be during Global Entrepreneurship Week on Nov 16 from 5:30 – 8:30 with location TBA. We're trying. But as you noted – we are remote and are appreciative that Liz, Robert, Anne (Hoag) and countless others keep us in mind when pondering a students needs. As always thanks for your enthusiasm and support of PSU student entrepreneurs.

  • Robert Shedd

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks very much for your comment! I think it's great that you and your team make a concerted effort to make the distance a non-issue. As I've noted many times, I think the key to Penn State really being much more effective with student entrepreneurship is creating what I call a “clearinghouse” for student entrepreneurs. Such a program could provide a consistent, well-known, concentrated resource that students could turn to for up-to-date information on who can help them with where they are in the process. With such a program taking that public-facing, leading role, things like location and distance probably wouldn't matter as much. The other critical programs that play important parts in the process would get connected with students at the right phase of the process from this centralized program. It would be interesting to learn if any other universities have anything like this operating…

    Anyway, thanks very much for the comment and it will be great to have your support as we build out the Lion Launch Pad program in the Keller building.

  • Hannah

    The E-SHIP minor was like a God-send to me…I think they were the only classes I actually looked forward to at PSU. I also met a lot of good people. I agree with the opportunity to leverage alumni, there is no easy way to connect with PSU Alumni interested in Entrepreneurship (that I know of). At one point I even made a website for PSU Alumni to re-connect and was approached about creating similar sites for other large universities…apparently PSU is not the only one with that sort of problem!

  • Robert Shedd

    Hannah, thanks for the comment! Yep – I certainly agree that the question of how to better involve alumni isn't limited to PSU. I just think that it's incredibly germane to the topic of how to better encourage entrepreneurs at the university level. All of the seed-stage accelerator programs around the country focus on providing mentoring as their primary means of helping the participating companies. Universities have an incredible resource with their alumni networks to provide even more expansive mentoring.

    What site did you launch to help PSU alumni re-connect? It would be interesting to learn more about what you think would be effective to improve connections with alumni.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  • career ideas

    well said Hannah

  • Mikesilvis

    Hey Rob,

    A recent new entrepreneurship network at Penn State known as innoblue has recently just taken off. It is the most active club currently on campus with the most support. You can find more information here

  • Mitch Robinson

    Hey Rob -

    My name is mitch and I run Innoblue now (formerly projectbluepill) and a startup of my own at Penn State.

    I would love to talk sometime about this blog post and how things have developed (the good and bad).


  • Robert Shedd

    Hey Mitch,
    Thanks for the comment. Sure thing – feel free to ping me – robert (at) shedd (dot) us – always love connecting with other Penn Staters about entrepreneurship.

    I’ve had multiple conversations with Eli and am really impressed with everything that Innoblue has accomplished over the last few years.