Student entrepreneurs one part of Penn State’s new venture conference

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For all those people who find themselves grasping for words when it comes to meeting new people or starting conversations, Andrew Simpson, a senior in criminal justice, has the answer.

Simpson started Someonew — an app to connect people with similar interests — this summer, and he plans to make it his full-time job when he graduates in December. He made the pitch for his startup as part of the Invent Penn State Venture and IP Conference, held at the Penn Stater Hotel Conference Center Oct. 6 and 7.

“Remember: It just takes one conversation to change someone’s life, so let’s change lives together,” Simpson said to a room full of entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and Penn Staters, including President Eric Barron.

The conference is part of Invent Penn State, an initiative started under Barron to spark entrepreneurship and economic development among faculty, students and staff and in communities across the Commonwealth. The conference, in its first year, connected startups and emerging technologies with investors.

Barron, who spoke at the conference before the student pitches, said encouraging student entrepreneurs is one of the areas of focus of Invent Penn State.

“We believe that we should be enabling all of these energetic and very entrepreneurial students to be successful. We’ve created entrepreneurship and innovation minors across our campuses to connect major programs of study with entrepreneurship education,” he said. “We’ve enabled it so that every major, regardless of what it is, can have access to a minor in business to get the fundamentals as that these students move forward to help them be more successful.”

The conference featured Tech Tournament, a showcase of technologies and early-stage companies that came from Penn State research; Venture Capital roundtables, that let early-stage company representatives pitch their ideas to entrepreneurs; and a Startup Showdown with competitive business pitches in the spirit of the TV series “Shark Tank.” At Tech Tournament, AdvanceRib, for minimally invasive repair of broken or fractured ribs, won 1st place; AvoColor, a natural food coloring start-up, came in 2nd; and Project Team, which offers schoolwide anti-bullying programming, earned 3rd Project Team.

Stephen Benkovic, Evan Pugh University Professor and Eberly Chair in Chemistry, won Inventor of the Year, which recognizes a Penn State researcher for excellence in both inventorship and entrepreneurism. Benkovic, an influential researcher in chemistry and biochemistry, has seven patents pending, along with starting a biopharmaceutical company in 2002 that was sold to Pfizer this year, and founding another company in 2015.

Events also included Inc.U, which gave Simpson and seven other students a chance to pitch their companies. The student startups had already been picked from entries in a video competition, earning the winners’ businesses $2,500 in investment funding.

Tim Kerchinski, innovation team lead at Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP), said Inc.U started with a grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to pilot the idea. Now, it will continue with support from PennTAP.

“When is there a better time to start a company than when you’re in college. You have a lot of resources right at your fingertips,” Kerchinski said. “At PennTAP, that’s what we do — provide technical and entrepreneurial resources that often include design, proof of concept and prototyping. Student entrepreneurs value and need that type of assistance.”

Simpson said the idea for his startup, Someonew, is to help people transition from phone to face-to-face conversations. He said he had the same problem with that that many others do, so he spent the summer starting conversations with complete strangers.

Andrew Simpson

Penn State student, and entrepreneur, Andrew Simpson gave a vibrant presentation to describe his start-up company 'Someonew' to a capacity crowd of investors and fellow entrepreneurs at the 2016 Invent Penn State Venture and IP Conference Oct. 6.

Image: Patrick Mansell

“I realized that people actually love having conversations with new people,” he said. “It was such a cool experience, and I want that for other people.”

Simpson said Happy Valley LaunchBox, also part of Invent Penn State, was pivotal in helping him getting started and when it comes to knowing what to do and how to do it. LaunchBox, located in downtown State College, provides student entrepreneurs work space along with no-cost legal and other services.

“(LaunchBox leaders) challenging us on things we normally don’t think about has been instrumental, and having this opportunity to be at this network event is amazing,” Simpson said.

Other student startups featured as part of Inc.U were Musical Minds, brainwave sensing headphones that match musical suggestions to your mood; Rain Reality, aimed at educating museum visitors through holograms; and First Pick an app that lets you enter what sport you’re interested in and when you want to play and find people to play with. Additional student company winners include Mod Zero; what’s poppin; Phospholutions; and Visionese.

Last Updated January 24, 2017