Late last month, 12 startups competed in this year's Tech Tournament at Invent Penn State’s Venture and IP Conference at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center at Innovation Park. The fast-paced, Shark Tank-inspired Tech Tournament features representatives from each startup, given three minutes to pitch their company or product to a panel of three judges. Then, judges have five minutes to ask the entrepreneurs tough, probing questions regarding their business plans, competition and financials.

Four awards were handed out at the tournament: third place with a monetary prize of $25,000; second place with $50,000; first with $75,000; and People's Choice.

When some people think of the Invent Penn State Venture and IP conference, they immediately think of the Tech Tournament, which centers on startups themselves, but the Top Entrepreneurs and Inventor of the Year honors shouldn’t be overlooked. The products and services introduced in the Tech Tournament are exciting and innovative, but equally as important are the minds that conceive them.

It’s not the setting for a fairytale, but Happy Valley is producing beautiful beginnings and happily-ever-afters for more than Penn State’s 40,000-plus students. Young professionals, entrepreneurs, growing companies and more are finding central Pennsylvania is the ideal place growing their careers, innovations and businesses.

When the Happy Valley area started appearing in national rankings, praise revolved mostly around lifestyle. The area was named “Least Stressful Town in the U.S.” by Psychology Today in 1988. Soon after it made lists for safety, health, walkability and recreation — traits it shares with many college towns. and adventure culture.

Sometimes inventions are the product of happy accidents, such as Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin.

Other inventions are the product of not-so-happy accidents. For Matt Roda, a Penn State graduate and co-founder of a new health IT company, Reflexion, it was a hockey-related concussion in high school that led to the invention of the Reflexion Edge, a 2-by-6-foot foldable touch screen and accompanying software that trains, evaluates and rehabilitates an athlete’s cognitive abilities through a series of 30-second tests.

Founder Mary Elizabeth McCulloch and her team at Project Vive are giving a voice to those silenced by disability, with Voz Box, an affordable device which converts users’ movements to speech.

“My whole life, I’ve had a lot of experience…with people who have communications disabilities,” McCulloch explained, mentioning her grandfather, as well as two uncles who lost their ability to communicate due to ALS. “When you lose your voice, it’s not just the voice that’s gone. It’s also an ability to control your life, to connect with other people. Especially for someone who’s the head of their household – it’s not only their voice that’s taken away; it’s also their role in the family. I’ve seen that personally.”