Summer Founders Program To Grant Funding To Student Entrepreneurs

For many Penn State students, summer will be filled with internships, vacations, and seasonal jobs. For others, summer 2016 will feature ten weeks of entrepreneurial growth through the second annual Summer Founders Program.

The Summer Founders Program provides Penn State teams with $10,000 each to work on their startup, social good, or non-profit idea for the summer. Concepts for the program began last year with Matt Brezina, a Penn State alumnus who co-founded two multimillion-dollar tech startups and had previously worked with an accelerator called Y Combinator. Y Combinator’s accomplishments for startups inspired Brezina to bring opportunities of the same caliber to Penn State.

The Summer Founders Program is funded by a small pool of donors, who initially wanted to donate just so that the program could get started. “Our donors believed in the mission of the program, but didn’t want to be super involved in the program itself,” said William Ferguson, current president of InnoBlue and a key organizer of the Summer Founders Program.

Penn State Trustees Ira Lubert and Edward Hintz have donated to the program in addition to Brezina himself. Other notable alumni donors include David Rusenko and Chris Fanini, founders of website builder Weebly.

Last year’s participants included six startups: ResumeRuby, Project Vive, UFit Thrive, MichelAngelo, Gastrograph, and Mobium Solutions. This variety demonstrates that the program is not looking for any one type of cookie-cutter idea, but rather aiming to “create value in the community,” according to Ferguson.

“People assume that [their idea] has to be the classic software startup, or the classic Silicon Valley thing,” said Spencer McCollough, another key organizer of this year’s program and team member of last year’s ResumeRuby project. Instead, the program is more focused on the applicant’s idea and passion for the project.

“We take teams on any end of the spectrum,” Ferguson said. “It could just be an idea, or it could be an existing company that is seeking extra funds to continue what they’re already working on. No idea should not be submitted just because it’s not far along.”

The program would like to accept 4-5 teams this year, and each team must have at least one member who is a Penn State student. Teams will stay in State College for the summer and work on their projects for ten weeks. The only true structured activity is a dinner every Thursday night, when organizers of the program bring speakers to work as resources with the teams.

In addition to mentors, the program strives to provide resources and connections to people who can help move the projects along as quickly as possible. Last year, Amazon Web Sources even offered thousands of dollars worth of free credits for cloud-computing servers to teams participating in the program.

“We want to bring these teams together and surround them with the right resources and support to create impact within the community,” Ferguson said. “At the end of the day, each of the teams were drawn to seeing each other succeed as much as letting themselves succeed.”

Organizers encourage any students with an idea to apply for this year’s program, regardless of their major or future career aspirations. Applications for Summer 2016 are available now on the Summer Founders Program website and will be accepted until Friday, February 19, at 5:00 p.m.

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Elissa Hill

Elissa is a junior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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