Success Story

  • Dana Wilson talks during Women Trailblazers panel

Students explored innovation, entrepreneurship during Startup Week

Penn State Startup Week powered by PNC, which took place from April 4-8, inspired students across the Commonwealth with a wide array of events showcasing and celebrating innovation and entrepreneurship, from expert panels and keynote speakers to workshops and networking opportunities.

Startup Week featured more than 65 in-person, hybrid and virtual events, including four events in Spanish, that took place across 10 campuses and eight colleges. The weeklong event also featured 110 entrepreneurs, speakers, moderators and judges.

“Penn State Startup Week has brought engaged entrepreneurship to every corner of Penn State’s footprint,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “The tagline of the Invent Penn State initiative is ‘the ingenious power of partnership.’ We saw this embodied across the University this week.”

Kicking off on April 4, Startup Week featured an expert panel, “Women Trailblazers,” which included Birgitt Boschitsch (’18, co-founder and CEO of spotLESS Materials), Linsey Covert (’06, founder and CEO of TEAMology), and Dana Wilson (’23, founder and CEO of CHIP). The group shared their experiences and successes on obtaining venture capital for their companies in a male-dominated space.

“I think the difference is there’s still that traditional look within the venture capital landscape. There’s not a lot of women, there’s not a lot of women of color, who are running these companies and running these venture capital firms,” Wilson said during the panel. “I do think as more women come into this industry as venture capitalists and start to own our own firms, we’ll start pouring back into each other because naturally that’s what we do to support other women.”

Later, JT Marino, co-founder of Tuft & Needle, joined Startup Week for a special keynote event, “Cultivating Communities,” on April 6. During the event, he spoke to his experience developing Tuft & Needle from a $6,000 personal investment to producing more than $200 million in annual revenue profitably with no outside investments in less than six years. Marino also detailed how startups and small businesses can positively impact communities.

“Brand really is culture,” Marino said during the keynote speaker event. “We broke down, ‘What does our company need to be?’ We’re the antithesis to the mattress industry, which is not customer forward, it’s not people forward. We broke down what are these elements like. One of the elements is kindness, so that’s one of our values. Another one is being honest and authentic.”

Other expert panels included “Pandemic Pivot,” which detailed how businesses found ways to adjust and flourish during the pandemic, and “Strengthening Society,” which highlighted social entrepreneurship and how entrepreneurship can impact and benefit future generations.

Additional events included Startup Market, a university-wide resource fair for students who are interested in seeking involvement with growing startups, academic pathways and community resources at Penn State that align with entrepreneurship and innovation. Startup Market was hosted in conjunction with a Small Business and Startup Fair, which connected students with 24 small business and startup employers.

In addition, Startup Week showcased educational sessions and workshops across the Commonwealth. Sessions included “Setting Up Your Business for Success: Innovative Models,” which was presented by The Corner LaunchBox, and “Product Management 101: An Introduction to How to Build Digital Products,” presented by the College of Information Sciences and Technology.

Startup Week culminated with the Student Recognition and Networking Reception, where President Barron honored winners and finalists of Startup Week competitions and challenges. At the reception, a thank you video for President Barron played and featured current and former Penn State student entrepreneurs who thanked him for helping advance programs for entrepreneurship and innovation.

To watch the best of the keynote speakers, panels, competitions and more from Startup Week, visit the Invent Penn State YouTube channel.

About Penn State Startup Week powered by PNC

An integral part of the broader Invent Penn State initiative, Startup Week powered by PNC is a University-wide event that connects students with innovative alumni and pioneers who are achieving success in a variety of industries and disciplines. Throughout the week, students discover, explore, experience and celebrate entrepreneurship.