Penn State Berks Business Luncheon

With Penn State Berks
Goggleworks Center for the Arts
March 16, 2018, 11:30 AM
-Remarks as prepared for delivery-

Thank you Keith, and good afternoon.

In 2015, we launched Invent Penn State-- an effort to help drive job creation, economic development and student career success by connecting researchers with the people who can help bring their discoveries to the marketplace. There were some skeptics for sure, but there were even more people in business, government and the community who offered support and resources.

Many of our early Invent Penn Staters worked tirelessly, surviving on Ramen noodles and watery coffee, while sitting on cheap folding chairs. It was very glamorous!

Today, most of our entrepreneurs enjoy a few more amenities, but they’re still hungry—for the big idea.

I’m happy to be here to share some of Penn State’s successes in this region and around the state. Then we’ll have time for some discussion on where we can go from here.

Since Invent Penn State is based on the Ingenious Power of Partnership, it’s only fitting that I begin by recognizing a few of our partners and friends.

Let’s start with the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts founders—Marlin Miller, Irv Cohen, and the late Al Boscov, along with their wives Ginger, Lois and Eunice—who brought this magnificent resource to Reading. This is a hub for creativity and commerce, and a place to inspire the community.

Please join me in thanking the founders for their leadership and vision.

Thank you.

On behalf of Penn State, I also wish to recognize Irv and Lois Cohen for the direct impact they are having on Penn State Berks. The Cohens teamed up with Victor and Dena Hammel to make a transformational joint gift—one of the largest ever to the campus. Their $3 million gift will create the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program for outstanding Penn State Berks undergraduates. In addition to providing participants with significant scholarships, the program will prepare students for leadership within the Reading community and beyond.

Thank you.

I also want to extend our appreciation to our friends in local and state government, along with the Berks County Commissioners--especially Christian Leinbach -- who serves as chair and is with us today. Thank you for supporting Penn State and for your work to improve the quality of life in this region.

Thank you for all you do.

In this region and across the state, we are experiencing a resurgence of inspired innovation and economic vitality made possible through collaboration and partnerships. With Invent Penn State, our campuses have leveraged our strong ties to industry, local businesses, educational institutions and the broader community to promote economic development and student career success.

In two and a half short years, the university has provided seed grant funding, in stages, for the development of unique innovation hubs.

Each reflects the unique character of the campus and surrounding community; but all share a common mission: to inspire and advance innovation and entrepreneurship, and to help transform great ideas into viable products and business opportunities.

I’m proud to say that Penn State now has 21 innovation hubs and programs across the state. The vision for their creation was grounded in the need to nurture an innovation mindset--one that can drive the Pennsylvania economy by harnessing intellectual property and refining the processes so we can turn ideas and research into products for the marketplace.

And they are having a significant impact.

During our first reporting year (2016-17) of activity---with only five of the innovation hubs open for the full year:

The Langan LaunchBox—just down the street—is a unique partnership between Penn State Berks and Penn State Health St. Joseph. Since its dedication one year ago, 75 students have engaged in its activities and used the resources available.

As a result of the close proximity of Penn State Berks and Penn State Health St. Joseph, there has been a strong focus on medical products and initiatives to support nutrition and health.

These innovations range from a Better Arm Sling to an Oxygen Hose Reel to Anti-Tippers for Wheelchairs.

One engineering student wants to develop a hydroponic growing business. He is currently part of a team conducting a feasibility study for Berks County to look at creating a hydroponic facility within Reading.

Another student-entrepreneur is working on a campus-based car-sharing platform for college students.

One of the biggest ideas to come out of the collaboration between Penn State Berks and St. Joseph Health is called Veggie Rx.

The idea came about as a way to address the growing problem of obesity, diabetes and other conditions relating to a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables.

Although this region is dotted with farms, low income neighborhoods are often food deserts—sorely lacking in fresh, healthy produce.

Veggie Rx takes a two-pronged approach to solving the problem. First, physicians and clinical staff identify patients who can benefit from a diet of increased fruits and vegetables. They then “prescribe” vouchers for produce that can be redeemed at various retail locations within the city.

The increased demand for the fresh fruits and vegetables creates incentives for grocers to stock more variety. And the hospital is exploring opening an in-house food pantry. On Thursdays, people will have the option to redeem their “prescriptions” at the local Farmers Market downtown.

In addition, patients receive complementary nutrition education and counseling, while their key health indicators are monitored to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

The United Way of Berks County is supporting the pilot program, and it’s a great example of social entrepreneurship.

Another example of the local innovative spirit involves two student entrepreneurs from Penn State Berks—junior business major Ryan Morris and sophomore Information Sciences and Technology major Tristan Morales.

Ryan and Tristan were students in the Entrepreneurial Mindset course when they discovered a persistent and vexing communication problem faced by those who speak English as a Second Language. Even those with strong English skills found it challenging to describe a medical ailment, discuss a business arrangement, or communicate complex information. These conversations are difficult for both parties.

Ryan and Tristan said, “We can fix that.”

With the support of the Fleming Center for Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, they founded Traduki Technologies and created real-time language translation services for health care professionals and businesses. Their company is piloting the technology in health care, connecting medical professionals with freelance translators, who are available via video chat, phone call, text message, and in person. This allows for flexible, efficient and affordable services.

Ryan and Tristan presented their business idea at a Penn State football tailgate, and it was exciting to see the overwhelmingly positive response from the audience.

Their future is bright, and leading to an important outcome of Invent Penn State; that is, to have entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses in Pennsylvania.

Building vibrant Pennsylvania communities depends on spurring economic development and providing the support to help businesses succeed. It also depends on the infusion of new ideas that can move forward with the energy and enthusiasm of aspiring entrepreneurs.

At Penn State Berks, 19 students from a wide range of majors are working to earn the Entrepreneurship and Innovation minor. An additional 19 students are majoring in Hospitality Management with the Hospitality Entrepreneurship Option.

These students and those in the Fleming CEED Center and the Langan LaunchBox are benefiting from mentors and businesspeople in the area.

In fact, Joseph Sinclair, who is one of the LaunchBox’s Entrepreneurs in Residence, was just awarded a patent for the monitoring of additive manufacturing methods. Joseph is a Penn State alumnus, and he is leading students by example. He is showing how to successfully launch an idea by doing it.

The impact of this type of mentoring is inspiring others, like the Berks team Trimatis. They are developing a method to recycle plastic bottles to filament for 3D printers. The group was recently selected as one of six finalists for the PennTap IncU competition. On April 7th, they will compete for $30,000 in prize awards during the WPSU program, The Investment, which is modeled after Shark Tank.

It’s noteworthy that Penn State Berks has long been a hub for innovation and entrepreneurial activity.

Ten years ago, Dr. Henry Ansell began a class for electrical and computer engineering students and occupational therapy students. Together they designed and prototype devices to help people with disabilities. With the support of Invent Penn State, the Fleming CEED Center, and the Langan LaunchBox, these miniprojects have been expanded, developed and further refined. What Dr. Ansell began as a course to teach social and professional responsibility has grown to be a collaborative, entrepreneurial experience across disciplines.

I’m excited by this work, as well as some of the public/private partnerships that are sure to grow as a result of the ideas formed here.

Penn State Berks exemplifies our mission of engagement, and the history of this campus is a perfect expression of Penn State’s commitment to serving the communities of Pennsylvania.

This is what it means to be a public university that combines excellence in teaching, research and service. It also embodies our land-grant mission of ensuring access to a top-notch education and improving the quality of life for everyone in the state, and society in general.

On behalf of Penn State, thank you to everyone for your enthusiasm for nurturing the ideas of those who are doing so much to enhance Pennsylvania--especially Penn State Berks Chancellor Keith Hillkirk, John Morahan and the leadership team at Penn State Health St. Joseph, and all of the hard working staff members who do so much every day.

I also want to add my special congratulations to Penn State Berks on their 60th anniversary. They have carried on the strong tradition that began 60 years ago when the Berks campus provided education and training for families and individuals across the Greater Reading community.

Speaking of history, I’m very pleased that David and Barbara Thun are with us today. David’s grandfather, Ferdinand Thun, was an industrialist, philanthropist, and one of the founders of Wyomissing Polytechnic Institute, the predecessor to Penn State Berks. Please join me in recognizing the Thuns.

Thank you.

Again, it has been my pleasure to be here, and now we have some time for questions.