Ethan Vasquez Penn State Lehigh Valley

Ethan Vazquez, a business marketing major at Penn State Lehigh Valley, was hired to intern with Helium IQ, a startup that participated in the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox incubator in Allentown.

Image: Penn State

Invent Penn State innovation hubs connect startups with student talent

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At the two-year mark of the launch of the Invent Penn State initiative, the University’s investment in the seeding of unique “innovation hubs” in Penn State campus communities is beginning to pay big dividends for Penn State students and startups.

Invent Penn State provided seed grants to campus-community partnerships that committed to creating physical spaces that accelerate startup companies, provide entrepreneurial resources, host events, and generally serve as central “hubs” for innovation in their communities. Over the last 18 months, 13 hubs have been established across the state. Their offerings range from startup training, to maker-spaces, to business resources that support minority-owned businesses.

In total, the startups already provided more than 100 internship positions for Penn State graduate and undergraduate students.

As the hubs have opened, they have experienced an important, unanticipated positive outcome. The early-stage startups served by the hubs are often in great need of temporary, highly-skilled talent — including programmers, designers and engineers — to help advance them to their next stage of product development. This demand is being met by highly motivated Penn State student interns. In total, the startups already provided more than 100 internship positions for Penn State graduate and undergraduate students.

Two innovation hubs, Lehigh Valley LaunchBox and Happy Valley LaunchBox, were among the first to open, and have seen the greatest demand. “We were thrilled to discover this unanticipated benefit,” said James Delattre, assistant vice president for research at Penn State. “The type of hands-on, experiential learning offered in a startup environment is invaluable to student career success.”

Sophomore Ethan Vazquez, a business marketing major at Penn State Lehigh Valley, knows this firsthand. As a freshman, he was hired to intern with Helium IQ, a startup that participated in the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox incubator in downtown Allentown.

“Entrepreneurs throw everything into making their great ideas work. Helping to be a part of their success was truly rewarding.” 

-- Ethan Vazquez, Penn State Lehigh Valley student and Helium IQ intern

“My internship gave me the opportunity to work on a variety of projects,” said Vazquez. “Helium IQ entrusted their interns with a lot of responsibility — and that freedom and trust is what drove me to learn so much so quickly.” He also learned about the entrepreneurial career path itself, noting that, “Entrepreneurs throw everything into making their great ideas work. Helping to be a part of their success was truly rewarding.”

Vasquez was connected with Helium IQ through Lehigh Valley LaunchBox, which has already supported 28 startups and more than 45 entrepreneurs since its opening in December 2015.

Michael Krajsa, the faculty liaison for the Lehigh Valley program, notes that in addition to the internships generated by participating startups, the innovation hub has helped to create internship opportunities among established businesses in the community, too.

“This type of robust ecosystem – where innovators are closely connected to each other and to the talent and resources they need – helps our campus communities attract and retain great companies in the longer term. And that will pay off by providing not just internships, but also skilled jobs for our graduating students.”

-- James Delattre, Penn State assistant vice president for research

“LaunchBox has really helped to raise the profile of the innovation happening at Penn State,” Krasja said. “In talking to established companies about LaunchBox, and about the kinds of experiences our students are getting here, companies are interested. They want to hire students with this type of experience.”

At Happy Valley LaunchBox in State College, Program Director Lee Erickson agrees.

“We’ve launched 20 companies to date and have been amazed to see how they are taking advantage of leveraging interns to build and grow their companies,” Erickson said.

Startups ProjectVive, Parking Bee, Musical Minds and Omega Notes are four companies that utilized numerous interns. In all, the startups at LaunchBox have needed approximately 85 student interns, from a variety of skillsets.

While each innovation hub is unique, all include services that are free and available to both community members and Penn Staters. Beyond internships, they have provided legal and patent advice, business consultation, accelerator programs, mentorship, and other resources to more than 1,000 entrepreneurs. Penn State entrepreneurship and business professors also connect their courses to the hubs, adding class visits and coursework related to entrepreneurship activities at the spaces.

“We are committed to engaging our students in entrepreneurship and to creating a rich culture of innovation,” said Delattre. “This type of robust ecosystem — where innovators are closely connected to each other and to the talent and resources they need — helps our campus communities attract and retain great companies in the longer term. And that will pay off by providing not just internships, but also skilled jobs for our graduating students.”

For more information about Invent Penn State Innovation Hubs, visit invent.psu.edu and consult the interactive map on the homepage to connect with your local hub.