Success Story

Invent Penn State helps bring dreams to life during Startup Week 2020

The agenda for Penn State Startup Week 2020, March 30 – April 3, across the university’s Commonwealth campuses, is set to connect students with some of the leading minds in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Startup Week features entrepreneurial workshops; networking; student pitch competitions; and presentations from startup founders and corporate innovators, including many Penn State alumni:

  • Birgitt Boschitsch, co-founder and CEO, spotLESS Materials, earned her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 2018 from Penn State’s College of Engineering. Recently named to Forbes 30 under 30, her company spotLESS produces coatings that reduce the amount of water needed to flush toilets or to clean surfaces.
  • Former NFL player and entrepreneur, John Bronson, who achieved his bachelor’s in journalism in 2004 from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and co-founded Finger Licking Dutch – which makes Stroopwafels – thin waffles made from thin layers of baked dough with a thin layer of caramel-like syrup in between;
  • Jess Weiner, CEO, Talk to Jess, who earned a bachelor’s in theater in 1995. She works with leading companies to help them better reflect people in the media, marketing and advertising world.
  • 2012 College of Engineering graduate John-Thomas “JT” Marino, who co-founded Tuft & Needle – a direct-to-consumer online mattress retailer which, in 2018, merged with the largest manufacturer and distributor of mattresses in North America, Serta Simmons Bedding.

Keynote speaker, Antonia Dean, chief brand officer for Venture for America, will share how she launched numerous brands and countless products – building her marketing and brand development career in the fashion industry – working on powerhouse brands from Calvin Klein to Estee Lauder.

Today, as chief brand officer for Venture for America, she’s working with high-potential recent college graduates who have a desire to be entrepreneurs. Through development and support programs, Ms. Dean and Venture for America are pairing their Fellows with more experienced entrepreneurs in 14 cities across the country. Ms. Dean will share her story Tuesday, March 31, 7 p.m., at the Pegula Ice Arena in State College, PA.

A full list of speakers is available at and includes the full-week agenda and registration for Commonwealth campuses. Highlights include:

  • Start.Me.Up Marketing Sprint pairs creative Penn State students looking to build their portfolios with local startups working to solve real marketing problems. The Start.Me.Up. Marketing Sprint occurs over three nights at Happy Valley LaunchBox, Monday, March 30, 8 p.m.; Tuesday, March 31, 8 p.m.; Wednesday, April 1, 8 p.m., 224 S. Allen St.
  • The Small Business and Startup Fair on Tuesday, March 31, 5 p.m., is a university-wide recruitment fair for students who are seeking unique opportunities within a small business or startup environment. It’s held in conjunction with the Startup Market – a university-wide resource fair for all students who are seeking resources in entrepreneurship and innovation.
  • The Startup Founders Plenary panel discussion will tap a collection of entrepreneurs and PSU alumni all in one place to share how they overcame challenges to bring their ideas to life, including Former Penn State and NFL football player, John Bronson – CEO, Finger Licking Dutch, Birgitt Boschistch, CEO, spotLESS Materials – named to Forbes 30 Under 30 for 2020 – and Priya Amin, co-CEO, Flexable, an advocate for enabling parents in the workplace balance both family and career, Wed., April 1, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., at the Happy Valley LaunchBox, 224 S. Allen St.
  • Hosted by Penn State President Eric Barron, the invite-only Student Recognition and Networking Reception on the evening of Thursday, April 2, 6 p.m., at Pegula Ice Arena, will feature the work of student teams, which competed in various innovation challenges in a “Gallery of Innovators.”
  • “Attitude is Everything,”– a presentation at Shenango Penn State, features owner and lead coach Bill Cox of Bill Cox Coaching, who will help workshop attendees examine their attitude and discover steps they can take to immediately begin improving it – Monday, March 30, 2020, 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m., in the Great Hall; Shenango will also host its, “What’s you Big Idea 2020” Challenge where five finalists will pitch an idea that solves a problem they have identified – Wednesday, April 1, Sharon Hall, Room 108.
  • The North Central LaunchBox – powered by Penn State Dubois will host, “Meet Your Regional Resource Partner,” Wednesday, April 1, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 2 E. Long Ave., Ste. 120, DuBois, PA, to connect North Central Pennsylvania’s business and entrepreneurial resources.
  • Penn State Lehigh Valley is featuring Joseph Yodock, multi-million-dollar inventor of the Yodock Barrier, Wed., April 1, 12:15 p.m. – 1 p.m., Room 302.

Startup Week is an integral part of the broader Invent Penn State initiative, a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. “By connecting students with innovative alumni and pioneers who are achieving success in a variety of disciplines, Penn State Startup Week inspires students to expand their minds to think more broadly in whatever career path they choose,” said Ashley Palmer, marketing and communications manager, Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization, Invent Penn State.

Startup Week was founded in 2012 by the College of Information Sciences and Technology as “IST Startup Week.” The event was created to celebrate a $400,000 gift from David Rusenko (’07 IST), which advanced IST’s commitment to supporting student entrepreneurs. Past events have drawn speakers from around the country, including the founders of and leaders at high-profile companies like Weebly, Dropbox, Reddit, Lands’ End, IBM Watson, and Microsoft. Today, the event spans the entire University.

In addition to Invent Penn State, Startup Week 2020 is supported by corporate sponsors, including Verizon and PNC Bank.