Invent Penn State Making an Impact on Student Careers through Entrepreneurship (part 2 of 2)

Invent Penn State

Designed to spur economic development, job creation, and student career success, the Invent Penn State (IPS) initiative is an integral part of Pennsylvania’s thriving entrepreneurial culture. #PAproud is posting a four-part series highlighting IPS and its accomplishments. Our first article focused on the initiative’s inception, with Penn State President Eric Barron’s vision for utilizing the university’s vast resources to support faculty, student, and community entrepreneurs and innovators. This second part will explore how students are flourishing thanks to entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, training, university-community collaboration, and hands-on work experiences. We’ll look at two of Penn State’s 21 innovation hubs where students can access resources to learn entrepreneurial concepts, work with startups, or launch startups of their own.

All of Penn State’s 21 undergraduate campuses have received seed grant funding to create their own innovation hubs, often dubbed LaunchBoxes, to provide mentorship, collaborative working space, and accelerator programs for student entrepreneurs to work alongside faculty and community entrepreneurs. These centers facilitate interactive shifts in thinking, collaborating, and learning, which often compel students to explore various career opportunities they might not have considered. This month, we’re highlighting LaunchBoxes in State College and the Lehigh Valley.

Providing a Hands-On Entrepreneurial Space

Founded in February 2016 in State College, Happy Valley LaunchBox is one of 21 innovation hubs across Pennsylvania that offers a hands-on approach to entrepreneurship. The facility is available for free walk-in assistance from Penn State Law Entrepreneur Assistance, Intellectual Property Clinics, and the Small Business Development Center.

Happy Valley LaunchBox also offers accelerator programs, which give entrepreneurs the opportunity to further develop their business ideas at various stages of the startup process:

  • Idea Test Lab: The monthlong Idea Test Lab program helps entrepreneurs-in-training bring ideas to life. Participants conduct field research to identify their customer need and develop a fulfillment strategy, enabling them to identify key customer characteristics, build customer personas, and document the customer experience from beginning to end.
  • FastTrack Accelerator: The 15-week FastTrack Accelerator program helps entrepreneurs execute already validated business ideas by providing a space where they can build minimally viable products to test the market quickly, refine prototypes and solutions, define their market, build customer personas, and develop marketing strategies based on customer feedback.
  • Summer Founders’ Program: Penn State’s third accelerator program is for students only. The Summer Founders’ Program awards student teams $10,000 to work on their business, idea, or social good full-time over the summer.

“Students work in State College over the summer and have the opportunity to put their all into something and build it from the ground up,” said Lee Erickson, director of Happy Valley LaunchBox. “Students learn about the fast-paced world of a startup business, which requires adaptability, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness.”

Preparing for Jobs of the Future

While Happy Valley’s innovation hub focuses on college students, the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox in Allentown offers its own accelerator program, Teen Entrepreneurship Summer Challenge, for high school students complete with a coworking space, microgrants, a female entrepreneur-focused speaker series called LaunchBox Ladies, and numerous internship opportunities. The program offers students an opportunity to develop their startup ideas and has been a huge success for both students and Penn State. As a result, Lehigh Valley LaunchBox has become an effective recruitment tool as it has been a factor in many students’ decisions to attend Penn State Lehigh Valley during college tours and new student orientation.

The LaunchBox Ladies series focuses on the unique challenges and successes of female entrepreneurs, providing a platform for local role models who built their businesses from the ground up to help other entrepreneurs and inspire their community.

While not all students decide to start their own companies, they still garner valuable skills that augment their classroom experience and help them develop relationships with potential employers in the region, like the Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network, St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network, Air Products, and more. Often, they might be preparing themselves for future occupations that don’t exist yet.

“Half the jobs they may want aren’t even invented yet,” says Michael Krajsa, assistant teaching professor at Penn State University. “Building off of President Barron’s vision, these students are creating their own opportunities within the startup business culture.” Krajsa already sees that these experiences have given Penn State students an advantage in life.

“The thing I am most proud of is that we have about nine colleges in the area, but my business major students are getting internships as second semester freshmen and sophomores, whereas traditionally internships are given only to juniors and seniors. Now they graduate with five or six internships under their belt.”

PA Business One-Stop Shop’s Resources

Featuring information for those starting a business, growing an existing business, or considering a move to the Keystone State from the U.S. or abroad, the PA Business One-Stop Shop was designed to make navigating business-related processes in state government simple, easy, and accessible so entrepreneurs can get back to doing what they do best — creating, innovating, and succeeding in Pennsylvania.

The One-Stop Shop is more than just a website and phone number: it’s backed by a team of business consultants and subject matter experts from across state government to pool their resources, knowledge, and experience.

Governor Wolf officially launched PA Business One-Stop Shop during his annual budget address on February 6. Visit the One-Stop Shop website to learn more about starting or running a business in Pennsylvania.


For more information about Invent Penn State Innovation Hubs, visit invent.psu.edu. Discover more about Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities and their industry collaborations at dced.pa.gov. To stay up-to-date on all Pennsylvania news, following us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.