Students gain business knowledge at Harbaugh Entrepreneurship Forum

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- While Penn State originally was founded to educate farmers, the mission of its College of Agricultural Sciences has expanded to encourage the development of "agripreneurs."

That was apparent during the college's recent Harbaugh Entrepreneurship Forum. The annual event brings prominent entrepreneurs to campus to interact with students and share their business acumen.

The keynote address was delivered by Keith Masser, CEO of Sterman Masser Inc., an eighth-generation potato-growing and processing company in Sacramento, Pa. Masser graduated from Penn State with a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Engineering and currently serves as vice chairman of the University's Board of Trustees.

Masser described to students the characteristics that make a successful entrepreneur and spoke about Sterman Masser and his other entrepreneurial endeavors, Keystone Potato Products and Fresh Solutions Farms.

Keystone Potatoes is home to the newest dehydrated potato processing facility in North America. The operation focuses on sustainability, using methane gas from a nearby landfill as a fuel source to generate steam. Fresh Solutions Farms is a state-of-the-art packing facility providing regional potato and onion marketing solutions with national reach.

Following Masser's presentation, two finalists were selected to present a business pitch as part of the Ag60 Competition, which was open to all Penn State students. Each finalist had 60 seconds to present a pitch that addressed a need in agricultural sciences.

The winner, science major Dustin Betz, presented an idea for portable hydroponic structures that could be used to provide people with fresh produce. He received a prize of $200.

The Harbaugh Forum is a natural stepping-stone to the college's fall entrepreneurship event, the Ag Springboard Competition, noted College of Agricultural Sciences entrepreneurship coordinator Mark Gagnon. These events are supported by the college's Earl and Kay Harbaugh Entrepreneurship Endowment.

Gagnon explained that students competing in the Springboard Competition form groups and develop a business plan that addresses a need in the agricultural sector. A panel of judges selects the most compelling business plan, and the first place team can win $5,000. Participating students also have opportunities for mentoring and support to help commercialize their businesses.

The Harbaugh Forum is one of many activities sponsored by the entrepreneurship initiative in the College of Agricultural Sciences. The initiative seeks to facilitate entrepreneurship in the college and forge intra-university ties.

Last Updated April 26, 2012