'Outstanding' IST alum using his businesses to challenge the status quo

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Steve Garguilo, a 2009 graduate of the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), is traveling the world, looking for new ways to innovate and transform old methods and ideas. “IST set me up to think about how to solve big, real-world problems,” he said.

His globetrotting career has already taken him to Switzerland, India, and now to the Mexican city of Juárez. But even as he explores the world, he is never away from Penn State for too long.

The Altoona, Pennsylvania, native recently gave remarks as IST’s spring 2017 commencement speaker. He earned the role upon being awarded the IST Outstanding Alumni Award for 2017, which celebrates his success in business and entrepreneurship. The college established the award in 2013 to recognize its alumni who have made significant impacts in their field.

“It’s just an incredible honor,” Garguilo said. “[The college has] a lot of alumni doing interesting things around the world doing high-impact work, so being recognized among that group is obviously a big honor.”

While at Penn State, Garguilo earned his IST degree with a minor in Engineering Leadership Development. He also served as the president of the IST Student Government and president of the Blue Band. But even during his undergraduate career, he knew he wanted to inspire people to follow their passions. 

He became the driving force of TEDxPSU, a Penn State chapter of the non-profit initiative that promotes “ideas worth spreading.” By sparking discussions with keynote speakers, this annual event has grown exponentially in the seven years since Garguilo spearheaded its creation. “When I started [TEDxPSU], I thought it would be interesting to do as a one-off,” he said. “But it has become a powerful platform for people to amplify the impact of their ideas.”

After graduating, he first joined Johnson & Johnson as an emerging markets customer development leader. “IST had me in this good mindset, that I was prepared really well to be able to work in teams and solve problems,” he explained. “I decided I wanted to work in developing economies, so at Johnson & Johnson I was able to make an impact in the world where it was really needed.”

Though content in his role, Garguilo was passionate about innovation and was constantly imagining new ways to solve old problems. He said he is especially proud of the creative partnerships he helped pioneer at Johnson & Johnson in sub-Saharan Africa.

“That was the kind of thing I wanted to be doing: introducing new thinking and driving new ideas,” he said. “That’s when I started doing stuff on the side, trying to challenge the status quo.”

His next idea was to start a TEDx program at Johnson & Johnson, mirroring the effort he undertook at Penn State.

“At first, I was organizing small events in a bar in New Jersey,” he said. But word spread quickly in the company about his side project. Soon, he was fielding calls from employees all around the world who wanted to participate. “It brought people together to think creatively and push their boundaries with a lot of different experiences, and this even led to the development of new training and development programs to drive culture change,” he said.

After developing this community for four years, Garguilo said proudly, “One in every five people at Johnson & Johnson became a part of our drive to push this culture of innovation.”

“Then, I had to make a tough but exciting decision,” he said. Garguilo struck out on his own to start two businesses: Action Surge, an initiative that helps people turn their ideas into action, and Cultivate, which helps organizations innovate their businesses through grassroots cultural change. “I’m all about amplifying the voices within,” he explained.

By building on his experiences in IST, he’s been able to work towards inspiring action and change. He said, “IST gave me an exposure to a variety of different projects that gave me a strong sense of working in teams and getting things done. Now, I’m not working directly in the technology field but I’m working on big challenges where tech can be a driver and an influencer.”

“Steve’s passion for inspiring innovation has made him quite successful, and makes him a great example of how an IST education can open doors to a wide variety of careers,” added Andrew Sears, dean of IST. “We expect to hear even more about his successes in the future.”

Looking to the future, Garguilo envisions these businesses having unlimited potential. “What an awesome world it would be if everyone was making their ideas happen!” he said. “How could I not get excited about that?”

Last Updated July 06, 2017