Success Story

Virtual Venture & IP Conference showcases disruptive technology, innovations

The Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference, one of the largest tech startup conferences in the Mid-Atlantic, virtually hosted more than 500 attendees April 15-16.

Drawing more than 80 startups and more than 50 venture capital investors from across the country, the conference highlighted innovations from high growth and emerging markets to promote collaboration, investment, and startup acceleration. The conference’s popular Venture Connection “speed-dating” platform hosted over 600 meetings between investment seeking startups and venture capital investors.

“In our microcosm of this conference, we saw a surge of applications this year,” Penn State President Eric Barron said during his keynote address. “While this is only our fourth Venture & IP Conference, the results have been fantastic and are beginning to achieve our economic development vision.”

The event kicked off with an inspiring showcase of Penn State’s best and brightest student entrepreneurs in the Student Startup Showcase and featured panel discussions, educational programming, and pitch events. A highlight of the conference was a fireside chat between Barron and the conference keynote speaker, Penn State alumnus (‘75) and Merck Chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier. Both leaders recently announced their retirement and discussed issues of importance to their legacies, for example diversity, equity, and inclusion and how the industry can help combat social injustice and the pandemic.

“Diversity and inclusion are very important,” Frazier said during the fireside chat. “But while saying you’re committed to diversity and inclusion has enormous rhetorical appeal, the question is what as a company are you doing to show that you really are treating it as important, and you support every hiring manager, every leader and every colleague in a way that helps promote diversity. That requires radically rethinking our approach. I find when we remove unnecessary barriers for one group, we help everybody by doing that.”

Frazier also spoke about the role of business in ensuring that we have a stable society in the U.S., citing the Capitol insurrection during the Presidential election, garnering coverage from major media. “We have to realize,” Frazier said, “That if we do not take a stand for tolerance, reasonableness, and for the things that fundamentally underscore our democracy, we can lose the situation that we’ve had forever: peaceful transfer of power, rule of law, and all those things that business depends on.”

Other innovation-centered programming during the virtual two-day event included entrepreneurs and investors participating in multiple panel discussions on topics such as growth capital during the COVID-19 era, intellectual property protection for startups, and investing in rural and heartland America. The virtual Venture & IP Conference closed with Penn State’s Tech Tournament awards ceremony, where faculty led startups competed for $150,000 to help advance their disruptive technologies and early-stage tech startups. Cranial Devices, Inc. (CDI) was announced as the $75,000 first-place prize winner of the Tech Tournament.

CDI was led by Barry Fell, a consultant for the Surgery Innovation Group in the Department of Surgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He cofounded CDI with Dr. Randy Haluck, Professor of Surgery at Penn State College of Medicine, to advance the Penn State technology called “HydroFix,” an advanced surgical shunt system used to treat Adult Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH).

“The Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference serves as a much-needed forum for venture investment in our region and beyond,” Senior Vice President for Research Lora Weiss said during the conference’s opening. “It serves as an equally important forum for providing visibility and accessibility to Penn State research, intellectual property and startup portfolios. Each day, Penn State researchers explore and expand the limits of scientific knowledge to advance society’s well-being, educate the next generation of leaders, and contribute to innovations in a broad array of fields.”

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