Penn State startup launches app to connect, engage students
Penn State students can now access campus resources and connect with around 12,000 of their community members from a secured app called the Penn State Engagement App.
Navengage, founded by Penn State alumni Andrew Strause (management information systems, 2017), Dan Lordan (biology and political science, 2017), and Colleen McBride (advertising, 2019), created the Engagement App to be a virtual hub for student information, including study abroad, research opportunities, and student organizations across all Penn State campuses, including World Campus. The app also allows students, faculty, and staff to connect with one another, post content, and send group messages.
Developed in partnership with Penn State’s Student Engagement Network, the app initially launched in January 2022 and underwent adjustments based on user feedback for the official fall 2022 launch. Now, the app has around 12,000 users.
“It’s been really interesting just to see how much has changed since I was a student because we were using Facebook groups,” Strause said. “I know current students are less likely to use that. The app is fitting a generational need because students don’t have a platform to connect that way, and especially safely because anyone can join a Facebook group. This is secured behind single sign-on, so you know everybody on there is a Penn Stater.”
Navengage recently had its first close of a $1.5 million fundraising round by Nelnet, one of the country’s largest student loan servicers, where it received an $800,000 investment. Following a close-out, Nelnet plans to invest an additional $200,000.
The investment will help Navengage shift its focus to sales as it turns to other universities to showcase how the app can help students connect with their communities.
Strause, Navengage’s CEO, was inspired to create Navengage by a close friend of his who struggled to get involved on campus throughout college.
“He’s really my inspiration for trying to find those students who want to get involved but don’t know how to, or maybe are just a bit introverted,” Strause said. “They’re not going to the Involvement Fair, but they still have an opportunity to know what’s going on just by kind of watching and then making one or two connections.”
Navengage is a past participant of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners TechCelerator @ State College, a no-cost startup accelerator that provides entrepreneurs with resources and mentors to grow and develop their businesses.
“Andrew Strause is one of those entrepreneurs that you recognize as special, even early in the relationship,” Ben Franklin Technology Partners TechCelerator Director Bob Dornich said. “His focus and drive are matched by his integrity and collaborative nature.”
Navengage is also a current participant in the Invent Penn State Startup Leadership Network’s 2022 Board of Advisors program, an invite-only, year-long program that matches Penn State startups with an industry-specific advisory board consisting of seasoned executives with vast industry experience.
“It’s the hidden gem of the Invent Penn State initiative right now,” Strause said. “It’s been very helpful to reach out for individual questions. They all have their own specialties, going through questions such as, ‘How would you do this? How do your experiences compare? Do you know salespeople?’ We also didn’t have a formal board before the program. We now have one with this investor that came on, but just going through the motions and learning how to run a board meeting has been so helpful.”
The Startup Leadership Network is a signature program offered by the Penn State Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization. In addition to the Board of Advisors program, the Startup Leadership Network helps startups develop and enter the marketplace with the guidance of seasoned executives from the Penn State alumni network.
“Startups launching their first product face a wide range of challenges, which can seem daunting for first-time CEOs,” said the associate director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Jim Pietropaolo, who leads the Startup Leadership Network. “Andrew and the Navengage management team have embraced guidance from experienced industry advisers proving to be a perfect match for the Board of Advisors program. It has been a pleasure to work with them.”
About Invent Penn State
Invent Penn State is a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. Invent Penn State blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university / community / industry collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services that can benefit Pennsylvanians and humankind.