It’s not often that a university and a business community sign a Memo of Agreement. But that’s what happened last May in State College, Penn. Penn State University and the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County formalized an economic development partnership.
More than 250 business, community and university leaders, student entrepreneurs, and economic development and elected officials from Centre County and throughout central Pennsylvania were on hand at a special economic development luncheon as Penn State President Eric J. Barron and CBICC/Centre County Industrial Development Corporation President Vern Squier signed a memorandum of agreement to work toward building a nurturing and collaborative environment in which professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes can thrive.
“This Memorandum of Agreement is historic in that it represents a solid commitment from both the university and the business community with specific action items, ” explains Squier.
The University has pledged to leverage its entrepreneurial initiatives into “economic engines” and to engage alumni and community members in economic development efforts.
The Chamber will partner with the University in business recruitment activities that result from the university’s R&D efforts.
Centre County is home to more than 2,000 businesses with life sciences, high tech and advanced manufacturing companies as major employers. This collaboration is aimed at supplying much needed talent for these industries.
“We are approaching economic development from a different point of view in that we are working with companies that are already in the area for R&D, making the case for business investment here to achieve growth in the region.” Often economic development is focused on bringing new companies to town and overlooks the resources that already exist in the area. But this Chamber is going to make sure that it capitalizes on these resources, Squier said. Part of the Chamber’s action steps in this agreement is to pursue financial support and incentives to facilitate the commercialization of Penn State intellectual property in Centre County and the region.
“We have to tap into the energy of the university, as it is a future source of growth,” says Squier. “Keeping talent in the region and helping students create companies is the foundation of economic growth.”
In fact Penn State University created a program in January 2015 called Invent Penn State, which will leverage the university’s research, knowledge, and entrepreneurial spirit to bring to market needed ideas, products and services.
The aim of Invent Penn State is to drive job creation, economic development and student career success by connecting researchers with the people who can help bring their discoveries to the marketplace,” said Barron, when announcing the program. “This will benefit the communities we serve and the innovators working among us. Penn State is developing a culture that encourages, nurtures and rewards entrepreneurship—not just in STEM, but in the arts, health and human development, education and more."
President Barron has committed $30 million to putting into place the organization and people to guide and support its partners along their entrepreneurial pathways: working with students to encourage ideation, then helping them to kick-start those ideas into promising new companies; collaborating with communities and corporations, making available Penn State’s intellectual resources; partnering with alumni to mentor students, shepherd fledgling businesses, and invest in promising, innovative startups. Penn State, which is consistently ranked in the top 20 U.S. universities in research productivity, expends $800 million annually into research-related programs.
There have been strong examples of ideas from students turning into companies. On recent graduate sold his startup for $60 million. Another business born on campus, Weebly, is now valued at $455 million, as reported by Lori Falce at centre.daily.com. However Weebly is now based in San Francisco and the region wants to help new companies stay put.
One of the groups that offers assistance to entrepreneurs is TechCelerator, which is located in State College. It offers designated, shared space and an array of pre-launch business and market research services. The program is designed to assist inventors, faculty, and very early-stage entrepreneurs in converting their business ideas and concepts into operating ventures.
Another program, New Leaf Initiative, also located in State College, provides a space and culture that inspires members and visitors alike to build strategies and big partnerships. The group helps individuals to get plugged into the local innovation ecosystem as well as help entrepreneurs go from concept to implementation.
All of these efforts have the same goal, which is to ensure that this region takes advantage of its resources and builds on that to ensure continued economic growth.