Guest Commentator: Dr. Eric Barron, President, Penn State University @penn_state

How can colleges and universities drive economic growth in Pennsylvania while ensuring student success?

A 2011 survey by Gallup found that 77 percent of students in grades 5 through 12 said they want to be their own boss and 45 percent planned to start their own business. This fall, many of those students arrived on our college campuses. They brought their posters, cargo shorts, and computers, along with their elevator pitches, prototypes, and business plans.

With an eye for innovation and the aptitude for extraordinary ingenuity, today’s students are sharpening their entrepreneurial skills through Invent Penn State LaunchBoxes, shark tank style competitions, startup incubators, and business minors. And they’re making an impact on the region’s economy.

Over the past three years, Penn State has opened 21 LaunchBoxes across the state and the results have beaten even our most optimistic projections. Consider that during that time, Invent Penn State has assisted nearly 2,000 entrepreneurs; engaged more than 5,000 students and faculty; helped develop 325 new products and startups; created nearly 500 new internships and jobs; helped launch 45 new companies in Pennsylvania communities; and attracted nearly $5 million in external matched and leveraged funds.

In addition, the skills undergraduate students learn and the connections they make through their entrepreneurial projects often lead to post-graduation careers. Penn State alumni John-Thomas Marino and Daehee Park are two examples. As undergraduates in the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State, they connected over their shared interest in startups. After graduation they ended up at the same startup in Silicon Valley, but were still looking for a business idea of their own. They teamed up to found Tuft & Needle, a mattress company that provides the internet’s most loved mattress.

John-Thomas and Daehee have brought inspiration, passion, and practical business skills to established businesses and fledgling startups. John-Thomas said, “Penn State really enhanced my abilities as an entrepreneur, and really opened doors and opportunities. It’s just thrown fuel on the fire as an entrepreneur.”

Research and education have always opened doors that benefit the nation we serve. Today, public colleges and universities are well-positioned to transform our economy and infuse it with innovation and energy. As president of Penn State and chair of the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities (APLU) newly formed Commission on Economic and Community Engagement (CECE), I’m working with universities and our government partners to identify key areas crucial to maximizing the impact of public research universities. This is how we will continue to move scientific discoveries into a breakthrough business opportunity. It has the potential to power economic growth, create jobs, transform the economy, and Grow PA.

Penn State University is champion of Grow PA, a statewide initiative to convene people and organizations throughout Pennsylvania to establish a modern economic growth agenda. To learn more, visit

Upcoming Event

The State of Innovation: Generating Ideas to Grow PA

Friday, October 25 | Penn State Harrisburg
Join fellow business and civic leaders from across PA for this program in Harrisburg that will help generate ideas to drive innovation and prosperity to grow PA. The program features an in-depth keynote from the experts at Brookings who will analyze and compare PA’s innovation economy.