Student founders grow their startups through Summer Founders Program
Seven teams of Penn State student startup founders wrapped up what turned out to be an impactful summer for their businesses.
Invent Penn State’s Summer Founders Program, which provides each student team with a $15,000 grant to work on their startup, social good, or nonprofit idea over the summer at Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank, concluded with a final startup showcase on Aug. 9. In addition to the grant, teams gained access to regularly scheduled business accelerator programming, a network of more than 70 advisers, and hands-on learning opportunities at Pennsylvania businesses.
During the final presentations, teams showcased how much their startups have grown and thrived over the course of the program. This year’s teams included student founders from across multiple campuses, four colleges, and The Graduate School at Penn State.
“Each summer, we witness an inspiring evolution of student founders who embrace their potential, not just as entrepreneurs, but as leaders,” said Elizabeth Hay, the Jack White Family Director of Happy Valley LaunchBox. “As the season unfolds, they refine their business models, drawing from invaluable insights through customer interactions. This immersive experience shapes their startups and creates lasting bonds with entrepreneurial advisers and industry professionals across the country. These connections will undoubtedly enrich their entrepreneurial journey for a lifetime.”
The showcase featured an inspiring send-off from Joe Altieri, who secured a deal with investor Lori Greiner on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2020 for his invention and startup, FlexScreen. Altieri graduated from Penn State with a degree in Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services.
“What can you do to make other people’s lives better?” Altieri said during the showcase. “The feeling of making a difference in the world or in someone else’s life is ultimately the most important thing for your own joy and fulfillment.”
The teams participated in a wide range of activities in State College and across central Pennsylvania throughout the summer, including field trips to Altoona LaunchBox supported by the Hite family and the Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, the Sheetz Corporate Incubator, local business DiamondBack Covers, AlphaLab, Honeycomb Credit, and the State College Food Bank. Teams also had weekly dinners with program advisers, mentors, and business founders who provided advice and expertise to the student founders.
“The funding from Summer Founders Program has allowed me to iterate on a number of different prototypes throughout the summer to land on what I have now,” said Kevin Harris, founder of Wavebreaker Technologies. “The funding has also allowed me to attend some outdoors expos. At the 1-on-1 meetings we have with advisers, the classes, and the dinners we have each week, we get to learn different techniques, different ways of maneuvering through challenges, and then we go and apply those. Then we come back the next week and learn new techniques and apply those. Being able to learn from both peers and mentors throughout this process has been invaluable.”
This year, the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship provided a generous donation in support of the Summer Founders Program. The 2023 Summer Founders Program participants included:
- AgMar LLC (Zoils & Pigments), which manufactures soil-based paints using natural, non-toxic, environmentally conscious ingredients and high-grade materials for artists and children. The startup is led by Soil Sciences Ph.D. candidate Zoelie Rivera-Ocasio and community member Eric Appeldoorn.
- Basketball Today, a new take on traditional sports media through social media channels that post NBA content Generation Z can trust and consume as its go-to for basketball news and entertainment. The startup is led by Smeal College of Business student Justin Leusner.
- Bindr, an all-inclusive dating application for bisexual, bi-curious and general LGBTQ+ individuals. The startup is led by Mary Richardson, a Penn State York business student, and community member Brandon Teller.
- CTFGuide, a data-driven simulation platform that provides a realistic, hands-on experience helping people become cybersecurity professionals. The startup is founded by College of Engineering student Raymond Yan and College of Information Sciences and Technology student Pranav Ramesh.
- Eartrainer, which automatically grades assignments for music teachers. The startup is led by Cameron Dennis, a Musical Arts Ph.D. candidate in piano performance.
- Preventi, a treatment reminder app designed to simplify medication adherence and increase health literacy education for patients. The startup is led by Schreyer Honors College students Noah Wiggins and Nolan Pye.
- UniTour, which provides virtual tour experiences for students who cannot visit all universities in which they are interested. The startup is led by Smeal College of Business student Eric Olah-Reiken.
- Wavebreaker Technologies, which makes outdoor activities more accessible for people with physical limitations. The startup is led by graduate student Kevin Harris.
About Summer Founders
The Summer Founders Program is a signature program of the Invent Penn State initiative and is provided in partnership with Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank. Startup funding is made possible through the donations of successful alumni entrepreneurs interested in supporting new student ventures. To learn more about supporting student startups at Penn State through a philanthropic gift, contact Heather Winfield, director of strategic initiatives in University Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This program was financed in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community & Economic Development.