Following an extraordinary debut in 2016, this year’s Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference, held April 19-20 at the Penn State Hotel and Conference Center, attracted more than 600 participants, including 80 startup companies and more than 40 venture capitalists and industry advisers — all working together to drive innovation, foster collaboration and enable startup companies to take their businesses to the next level.
The conference kicked off with a special welcoming address by Penn State President Eric Barron, followed by presentations from Penn State student startups, each of whom received $2,000 to help move their companies forward. The six student companies were IncU competition finalists, a competition hosted by PennTAP that will air on the WPSU-TV show “The Investment” on May 24:
- Hardwired, a custom, high-performance PC design/build service that uses superior parts to serve the virtual reality, gaming, and 4K video editing markets, founded by Robert Zigmund, a political science major at Penn State Abington.
- HemoGO, a smartphone app, combined with a proprietary test strip reader, that provides a complete blood count test at home that can then be electronically sent to health care professionals, founded by Shevy Karbasiafshar, a biology student at University Park.
- SponsrU, the first trackable, goal-based crowdfunding platform designed to directly pay down student debt for individuals who can demonstrate need and academic goal achievement, founded by James Aversa and Leo Skoronski, who are majoring in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship.
- Steer Logic LLC, a proprietary, automated team-roping dummy designed to improve a team roper’s skill set utilizing robotics and engineering methods — all while reducing the practice stress on live animals, founded by Olivia Paige Scribniak and Anthony Gyke, electro-mechanical engineering technology majors at Penn State New Kensington.
- Trimatis LLC, a triple bottom line business with proprietary methods to recycle certain plastic waste into 3-D printer filament for future use in environmental education and 3-D printed products, founded by Jason Lehrer and Tito Emmanuel Orjih, engineering students at Penn State Berks.
- UnisBrands LLC, a proprietary 3-D printing method designed to manufacturer custom-fit footwear, founded by Nick Unis, an accounting major at the Altoona and University Park campuses.
“The Invent Penn State Venture & IP conference is truly a celebration of Penn State’s capacity for collaboration, innovation and societal impact,” said Barron.
The premier event of the conference, the Venture Connection, featured venture capital “speed-dating” rounds on both days where startups rotated among investor-hosted tables sharing their company vision and asking for capital investment.
“The traditional model for a venture conference was that a preselected number of startups would pitch from the stage, not knowing who was in the room or if anyone was listening,” said Phospholutions founder and CEO Hunter Swisher. “This new format provides face-to-face interaction and makes for a highly valuable experience for startups. Even if we don’t get investment, venture capitalist often give us advice or help us make crucial connections in our industry.”
Throughout the two-day event, entrepreneurs and investors participated in multiple panel discussions on topics such as the use of artificial intelligence in Ed Tech startups and how to get SBIR funding. Audiences were treated to engaging keynote presentations, like the fireside chat with Penn State Head Football Coach James Franklin and Wayne Kimmel from SeventySix Capital, as well as Nir Eyal, investor, entrepreneur and author of the book “Hooked.”
On the second day of the conference, the audience, packed with innovators and venture capitalists, celebrated its own with an awards ceremony hosted by Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey. In addition to presenting the first Invent Penn State Inventor of the Year award, more than $150,000 was awarded to startups in attendance. Awards included:
Invent Penn State 2018 Inventor of the Year
Awarded to James H. Adair for his work in nanotechnologies aimed at treating cancer.
Penn State’s Tech Tournament (a competition for Penn State’s best IP-based startups)
- First place, $75,000, Phospholutions, a granular soil amendment that reduces phosphorous runoff and enhances plant root depth
- Second place, $50,000, ThoraciCair, a device to enhance natural breathing in newborns without the need for an endotracheal tube or mechanical ventilation
- Third place, $25,000, Aleo BME Inc., a nature-inspired material to address unmet needs in surgical adhesive and sealants
- People’s Choice, $10,000, ConidioTec, LLC, a revolutionary product for the control and prevention of bedbugs
Top Venture Connection Entrepreneurs
- First place, Phospholutions, a granular soil amendment that reduces phosphorous runoff and enhances plant root depth
- Second place, Actuated Medical Inc., a fully integrated medical device company incorporating electronically controlled actuation into medical devices to improve patient outcomes, reduce health care costs and increase profitability
- Third place, Informu Inc., the world’s smallest predictive loss prevention device integrated with an AI app to keep your belongings safe
“The conference is an example of the kind of important and vital work emerging from Penn State’s research enterprise and from its students,” said Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey. “Moreover, the collection of entrepreneurs, investors, sponsors and others who converged for this event demonstrates the ingenious power of partnership envisioned by the Invent Penn State initiative, where we are collaborating amongst our academic colleges and campuses and with industry partners to innovate and create what’s next to improve humankind.”