Students embrace University’s entrepreneurial community on road to success

March 19, 2015

HERSHEY, Pa. -- When Penn State students Taylor Mitcham and Mitch Robinson decided to attend Penn State, neither one of them knew much about the University or planned to become business owners. Today, both are immersed in the entrepreneurial community at Penn State as they create their own start-ups.

The students spoke Thursday (March 19) at the Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations about their experiences and how the University has helped to guide their entrepreneurial careers.

Both students recently were selected for the 2015 New Leaf – Lion Launch Pad (NL3) program. The University-community partnership was established last year and provides an opportunity for students to work on a specific project at New Leaf Initiative, a State College-based gathering space for mission-driven individuals, organizations and resource providers from diverse backgrounds to connect and collaborate.

As part of the NL3 program, the teams will receive a seven-hour weekly co-working membership at New Leaf, and the potential for a $500 grant through Lion Launch Pad,  and will attend monthly progress meetings with NL3 leaders and other program participants.

The program is one of many at the University that fall under the priorities President Barron set out to address when he arrived on campus last year, including excellence, student engagement and student career success and economic development.

Barron has emphasized that abundant available data demonstrates that students who engage in worthwhile activities -- such as one-on-one research or creative activity with faculty, leadership positions or internships -- even for just 10 hours a week, have a much-improved college experience. Additionally, Barron has put a focus on student career success, and the impact Penn State graduates make on their local, state, national and international communities.

“If we’re really good at teaching at the cutting edge and driving economic development through research, innovation and education, then we’re making ready jobs for our own students,” he has said regarding his major topics to spark discussion.

Diving right in

Robinson, a junior from the Chicago area, was also looking for a large university, like many of his friends who were applying to other Midwestern Big Ten schools. He chose Penn State for its engineering and finance programs.

He joined Innoblue, a Penn State student group for entrepreneurs, during his first week freshman year. “I knew I wanted to be involved in entrepreneurship no matter where I went to school,” he said. As a sophomore, he became vice president of the organization where he helped launch 1,000 Pitches competition, the world’s largest student pitch competition, and worked with other students to create their start-ups.

“I really dove into that and I made that a huge part of my time here,” he said. “It influenced me because I don’t view myself as a business person, but I gravitate toward this happy medium between the engineering and technical side and the business and customer development side.” Robinson said those experiences helped him chose his energy, business and finance major in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

In addition to Innoblue, Robinson has found other opportunities to pursue across the University Park campus, including the Presidential Leadership Academy, where he has been able to meet and interact with student leaders from different areas of study across campus. He also has taken classes through Penn State's Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI) minor and completed an independent study class with a professor.

“I took a couple of classes that were helpful, and then I took an independent study, which helped me grow a lot as individual -- both in the entrepreneurial sense and in a personal and professional sense, too, because I had time to work on my own projects and integrated that as part of my curriculum,” he said. “I didn’t think that would be an option, especially at a big institution like Penn State, but if you find yourself in the right circle here, you can.”

Robinson initially conceptualized his company, Resume Ruby, last spring when a few friends saw his personal resume and asked if they could get some help designing their own resumes.

As for his decision to come to Penn State, Robinson couldn’t be happier.

“It’s funny to think that three years ago, Penn State wasn’t really on my radar. I just knew it was part of the Big Ten, and all my other friends were going to those schools,” he said.

“But being a student entrepreneur here is a great opportunity to learn all the skills you need to be ready and have a bit of runway before the stakes become higher. There’s this huge community, there are some key resources, but at the same time, I get academic rigor and get challenged in my thought processes.”

An idea, then a plan

Mitcham, a senior from Los Angeles, set her sights on attending a “large university with a great academic reputation” when she chose Penn State. The mining engineering major spent a lot of time getting involved around the University Park campus through THON and different engineering clubs.

“Being involved in THON really helped me understand the different resources on campus,” she said. “People who are involved with THON are in all different types of majors and programs, so I heard about other opportunities on campus.”

Mitcham didn’t plan to start a business until she was faced with solving a problem, and an idea fell in her lap. She needed to wash her car quickly, but didn’t have a hose at her apartment. She didn’t like the idea of having to drive across town to spend the money on a traditional car wash, so she looked for a better alternative.

Being from Los Angeles, Mitcham was aware of waterless, eco-friendly carwashes and decided to order a few products and try the concept herself. After washing her car successfully, she wondered if other people in State College had a similar need.

“My friends wanted me to wash their cars, too, but I eventually ran out of solution,” she said. “I thought maybe I could make a business out of this, but I had no idea how to get started.”

She hadn’t been involved in entrepreneurial groups before, so Mitcham did sought out Penn State small business resources to help her. She found the Penn State Small Business Development Center, which offered her advice at no cost during weekly office hours, and she worked to launch her business, Simple Car Wash, a mobile waterless carwash service in State College.

Mitcham learned quickly how to operate a business legally in Pennsylvania, what taxes need to be filed and how to register a business name.

“From there, I was pointed in the directions of different campus resources,” she said. “I even got to work with a marketing class last semester that used my business as one of their projects to develop a marketing strategy with a certain budget. They presented a lot of good ideas that I hadn’t thought of in the beginning.”

Since then, Mitcham has found other campus resources, such as Nittany Consulting Group, a Penn State organization in the Smeal College of Business, and New Leaf Initiative to help her grow her business. 

“If I wouldn’t have gone to the open office hours, I wouldn’t have gotten in touch with all these resources,” she said. 

  • Mitch Robinson, a junior from the Chicago area majoring in energy, business and finance, is the founder of Resume Ruby, an online resume template business.

    Mitch Robinson, a junior from the Chicago area majoring in energy, business and finance, is the founder of Resume Ruby, an online resume template business.

    IMAGE: Mitch Robinson

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Last Updated May 12, 2016