Chancellor sees Pittsburgh incubators as models for downtown New Kensington

July 06, 2015

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. -- Kevin Snider, chancellor of Penn State New Kensington, recently led a contingent of community members and campus staff on a tour of entrepreneurial centers in Pittsburgh. The centers are designed to attract and nurture innovation and small business development in local areas.

Snider is at the forefront of a campus effort to create similar entrepreneur centers in the city of New Kensington. The Alle-Kiski Economic Generator (AKEG) initiative is a collaboration of students, faculty and campuses working with businesses and communities across the state to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians.

“This type of activity is driving economic development across the country and across the Pittsburgh region,” Snider said. “The city of New Kensington has tremendous potential with its great location 17 miles from Pittsburgh, low tax rates, regional economic development partnerships and a downtown area with solid infrastructure and space. The only thing missing is an innovation mindset that can inform, create, guide and support entrepreneurial thinking and economic development activity. AKEG will develop this mindset right in the heart of the city.”

Snider’s group visited AlphaLab, the Beauty Shoppe and the TechShop. The three entrepreneur centers offer a variety of services, such as access to resources and multiple locations that give startups the freedom to focus on their businesses.

“Pittsburgh is making real progress in facilitating the infrastructure needed to bring entrepreneurs to the area, and it is beginning to turn areas around,” Snider said. “One of the of areas is East Liberty, which is home to three potential partners who can really help us in our efforts on our project.”

AlphaLab is a nationally-ranked startup accelerator program that helps innovative companies launch quickly and successfully. The program provides early-stage technology companies with an extensive mentor network, educational sessions with industry leaders, and a rich entrepreneurial work environment.

“AlphaLab is a whole culture of energy and innovation,” Snider said. “It has that can-do spirit that you want for entrepreneurs.”

The Beauty Shoppe is a new way to work for individuals and small companies. It offers start-ups office space, integral services, and access to a regional network of entrepreneurs and small companies.

“The Beauty Shoppe is for young people who are just starting out and can’t afford a large office,” Snider said. “It is also set-up for traveling salespersons or somebody working out of his/her home who needs support and a meeting room to turn a profit.”

TechShop is a community-based workshop and prototyping studio that provides access to the tools of innovation. Workshops are equipped with tools and equipment, computers and design software, and the support of a community of like-minded makers. TechShop specializes in programs that simplify the process of getting projects off the ground.

“It was great visit for the 25 community members,” Snider said. “It opened their eyes to a whole new culture. They had a chance to see what we are trying to emulate.”

Invent Penn State
AKEG is funded by a $50,000 grant from Invent Penn State, a new program that brings together Penn State’s intellectual resources, alumni, private and public businesses and investors to support the efforts. The New Kensington campus was one of six Penn State campuses to receive seed funding. The other campuses are Abington, Erie, Harrisburg, Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre.

Penn State President Eric Barron committed $30 million to build the entrepreneurial pathways needed to cultivate ideas into young and prosperous companies. The idea is to involve students, faculty and community members in generating ideas, then helping to kick-start those ideas into promising new companies.

“We’ve been building partnerships with our University, community and the Pittsburgh region to bring resources to the valley that will help drive economic development and growth,” said Snider. “This funding, along with President Barron’s focus on building entrepreneurial pathways in communities, is the spark we need to get that effort up and running.“

Barron wrote about the Invent Penn State program in an op-ed piece June 26. Building the community has been the focus of the President’s first year at the helm. It is one of the six imperatives he unveiled last year.

“The Invent Penn State investment is designed to help Penn State turn its $800 million-plus research engine into a real driver for job creation, economic development and student career success,” Barron wrote. “This initiative is statewide and includes a wide range of incentives, rewards and strategic investments.”

Alle-Kiski economic generator
The New Kensington campus initiative is designed to attract and nurture innovation and small business development in the local community. While the goal is to serve the entire Alle-Kiski Valley, the focus of the first several years will be on the twin cities of New Kensington and Arnold. The two municipalities are adjacent and share a common school district.

The chancellor wants to develop downtown New Kensington to serve as an incubator for innovation and small business development. Community and regional partners, such as Bridgeway Capital, Idea Foundry and Riverside Center for Innovation, have pledged their support in developing the city and surrounding areas.

Snider envisions AKEG creating modern meeting and office space within the area. The designated sectors will accommodate programming and training, and serve as a regional gathering place for campus faculty and students, as well as entrepreneurs, funders, and the business community. Companies will be able to utilize the space to meet clients, hold retreats and host seminars. The campus community will have opportunities to network and develop ideas with community partners.

AKEG is expected to spur economic development in the city through a four-phase process -- idea generation, idea refinement, idea funding and proof of concept. The process melds Penn State’s intellectual resources with the valley’s local assets to drive economic development. Campus students, faculty and staff, community groups, and individuals will benefit from the process.

“Penn State New Kensington faculty and staff will have research and engagement opportunities in all phases of the idea generation process, and some of our most enterprising students will be able to pursue their innovative ideas in a supportive environment,” Snider said. “In doing so, they will play a significant role in bringing a new era of creativity and job creation to the Alle-Kiski Valley.”

The first phase, idea generation, will provide guidance and training on developing entrepreneurial and business ideas. Partners will supply training at little or no cost. The next phase, idea refinement, augments promising ideas and projects with mentors and business plan development workshops. The third phase, idea funding, will offer resources for projects that merit investment. Entrepreneurs will be paired with financing partners who will help secure funding for the project.

The fourth phase is expected to be the key to the revitalization of downtown New Kensington. Proof of concept will support entrepreneurs who are ready to “test” their product or idea by making vacant properties available to them for free or for a nominal fee. Temporary store fronts, developed through grants obtained by the three financial partners, will be set up to provide businesses with a low risk, time-limited opportunity to sell their product in an area. Successful vendors will be offered low-cost loans if they move into permanent store fronts in the same area and agree to hire local people.

"Penn State has a tremendous opportunity to drive economic development in New Kensington and across the Valley,” Snider said. “Thanks to President Barron’s initiative, AKEG will bring energy, innovation, and a sense of progress and quality not seen in the area in a long time. Working with tested and proven partners, Penn State will turn that energy into action by attracting and keeping entrepreneurs, businesses, and start-ups in the area.”

The first two phases will be implemented during the inaugural year of the initiative. The third and fourth phases will get underway in the second year.

  • Pittsburgh incubator

    Penn State New Kensington Chancellor Kevin Snider, with umbrella, with the Alle-Kiski Economic Generator committee at AlphaLab, a business incubator in Pittsburgh.

    IMAGE: Corinne Coulson

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 09, 2015