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.

Startups Afterschool for high school students in Philadelphia, and the first two steps for inspiring entrepreneurship

Posted: April 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

In January, Thomas Friedman wrote the following in his NY Times column:

“Obama should launch his own moon shot. What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of ‘Start-Up America.’”

I agree that an entrepreneurial spirit has been key to America’s growth to this point and that we need to make sure that entrepreneurship and innovation continues to be a critical focus. And that starts with inspiring our students to take an interest in entrepreneurship and see it as something feasible and achievable. That was why I was excited when I spoke to a high school class of aspiring entrepreneurs last week.

A team of teachers and entrepreneurs launched a program that’s running at the Science Leadership Academy this spring in Philadelphia, called Startup Afterschool. While their classmates are interning at established firms, this class of students takes a few hours each Wednesday afternoon to work on their social entrepreneurship ventures. They hear from current entrepreneurs and investors, consider markets and business models, and work on their pitches. As an entrepreneur who got my start creating products and companies in high school, I think this is a fantastic opportunity to expose students to entrepreneurship.

My enthusiasm for the program goes beyond my high school entrepreneurship experience, though. From my work helping to build the Lion Launch Pad program at Penn State, I’ve come to find that much of the current work around increasing entrepreneurship goes into building programs to help entrepreneurs move their ventures forward. Tweaking their business models, figuring out market testing, and refining investor pitches – the efforts are focused around businesses that already, in one form or another, exist.

But where do these ventures come from? In talking with students, trying to figure out how to grow the Lion Launch Pad program, I’ve realized that to truly inspire entrepreneurship, those efforts are too high level and the focus needs to drop down a few levels. Ideas are everywhere – in class, in the dorm room, or elsewhere. Some ideas have potential for new ventures or products, others don’t. Yet, it takes some self awareness and practice to realize that when you have these ideas, that they’re the identification of a pain in the market and that there could be potential for new venture creation. However, unless you’re searching for ideas or get lucky, too many of these ideas are just dismissed. And if the person with the idea realizes that the idea might have potential, where do they turn? There are actually a lot of resources available already, but it usually takes a lot of legwork to figure out who can help and where to look.

So, I have come to the realization that if we’re really truly going to work on inspiring and encouraging entrepreneurship, we need to go to focus on these issues. We need to help expose students to entrepreneurship and show that it is indeed feasible to take an idea and turn it into a new business. And that other students who sat in a seat nearby did just that, either while a student or not long after graduation – showing that it is feasible for a student to take an idea and create a sustainable new company. Then, the second part of this is to make sure that there is a centralized “clearinghouse” of entrepreneurship support, so that when one of these students walks in the front door, there’s someone to point them in the right direction, someone who knows where all of the resources are, so motivation and energy aren’t lost searching for the programs that exist to help. And this “clearinghouse” needs to have a high enough profile that students actually realize that it’s there. Many universities will tell you that they have programs to support entrepreneurs – yet the students with the ideas don’t know where to turn.

Kartikeya Bajpai, a graduate student at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, is headed to Kenya this summer to conduct research for his dissertation focused on the roles of social networks in helping disadvatnaged youth develop an entrepreneurship mindset. We had a conversation about his research project, which I find very interesting – it looks at how youths need access to social networks for advising/funding/technology, yet many of these networks are closed to disadvantage youth. Certainly, social networks and communities are very critical in the success of entrepreneurs – you need communities for advisors and mentors, along with communities to serve as markets/customers for the eventual product or service. So, for young entrepreneurs to have these social networks and to be able to tap into them is important for their success. However, I spoke with Kartik about what I just discussed above – that, in my opinion, the two things that must be addressed first, before you should worry about the rest of the support infrastructure, are (1) figuring out how to encourage an awareness of entrepreneurship in general, so that ideas with potential are recognized and (2) an awareness of where to turn for the support needed to take the next step in the venture creation process.

At the high school level, I think a program like Startup Afterschool is ideal and is working towards these two critical elements. The program provides the exposure to entrepreneurship and a high level overview of what the new venture creation process is, along with some hands-on experience with it. Next fall, they’re launching the program at five schools across Philadelphia. I think it’s fantastic that a program like this exists for high school students and I hope that we see a growth in similar programs elsewhere. In the meantime, I look forward to continuing to work with the program to do what I can to help it reach its objectives of demonstrating the importance of entrepreneurship to students and setting them off on a lifelong journey of innovation.

What efforts to encourage student entrepreneurship have others seen? What works well?

Penn State Entrepreneurs Network – Annual Networking Dinner this Wednesday

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: | 1 Comment »

The annual Penn State Entrepreneurs Network’s Networking Dinner is this Wednesday at the Atherton Hotel. Open to all in the PSU community interested in entrepreneurship, the dinner is typically a fun and useful event. Unfortunately, I’ll be unable to attend this year, but I wanted to help them spread the word.

Here are the details, from the event on Facebook:

Date: Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Time: 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Location: Atherton Hotel


Please join the Penn State Entrepreneurs Network for our 2nd annual spring semester networking dinner at the Atherton Hotel. We will be hosting various faculty from across the Penn State entrepreneurial community, in addition to MBA and undergraduate entrepreneurs. This would be a great opportunity to meet professors with expertise in the small business and start-up world, in addition to students looking to form the next great Penn State start-up!

The cost will be $10 per student will cover a full buffet, complete with 2 main dishes, salads, and dessert.

Guest speaker Dr. David Cannon will discuss Ocean Resource Balancing (ORB) for Hurricane Abatement and Global Climate Maintenance With Related Ocean Entrepreneurship Opportunities.

RSVP here on Facebook.

Penn State Entrepreneurship Success

Posted: April 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

In the last month, I enjoyed having the opportunity to advise a couple of Penn State teams in their entrepreneurial pursuits. It was exciting to talk with other Penn Staters interested in turning ideas into sustainable ventures and be able to share some thoughts with them.

I was happy to see that of the students that I was advising, one team was recently accepted into the DreamIt Ventures program and another team won the Penn State IdeaPitch competition (the university-wide business plan competition)! As an added “bonus”, the team winning the IdeaPitch competition was from the College of Information Sciences and Technology.  Congrats to both teams!

I’m looking forward to watching Penn State’s leadership in entrepreneurship education continue!