Entrepreneurship, Invent Penn State focus of panel discussion

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Hunter Swisher, a plant science major at Penn State hasn’t graduated, but he’s already taken what’s he learned and turned it into a start-up business: a product that not only reduces phosphorus run-off from golf courses but makes better turf.

His company, Phospholutions, made its first sale last week.

He was one of the speakers who was part of a panel discussion Tuesday focused on Invent Penn State, research and fostering entrepreneurship and community partnerships. Organized by U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, the event took place at Happy Valley LaunchBox, the downtown center the provides work space, no-cost legal and other services for business start-ups. LaunchBox is one part of Invent Penn State, an initiative to spark entrepreneurship and economic development among faculty, students and staff and in communities across the Commonwealth.

“I could not have done what I’ve done without all these people here today that have given me the resources, put in the time and effort and devoted their lives to helping me with my life,” said Swisher, who grew up in State College and is slated to graduate in December. He received help from the Small Business Development Center and Ben Franklin Technology PArtners, was a participant in the Summer Founders Program and was accepted into LaunchBox. He and his business partner, Erin Knabe, the vice president who is also still a student, are running trials on their product on golf courses in Florida and Pennsylvania.

“We have a lot of students in this space who are hungry to be successful,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “If this is the path they’re taking, that’s our job, to help them be even more successful.”

Barron said universities are about knowledge and innovation and the need to pass it on through teaching and publishing.

“Getting your ideas into the marketplace is the same thing as having your work in a publication and the same thing as teaching a student,” he said. “This is just another way we live our mission as a university.”

Along with Swisher and Barron, the panel included Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey; Happy Valley Launch Box Director Lee Erickson; Tom Sharbaugh, a Penn State Law professor and director of the Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic; and Thompson, who toured the LaunchBox before the panel discussion.

“I’m excited to witness the incredible ways in which our local and national economy will grow as a result of your hard work,” Thompson said.

The ribbon cutting for LaunchBox was held in March. Erickson said that the mission is to “de-risk” business and help entrepreneurs hit the ground running and increase their chances of success. That means boot camp for entrepreneurs and partnerships that are resources for the start-up companies.

She said that often it is not a lack of money that ends entrepreneurship, but a lack of resources and support.

“I think our secret sauce is this community — everybody is trying to break down the barriers,” Erickson said. “I think that's what separates us and ultimately will elevate us from the Silicon Valleys of the world. Because they will get their network here and their support here and will want to stay or come back.”

Last Updated August 31, 2016