ERIE, Pa .– Erie business leaders, community advocates and elected officials gathered at Penn State Behrend Knowledge Park on March 12 to discuss innovation and the importance of entrepreneurial support in the economy of Pennsylvania.
The program was led by Grow PA, a statewide initiative that brings together people and organizations from across the state to advance a modern growth agenda. Penn State Behrend and the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership will lead efforts in Erie County.
“Traditional workforce development in the state is focused primarily on meeting immediate needs,” said Zack Moore, vice president of government and community relations for Penn State. “The partners of Grow PA are looking beyond that – 10, 15, 20, 30 years from now – and into future industries and businesses that will truly propel growth and make Pennsylvania a national leader in economic development.”
Penn State Behrend is a natural fit for the initiative: the college’s open lab engagement model connects students and faculty members with external partners – in business and industry, and in organizations non-profit and community organizations – to design new products, meet market challenges and support the local economy.
The open lab approach was one of the main reasons the Magee-Womens Research Institute decided to locate a $ 26 million medical research center in Erie. Penn State Behrend will be the institute’s academic partner and lead the translational research efforts of MWRI Erie. The institute is expected to provide up to $ 50 million in federal funding to Erie over the next 10 years.
The college was also an early supporter of Invent Penn State, a $ 30 million initiative that provides free access to acceleration programs, a collaborative workspace, rapid prototyping and legal advice, and IP in 21 innovation centers managed by the university. Penn State Behrend’s Innovation Commons think tank was the first of these centers.
Innovation Commons student workers have contributed to over 180 projects and have been named inventors on nine patent applications. They were also key contributors to the launch of 10 new companies. Their success has been the basis of the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network, which provides coordinated entrepreneurial support to the Blasco Library, Edinburgh University, Gannon University, Mercyhurst University, and Penn State Behrend. All sites are open to the public and many services are offered free of charge.
“This support is essential for inventors and entrepreneurs,” said Amy Bridger, senior director of corporate strategy and external engagement at Penn State Behrend. “Start-ups inevitably encounter roadblocks or obstacles that slow their progress towards a product ready to be marketed. Hive sites provide resources and expertise every step of the way while allowing students to apply classroom learning in real world situations. That’s good for new businesses, and for Erie: businesses that are successful early on in a community tend to stay in that community, where they have contacts and support networks and can see a way forward.