IST Start-up Week to be held April 7-11

Stephanie Koons
March 31, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Job fairs are held to get students hired. Cranking it up a notch, Start-up Week 2014 -- hosted by Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) -- is designed to get students inspired. Think “Silicon Valley meets Happy Valley,” but don’t stop there. Beginning April 7, successful entrepreneurs and innovators from around the country will converge at Penn State for a weeklong celebration of ingenuity and inspiration that will encourage students to consider careers where they can be leaders from day one.

In its third year, Start-up Week promises to deliver “insider” talks by industry giants, cutting-edge technology demonstrations, and plenty of networking opportunities for students at Penn State who aspire to be trailblazers and game-changers in whatever field they choose.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our students to interact with innovators across a wide spectrum of applications associated all using information technology to maximize their products and services,” said David Hall, dean of the College of IST. “The speakers and guests are very direct and interactive with our students, in some cases providing proprietary case-studies found in elite MBA programs.”

From April 7 to April 11, Start-up Week will feature presentations, all of which are open to the public and live-streamed, by founders and executives from a veritable “who’s who” of start-up companies including Weebly, Reddit, Hipmunk, Parse, Scribd, DuckDuckGo, Mediabarn, and Sincerely; along with well-established, international corporations such as Verizon, MorganFranklin and Comcast. In total, more than 40 speakers, the majority of whom are Penn State alumni, will be on hand to share their insights and advice on what it takes to stand out and achieve success.

“Start-up Week began three years ago to celebrate the success of Weebly (a web-hosting service started in 2006 by David Rusenko (’07 IST), Chris Fanini (’12 IST), and Dan Veltri (’07 Smeal) and to recognize the generosity of David Rusenko in supporting scholarships for entrepreneurial-minded undergraduate students,” Hall said. “Since then, the event continues to grow larger and ever more successful.”

Innovation, whether it is in the context of a start-up company or an established organization, is the theme of the week. In Monday's kick-off session, featured speaker Dan Mead, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless and a 1975 Penn State graduate, will speak about how the company’s wireless and broadband networks are fueling innovation on a global scale.

“Verizon is working with entrepreneurs, app developers and device manufacturers to interface with our networks and bring next-generation connected products and solutions to market,” Mead said. “Our networks provide a platform for innovation that can change the game and deliver value for both business and society.”

As president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, Mead is responsible for the company’s operations and financial performance, and advocates public policy issues on behalf of Verizon Wireless and its customers. Under his leadership, the company built the nation’s first wide-area 4G LTE network, introduced Share Everything plans, became the first to allow customers to share wireless data among multiple devices on an account and began offering EDGE, an innovative device-upgrade program. Mead earned an MBA and a B.S. in quantitative business analysis and finance from Penn State. An Alumni Fellow, he received the Penn State Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor given to a graduate by the University.

Mead will be the keynote speaker for the panel, “Driving Innovation through Technology,” which will also feature Chris Creager, (’86 Smeal, Verizon), Nicola Palmer (’90 Engineering, Verizon Wireless) and Yaopeng Zhou (Smart Vision Labs). Verizon Wireless will also host an interactive demonstration area from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 7 to showcase innovative products being developed through the company’s innovation program.

Also featured during the week will be talks by Rusenko; Steve Huffman, co-founder of Reddit and Hipmunk; and Tikhon Bernstam, co-founder of Parse and Scribd.

With Weebly site traffic at 140 million unique visitors a month and over 20 million websites created, the company has grown substantially since its humble origins as a class project at IST. In his talk, “The Weebly Story-from Happy Valley to Silicon Valley,” Rusenko will delve into what that journey entailed. In recognition of his success, Rusenko was named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” list in 2011 and 2012 and is the youngest recipient of the Penn State Alumni Achievement Award. Rusenko has also endowed two entrepreneur-focused scholarships at the College of IST. His talk will take place on at 2:30 p.m. on April 11 in the Cybertorium, Room 113 IST Building.

Steve Huffman, co-founder of Reddit and Hipmunk, will present “Recognizing Success” at 1:25 p.m. on April 11 the Cybertorium. Reddit, a social networking service and news website where registered community members can submit content such as text posts or direct links, is commonly referred to as the “front page of the Internet.” The site has grown to over 3 billion page views per month and was acquired by Conde Nast Publications in 2006. Hipmunk, a consumer-oriented online travel company, has been named to TIME magazine’s “Top 50 Websites” and “Top 10 Smartphone Apps.” Huffman was named to Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” in 2011 and Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in 2012.

Tikhon Bernstam, co-founder of Parse and Scribd, will present “Start-ups in a Mobile First World” at 1 p.m. on April 10 in the Cybertorium. Parse, the cloud app platform for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, iOS, Android, JavaScript, and OS X, was named by Fast Company as one of the top 50 most innovative companies of 2013. Scribd has been called the “YouTube for documents” and has more than 80 million active users visiting its digital library each month.

In addition to the speaker presentations, Start-up Week 2014 will provide opportunities for students to practice their entrepreneurial skills, network with entrepreneurs in the State College, Pa. area and learn about entrepreneurial-focused community resources. IST’s IdeaMaker Challenge, to be held April 9, is a University-wide idea-pitch competition that challenges students to explore entrepreneurship and innovation as they develop information technology-driven solutions.

Start-up Week 2014 will also include panel sessions on topics such as “Driving Innovation through Technology,” “Social Responsibility,” “Early Stage Start-up Financing,” and “Parents as Part of your Start-up Team.” HackPSU, which will be held April 4-6, is a 36-hour competition where student teams will work to develop mobile apps, websites, and hardware technology. In addition, the week’s events will include activities with organizations such as the Penn State Small Business Development Center, Centre Region Entrepreneur Network (CREN) and Innoblue.

The College of IST is collaborating with Penn State’s College of Communications, College of Engineering and the Schreyer Honors College on a number of events.

For more information about Start-up Week 2014, visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 03, 2014