Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins  recently met with Dan Leri, Director of Innovation Park, and Nena Ellis Koschny, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications for Invent Penn State, to discuss potential plans for collaboration and how the county can support Innovation Park’s and Invent Penn State’s efforts to drive economic development. 

“There is a lot of support in the community now for entrepreneurship, startups, and economic development,” Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins said. “Since my election two months and two weeks ago, the county has increased our economic development budget from $25,000 to $175,000 per year.”

Higgins, who ran on a platform of economic development, has expressed an eagerness to help facilitate collaborative relationships between the government, the university, and the community. In fact, he believes now is the best time for Innovation Park to work with the county to receive state and federal funding.

In the last few years, Dan Leri, Director of Innovation Park, has been working with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, quietly promoting and supporting entrepreneurship by offering space and resources to companies of all sizes and stages. Leri said he welcomed the County’s support in broadening the region’s entrepreneurial support network.

Leri provided an overview of the Innovation Park master plan, highlighting last year’s completion of, an 87,000 square foot building of premium office space currently being offered for lease to the business community.

“We have a very active prospect list we’re working on to fill 331 Innovation Boulevard,” said Leri.

As Innovation Park looks to expand, the County’s interest in supporting Penn State’s efforts could be just what is needed to herald a new era in entrepreneurship throughout Happy Valley.

The next step in the master plan could possibly include a building that includes wet-lab space for scientific research companies that have had some traction but not enough of an operating history to qualify for traditional commercial leases. Innovation Park hopes to provide affordable space for these promising companies that require transitional facilities after their time in incubator. However, Leri recognizes this gap period poses a major challenge to nurturing fledgling enterprises.

“The piece we’ve been missing in these build programs is state and federal participation,” said Leri. “What Penn State needs to do is engage our other players and partners in the process.”

“We’re happy to work with PA Department of Community & Economic Development, the Department of Commerce, and other state and federal agencies,” Higgins assured Leri. 

“I’m at your disposal,” he continued, “as is the Centre County Planning & Community Development Office. We have good relationships with the Centre Region Council of Governments and can coordinate with the governor and state legislatures. I’m happy to work with Innovation Park and Penn State to make something happen.”

The recently established Invent Penn State initiative aims to support the kind of work Leri has been doing all along. Nena Ellis Koschny, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications, explains how the initiative ties into the efforts of the park and what kind of work is going on every day behind the scenes.

“Invent Penn State is an initiative to stimulate economic development, create jobs, and enhance student career success,” Koschny said. 

Invent Penn State officials have identified gaps in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, which can include space to work, funding for commercialization, investment, and business training for scientists or researchers who don’t have business backgrounds.

“We help facilitate the creation of resources in all those different areas,” Koschny said. “A large part of the initiative is connecting people—whether it’s connecting researchers to places they can get business training like the TechCelerator, connecting startup companies to potential investors, or connecting individuals to create programs and initiatives in the community to bolster entrepreneurship.” 

“The role of the initiative is not always direct,” she continued. “Sometimes we're just facilitating and making connections between people so that entrepreneurship happens.”

This new collaboration among the county, Penn State, and Innovation Park holds the promise of new and exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs, and the job creation that comes with their success.