Creating Our Next Generation of Entrepreneurs — One Student at a Time

At Penn State, we have seen a surge in entrepreneurship activity by our students. Based on a survey performed, 8% of our students own or previously owned a business, and half of the students surveyed would like to own a business.

I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Dr. Eric Barron, Penn State President, about the Penn State Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) role in fostering student entrepreneurship, as well as supporting research commercialization and community entrepreneurship. In 2016, Penn State SBDC engaged more than 5,000 students by hosting Global Entrepreneurship Week, consulting with student entrepreneurs, and coordinating engaged scholarship opportunities (hands-on classroom learning that benefits businesses in our community).

Ishana Shekhawat, graduate student in mechanical engineering and founder of PlayPhysio, a breath-controlled video game to ensure exercise and improve lung health, discusses in the interview the challenges of developing her idea. Her advice to young entrepreneurs: “There are ideas all over and you just have to be on the outlook for them.” And the process takes longer than you would think!

It is critical that universities have the services, programs, and infrastructure to nurture and develop these future entrepreneurs. In 2016, I mapped the resources available to Penn State University Park student entrepreneurs for Penn State’s Academic Leadership Council. The ecosystem map was bucketed into the following:

Incubators, Accelerators, Co-working Spaces, and Tools
Education and Support Programs
Investor, Mentor, and Alumni Networks
Periodic Competitions, Events, and Funding
Student Groups

Most groups consisted of external (non-University) programs that student entrepreneurs could leverage to develop their business or learn, and all consisted of internal (University) programs that were available to Penn State programs. There is a reason that I refer to it as a “map” — it was complicated. Navigating the map of resources available to entrepreneurs can be tricky. My advice, as indicated in the interview: Connect with your local university. Connect with your SBDC. Find a mentor.

I have so much admiration for entrepreneurs and those who support them. If I can do anything to help, please let me know. Good luck!

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