Success Story

Merck chairman, CEO Kenneth Frazier to give keynote at Venture & IP Conference

Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of global biopharmaceutical company Merck, will be the keynote speaker and honorary co-chair for the 2021 Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference, which takes place April 15-16. Frazier’s keynote will be a virtual fireside chat with Penn State President Eric Barron at 2 p.m. on Friday, April 16.

The two will discuss the role of business development in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as how the industry can help combat social injustice, the pandemic and more. Conference registration is now open to the public.

“Ken has made an immeasurable impact as a leader, both inside and outside of the pharmaceutical industry,” said Barron. “He has helped foster the development and production of life-saving medicines, been a tireless advocate for underrepresented groups, and provided innovative leadership and support for Penn State. He embodies much of what Invent Penn State and the Venture & IP Conference aspire to give to participants.”

Under Frazier’s leadership, Merck refocused the organization on research, which led to the launch and growth of innovative lifesaving medicines and vaccines, including numerous oncologic vaccines and immunotherapies, and leading-edge treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases, such as HIV and Ebola. Recently, the company announced a historic partnership with Johnson & Johnson to expand manufacturing capacity and supply of its COVID-19 vaccine.

“The global pandemic has yet again brought the essential role of biomedical innovation into sharp focus,” said Penn State Senior Vice President for Research Lora Weiss. “We are honored to welcome Kenneth Frazier as our keynote speaker. His insights into the future of biopharmaceutical innovation and experience solving issues of intolerance and injustice will benefit all conference attendees.”

A 1975 Penn State political science alumnus, and one of only four Black Fortune 500 company CEOs, Frazier was named one of the “World’s Greatest Leaders” by Fortune Magazine in 2018 and became the first-ever recipient of the Forbes Lifetime Achievement Award for Healthcare in 2019.  Last year the New Jersey governor invited Frazier to co-chair the New Jersey Restart and Recovery Commission, a 21-member group charged with helping to restart the New Jersey economy after COVID.

A long-time advocate for social justice and economic inclusion, Frazier has received numerous awards for his work, including the Anti-Defamation League Courage Against Hate Award; the Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics from Columbia Business School; the Legend in Leadership Award from the Yale School of Management; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund National Equal Justice Award; and the National Minority Quality Forum’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, Frazier is the co-founder and co-chair of OneTen, a coalition of leading organizations and executives committed to upskilling, hiring, and promoting one million Black Americans into family-sustaining jobs.

Frazier is a life member of the Penn State Alumni Association, and he and his wife, Andrea, are members of Penn State’s Mt. Nittany Society, in recognition of their long-time philanthropic support to the College of the Liberal Arts, Undergraduate Education, and the recently renovated Penn State Veteran’s Center. Frazier served as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2015.

In addition to providing access to Frazier’s keynote, conference registration affords attendees participation in numerous events during the two-day virtual event, including the Penn State Tech Tournament where Penn State startups pitch to win up to $75,000, and the Penn State Student Startup Showcase where students pitch to earn $2,000. The conference is widely known for its interdisciplinary panels and programs, and this year’s agenda will include the following topics:

  • “Investing in Rural & Heartland America”
  • “The State of Venture and Growth Capital in the COVID-19 Era”
  • “Life Science Ventures Addressing COVID-19”
  • “Deconstruct Status Quo Thinking to Drive Innovation in Your Company”
  • “IP 101 — What Every Startup Needs to Know about IP Protection”

“The Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference provides access to diverse investor networks, emergent technologies, and expert insights, while also serving as a showcase of Penn State’s emerging technologies and startups,” said Weiss.

About the Venture & IP Conference

Founded in 2016, the Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference is one of the largest tech startup conferences in the Mid-Atlantic and draws more than 600 attendees, including over 70 startup ventures and more than 50 investment firms from across the country. The conference highlights innovations from high growth and emerging markets, including IT, energy, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, health care, B2B, B2C and others. For more information or to register, visit