IST scholarships fund start-up innovations

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Through the generosity of Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) alumnus David Rusenko ('07) two innovative IST students -- junior John Dori and sophomore Jules Dupont -- now have the opportunity to take their projects to the next level. Their ambitions, respectively, are optimizing artesian beverages and developing mobile apps for public libraries.

Dori, as recipient of the David Rusenko Entrepreneur-in-Residence Scholarship, will receive the support of a faculty mentor, the opportunity to earn six credits while working on a start-up he co-founded, and $10,000 per year. Dupont was awarded the David Rusenko Emerging Entrepreneur Scholarship to support his work.

“My goal [in supporting the scholarships] is to inspire and help students with big ideas and ambitions to focus on starting something and changing the world,” said Rusenko, CEO and co-founder of Weebly, a San Francisco-based start-up that was named one of the 50 best websites by TIME magazine. Today, more than 175 million people monthly visit a website that was built using Weebly.

Launched in 2006, Weebly developed out of an IST class project by Rusenko, fellow IST alumnus Chris Fanini, and Dan Veltri, a graduate of Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. In 2012, Rusenko donated $400,000 -- the largest gift to the College of IST from a graduate in its 13-year history -- to establish scholarships for entrepreneurial-minded students. This year’s scholarships were awarded at the conclusion of IST Start-up Week 2014, held April 7-11 at the college.

According to Dori, the impetus for his start-up, Analytical Flavor Systems, was the fact that artisan producers “lack any method for the quantification and comparison of flavor and a means for product development and improvement based on analysis of their products’ sensory attributes."

To address this problem, Dori’s company developed Gastrograph, a software program that helps producers increase the perceived quality of their offerings, catch bad batches before they ship, and target the distinct tasting populations that best fit their products’ flavor profiles. “I am a natural troubleshooter and problem-solver, so after discovering the Internet as a student in elementary school, I realized that technology is the best way to help lots of people with their problems,” Dori said.

“We use sensory science, data mining, and analytical chemistry to help producers understand what individuals or population demographics like, and dislike, about their products -- helping producers make the best product, every time, with every batch.”

Currently, the company has seven clients that use its system every day, including local establishments Otto’s and Robin Hood Brewing Co.

Dupont said the idea for his startup, Mobile Library Apps, came from a desire to help public libraries remain relevant in the 21st century. While still in high school, Dupont and his former classmate, Daniel Dudt, who now attends Bucknell University, developed an Android app for the Chester County Library System (CCLS), in Pennsylvania. Based on the success of that app, Dupont and Dudt realized that there was a strong need for a product like theirs and decided to start a company to address this market demand.

“By offering convenient mobile access to catalogs, e-books and more, libraries can stem the flow of consumers to for-profit companies such as Amazon,” Dupont said. “Even so, most libraries are sorely lacking in the mobile area. The reasons are simple: building and maintaining an in-house app requires expertise that most libraries do not have, and no company has stepped in to meet market demand at a palatable cost for smaller library systems.”

Dupont and Dudt have been working towards completing Android and iOS versions of the app so that they can be in a position to start selling mobile apps to libraries. If all goes well, they expect to start generating revenue by summer 2014.

“Dan and I have built up a full head of steam,” Dupont said. “We have proven that a market exists, and we have a clear way to monetize our product, by selling the app and associated installation to library systems.”

Rusenko's generosity will help the college of IST reach its goals in For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. This effort is directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America. The University is engaging Penn State’s alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University’s tradition of quality. The campaign’s top priority is keeping a Penn State degree affordable for students and families.

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Last Updated May 07, 2014