Education

Penn State Shenango Launches VenturePointe

HERMITAGE, Pa. – Penn State University’s effort to spur entrepreneurship throughout its regional campuses has now extended to the Shenango Valley, as officials celebrate the launch of VenturePointe, a new startup innovation hub affiliated with Penn State Shenango.

“As of today, we will now have 17 incubators across the state of Pennsylvania,” said Penn State President Eric Barron, who attended a news conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday. “I expect that we’ll probably have more.”

Penn State Shenango’s VenturePointe is the result of an initiative started about two years ago called Invent Penn State, Barron said. The idea was to leverage the university’s resources and develop incubator hubs in communities across the commonwealth that could nurture new ideas and innovations.

Invent Penn State awarded a $50,000 seed grant to Penn State Shenango for the new incubator, which is housed at the eCenter@LindenPointe. Barron added that the university has challenged the community to raise another $1 million to help support this initiative. If accomplished, Penn State would add another $1 million to fund the program in perpetuity.

Each campus puts together a proposal and submits it for review, Barron said. A key component of each proposal is the degree of community partnerships the regional campuses have established.

Since the program started, Barron said these startups have attracted “tens of thousands of dollars” in investment because of new, exciting ideas emerging from the Invent Penn State initiative.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “I know it’s going to be successful.”

The grant enables Penn State Shenango to maintain a suite in the eCenter and provide space for students or recent graduates to advance their ideas for a new business or product, said Jo Anne Carrick, director of Penn State Shenango. “We find that our students in this region want to stay in the region,” she noted. “This is an opportunity for us to cultivate those ideas and allow them to start up their businesses.”

Another important component of this program is to encourage interaction with the community and entrepreneurs already working in the eCenter, Carrick said. “It truly is a partnership between our university and the Shenango Valley.”

The Shenango campus director emphasized that Penn State has the ability to connect with academic and venture capital resources and tap into the entire university network for support. “Our mission is to help business startups and have them stay here,” Carrick said.

VenturePointe consists of shared office space and an entrepreneurial resource center, which recently added two 3-D printers.

Two startup ventures, ATP Resources and Guardians Nest, are the first to operate from the incubator.

“I have a few different ideas,” said Jacob Linzenbold, a Penn State Shenango graduate who started ATP Resources in order to improve the strength and mobility of crutches. The walker he uses – Linzenbold suffers from a spinal injury – is too cumbersome, and the entrepreneur is researching materials and design to develop lightweight crutches that allow more maneuverability.

“I’m focused on things you would use for daily life,” Linzenbold said. “I’d like to branch out into different divisions as I grow.”

Guardians Nest, the first startup in the program, is a nonprofit organization that acts as a one-stop-shop for veterans, says its founder Brian Flick.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this collaboration between Penn State Shenango and the eCenter,” he said. “I’ve never started a nonprofit on my own before, and it’s been an invaluable resource. Everyone here is eager to help you.”

Ketaki Desai, executive director of the eCenter, said that inspiring young people to pursue careers as entrepreneurs helps energize the community. One of the eCenter’s newest initiatives is the Venture Investment Accelerator, or VIA,  a business competition for startups with a $25,000 seed grant award, she said.

Another program that helps foster young talent is the Entrepreneurship Academy, which teaches high school students leadership and entrepreneurial skills, Desai said. “This is the fourth year of that program,” she said. “There are companies from all around that are interested in what we are doing.”

A third initiative is to connect local talent with regional and national companies, Desai said.

“We’re making sure that the ideas, the intellectual capital, the talent of the university, and the needs of the community meet,” added Penn State President Barron. “Shenango’s now launched, and we hope it’s here forever.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.