Mechanical engineering seniors get down to business at Summer Jam Croatia

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Matt Malencia and Matt Ciarrocca admit they played hooky the entire first week of classes to fly to Pine Beach Resort in Pakoštane, Croatia.

However those five days on the Adriatic coast weren't all sand and sun for the mechanical engineering seniors.

They were busy networking with dozens of other students, faculty and entrepreneurs from around the globe during Summer Jam Croatia 2015.

The Summer Jam conference gives attendees the opportunity to learn about trends in entrepreneurship, gain experience working in international teams and develop new skills through learning by doing.  

The program included a series of workshops that focused on leadership, sales model, pitching, finance, and budgeting education, and provided participants with acumen in business.

Students spent much of their time in teams, developing business models and plans for novel ideas assigned by Summer Jam conference coordinators.

Malencia’s group developed an app for private general practitioners in the United Kingdom to use to diagnose patients with minor medical concerns.

Ciarrocca’s team designed a travel/booking website for ecotourism locations in Croatia.

Malencia and Ciarrocca, who were the only two students from the United States, said they faced two key challenges while working through the business planning process with their teams.

First, most of the students were public relations, advertising and business majors. Ciarrocca laughed, “My teammates immediately wanted to address the social media and marketing aspects of our project. I just wanted to build the website.”

Next, the teams’ problem statements were vague. Malencia noted, “Sometimes an open-ended task can be easy, but in this case we only had two days to figure out our solution, including the marketing, financial and service aspects.”

Ultimately, eight student teams were given five minutes to pitch their ideas, followed by five minutes of Q&A from the judges, who made their decisions based on the teams’ sales simulations, business models, pitch presentations and final plans.

Malencia’s team came in first and Ciarrocca’s team placed second. Both students attribute their success to their well-rounded educational experiences at Penn State.  

“The University offers so many opportunities to learn and practice presentation skills,” said Ciarrocca, who is actively involved in Undergraduate Teaching and Research Experiences in Engineering (Utree) and serves as a teaching assistant for CAS 100 for engineering students.

Malencia, a Schreyer Scholar, is an Engineering Ambassador, so he has plenty of experience delivering outreach presentations and providing tours of the College of Engineering.

The Penn State engineers plan to stay connected with their fellow student entrepreneurs.

Ciarrocca offered to help his team members if they decide to continue with the website he dubbed the “Expedia of ecotours.”

Malencia said he hopes to find an opportunity to return to Croatia sometime in the next year. “As a grand prize winner, I received a voucher good for a five-day stay in Split.”

Was skipping the first five days of classes worth it? “Absolutely,” they chimed.

Malencia and Ciarrocca were awarded the trip to Summer Jam Croatia 2015 when they were named the grand prize winners of the inaugural MDX+PSU Innovation Challenge.

The challenge will be held again this November during Penn State’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.

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Last Updated September 25, 2015