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President Barron Introduces Inaugural Six Summer Founders Program Teams

The Penn State Summer Founders Program provides six teams of entrepreneurs, all with at least one Penn State student, a $10,000 grant to pursue their original startups for a summer. It’s a groundbreaking new initiative spearheaded by President Eric Barron, senior Eli Kariv, Penn State alum and successful entrepreneur Matt Brezina, and the director of development and alumni relations at the Schreyer Honors College Sean Miller, in an effort to create an innovative and entrepreneurial culture on campus.

In January, Barron pledged a $30 million investment towards student entrepreneurship, including a proposal to create physical spaces across the state to generate innovative ideas. It’s something Penn State lacks, and a project Kariv said could reap great rewards.

“He created the space and the community to allow people like me to explore what I want to explore,” he said. “Students have ideas and they want to run with them. If you allow them to do it, they’re going to run fast as hell.”

Students will now have this space, and funding, at least for the next few years. At a special IST Startup Week reception and awards presentation last night, Barron introduced the six teams that will inaugurate the Summers Founders Program, named after the seed accelerator Y Combinator that has funded the origins of several multi-billion dollar companies including DropBox and reddit.

“By enabling creative freedom, we’re creating a future generation of Penn State entrepreneurs,” Barron said.

Here they are:

Vive (Founders: Mary Elizabeth McCulloch, Dave Schmitthenner, and Joseph Sanchez)

The Vive device gives people with nonverbal disabilities a voice by sensing simple movements to select words from audio menus that are then played through a speaker. The idea for Vive came when McCulloch spent a year studying abroad in Ecuador at a special needs orphanage where she worked with 15 children and adults who suffered from non-verbal cerebral palsy. She quickly realized that she had the ability to help the people that she was working with every day.

Her goal has always been to make something simple that makes an impact on the lives of the people she works with every day.

Gastrograph (Founders: John Dori and Jason Cohen)

Dori and Cohen met when they both were part of the Tea Institute, and quickly realized their shared love for quality in taste. It was that passion that led them to create Gastrograph, a quality control software that craft beverage makers (think beer, coffee, tea) can use to ensure consistency among any of their products.

How does it do that? Gastrograph allows the Brew Staff of these craft producers to subjectively rank their beverages on 24 different flavors that fall under four categories: salty, sweet, bitter, and umami. Basically, everything you can taste, you graph with Gastrograph. Through an entire brew staff subjectively ranking its beverages, Gastrograph can make sure that there’s never a bad shipment of a product again. Their goal is to help beverage producers make the best beverages possible.

MichelAngelo RobotScope (Founders: Brennan Cornell, Rob Chisena, Matt Reading, Lingqui Jin)

The MichelAngelo team is creating a robotic, multi-jointed endoscope for surgeons at the Hershey Medical Center. It’s basically a robotic arm that enters the body with more precision than ever before — think of a really complicated game of Snake, but inside the body. A team of graduating seniors, they’ve chosen to turn down full-time offers from top consulting and engineering firms to work on this project full-time.

Their design will provide surgeons with an easy-to-use platform for diagnosing diseases and performing precise surgeries within the gastrointestinal tract. Coming from diverse engineering backgrounds, each of the founders is dedicated to improving patients’ lives through technology.

ResumeRuby (Founders: Mitch Robinson, Zach Zimbler, and Spencer McCullough)

Before Robinson even had an internship, he had students coming to him in the career center, paying him for help with their resumes. He had designed a template in photoshop that not only was more elegant than normal resumes, but easier to edit. People were lining up to pay Robinson to make these resumes for them.

That’s when ResumeRuby knew they had something on their hands. They decided to make an online tool that helps you design and format a resume that is industry-specific, and professional. They made a prototype of the idea, and after an Onward State feature they had over 1,000 signups from people wanting to use the service.

Its stated goal: Though people are great at what they do, they’re not getting opportunities to prove it because of something as simple as poor resumes. Resumes should be easy, beautiful, and communicate just how awesome you are.

Mobium Solutions (Founders: Kevin Paroda, Justin Keenan, Mitchell Lester)

Imagine not being able to print multiple things at the same time. Instead of having printers handle a continuous flow of printing jobs, you’d have to stop after each one, remove the papers, and then start a new job.

That’s the way three dimensional printers work right now. They require someone to manually remove every object made before a new one can be produced. Mobium Solutions has created an add-on for 3D printers that allows for continuous, automated manufacturing, letting users maximize the work they can get out of the machine.

Their idea didn’t start as continuous 3D printing however. When Paroda and Keenan met in their EDesign100 class with professor Bevin Etienne, they wanted to make a 3D Printing Vending Machine. After demoing their product to several organizations, they quickly met Dr. Sven Bilen who suggested they focus on one core add-on that they were making as part of the project, the ability to continuously print 3D objects.

Since then, they’ve made it their goal to make 3D printers just like 2D ones, a tool you use in your house or at work that you don’t even have to think about.

Undeniably Fit (Sel Edor, Grant Dean, and Samuel Jackson)

The seventh-leading cause of death in the United States and fifth-leading cause of death in the world, diabetes affects nearly one out of every 10 individuals. Undeniably Fit has set out to make fitness programs accessible for those with chronic illnesses.

“UFit Thrive,” according to its website, “is a fitness program for people living with diabetes created by Undeniably Fit, LLC — a company with a mission to change the lives of people living with chronic illnesses by creating comprehensive fitness and wellness programs for them. We created UFit because diabetes can be stopped and we want to be a part of the movement against diabetes.”

***

The teams will begin working under the Penn State Summers Founders Program this summer. Kariv said it’s funded for the next several years, but he hopes it can become an endowed program at Penn State.

“President Barron has an opportunity to set forth an entirely new culture,” he said. “I think he’s really taking advantage of that.”

 

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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