Five years ago, Penn State opened Happy Valley LaunchBox in a leased building on South Allen Street in State College as part of a burgeoning economic development effort to drive business creation and innovation among university students and community members.
This week, the university cut the ribbon for the Innovation Hub, a $56.8 million new six-story building on South Burrowes Street that is a capstone of President Eric Barron’s Invent Penn State initiative. Located at the former site of the James Building, it provides a new home for the LaunchBox with a community makerspace and state-of-the-art entrepreneurial and innovation resources.
“Innovation is one of my favorite topics, and this building brings innovation to life,” Barron said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony with state and local officials on Friday. “Its design, functionality and organization are truly innovative, and will match the ambitions of all those who will work and create here.”
Penn State has developed 21 LaunchBoxes and Innovation Hubs across Pennsylvania since 2016, assisting nearly 5,000 entrepreneurs, graduating nearly 500 from its startup accelerator programs and helping to create hundreds of jobs and internships.
The gleaming new 85,000-square-foot glass and metal building is the cornerstone of the entrepreneurial ecosystem the university has developed.
James Delattre, Penn State associate vice president for research and director of the Office of Entrepreneurship & Commercialization, said during a tour of the new building on Thursday that the Innovation Hub and Invent Penn State represent an expansion of the university’s land-grant mission.
“Normally when people think about the land-grant mission, they think about agricultural extension… President Barron asked the question, can we expand on our history of extension through economic development extension?” Delattre said. “So if anyone who has a business idea looking to grow a company in Pennsylvania, drive our economy, they can come to a location and experts can help them work through their business idea, find out if they have a market, help them with product design. That’s the essence of what we’re trying to do, not just here but across the 21 LaunchBoxes and Innovation Hubs in the commonwealth.”
The Innovation Hub’s location in downtown State College is intentional, both practically and symbolically, providing a convenient and visible location for students, employees and community members. Its large glass windows signify it is open to all who want to get an idea off the ground.
“I think its downtown location is really important,” Delattre said. “Because it’s open to the community and surrounded by business services and the business community, we think that there’s going to be some great collisions of different expertise and know-how.”
It’s a building designed to inspire collaboration, formally and informally, among people with different ideas and skill-sets. The lobby level and mezzanine have open co-working space, free for anyone to use without scheduling.
“One thing we know is that success requires teamwork and it’s really important to create spaces that bring people together,” Delattre said “…What we found is that individuals would come together, they’d train each other, they’d form teams and eventually those teams would come together and either they’d form a company or someone would form a company and they’d end up hiring someone they met. So co-working, we think, is really important to make sure that intersection of people with different skills is happening all the time.”