Visionary entrepreneurs from around the country visited Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) the week of March 18-23 to share their perspectives on creating cutting-edge companies during the second annual Start-up Week. The event, which was open to the public, featured more than 25 speakers and visitors from trailblazing companies such as Weebly, Reddit, Sincerely, Dropbox, Scribd, Social Cam and SongSplits.
“I was very impressed by the dedication of our IST team as well as by the openness of our speakers who readily shared advice for young entrepreneurs as well as their personal stories about their life journeys,” said David Hall, dean of the College of IST.
Start-up- Week was conceived by the College of IST in 2012 to be a celebration to highlight the success of young entrepreneurs and innovators in technology and security, and to showcase the possibilities that exist for enterprising students in the College of IST to pursue their business ideas.
The speakers for this year’s Start-up Week provided lectures in IST classes, conducted workshops and hacking sessions, interacted with students, faculty and staff, and held town hall meetings. All presentations and discussions were video streamed live and recorded for access through Justin.tv. This year, IST collaborated with Penn State’s College of Engineering, the Smeal College of Business, and the College of Agricultural Sciences to provide an even more robust experience for event-goers.
“IST gave a lot to me and this is the least I can do, to come back and brag about it,” said Jimmy Mesta, a 2009 graduate of the College of IST with a degree in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) and a senior security engineer for Redspin, a small security auditing and penetration testing company based in Carpinteria, Calif.
Start-up Week began with a presentation by Rod Murchison (’91 Engineering) of Tripwire and proceeded throughout the week with lectures and exercises by Keith Deaven (’90, Liberal Arts) and Heather Gay (Mediabarn); Pamela Sorenson (Pamela’s Punch, ’94 Liberal Arts); Brennan Burhart (Redkite, ’99 Smeal); Todd Bacastow (Digital Globe, ’05 IST);Mark Tufano (Brightly Digital, ’09 IST), David Rusenko (’07 IST) , Chris Fanini (12, IST) and Dan Veltri (Weebly); Mesta (’09 SRA) and David Carlino (’09 IST) (Redspin), Justin Kan (Justin.tv); and Steve Huffman (Reddit, Hipmunk).
“I was honored to be asked to speaking during Start-up Week,” said Tufano, founder of Brightly Digital, a digital studio based in New York City that creates and implements digital strategies to connect brands with their audiences. “First of all, I wish they had this when I was here. I just think it’s the coolest concept.”
Several of the speakers at Start-up Week said that they chose to participate in the event because they felt that it is important to encourage aspiring young entrepreneurs to pursue their passions and to give them advice on how they can achieve their goals.
“It’s great to get entrepreneurship into the minds of students,” said Veltri, chief product officer and co-founder of Weebly, a San Francisco-based company that offers simple tools to create a website, blog, or online store. Since its founding in 2006, the company has grown to more than 15 million users and powers more than two percent of all websites on the Internet.
“It’s really helpful to meet the students and to share those real-world experiences,” he added.
“I just had to say yes to this,” said Sorensen, founder of Pamela’s Punch LLC, a website that provides information for the “who, what, when, and where” of Washington, D.C.’s elite social, professional, and philanthropic scene. “I’m at Start-up Week because I think that mentoring those that are interested in advancing themselves is completely important.”
Start-up Week concluded with HackPSU’s 24-hour Hackathon that was held March 22-23 in the IST Building. The event, which is held once a semester, is organized by Innoblue, an interdisciplinary entrepreneurship group that helps individuals learn business and technical skills, launch their ideas, and develop as entrepreneurs.
The most recent Hackathon had about 150 to 160 participants who had 24 hours to “build whatever you want,” said Kathleen Warner, president of Innoblue, a junior majoring in theater/advertising, and a presenter at Start-up Week. The teams built prototypes of mobile apps, websites, and hardware technology that they presented to a panel of judges that included Start-up Week speakers Matt Brezina (’03 IST), co-founder and CEO of Sincerely, a mobile gifting startup whose mission is to” help the world be more thoughtful;”;
Rusenko, co-founder and CEO of Weebly, who was named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” list in 2011 and 2012; and David Hua (’04 Smeal), head of platform at Sincerely.
There were 36 demonstrations at the Hackathon, Warner said, with most of the non-Penn State students coming from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pennsylvania. The first-place-winning team, which was comprised of students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Pitt, devised a smartphone application that enables them to take 3D pictures, and were awarded with a free trip to California.
“I like seeing the collaboration between all these schools,” Warner said. “This (event) has put Penn State on the map for Hackathons.”