Funded by a $750,000 grant from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA), the Ignite Erie Industry+University Business Acceleration Collaborative is working in Erie County to boost small businesses and start-ups by creating a network of educational, business and industrial, and community institutions that are committed to improving the region’s economy. With matching funds from Penn State Behrend, Mercyhurst University, and industrial partners, $1.5 million over three years has been dedicated to focus on four areas:
- Growth of existing businesses, including market expansion and the development of new products,
- Creation of “maker spaces” – new laboratories and collaborative centers where teams can prototype, experiment and develop new products,
- Support for student innovation teams, led by experienced faculty and professional staff, as they solve manufacturing challenges, and
- Promotion of open and inclusive networking events, where students, faculty members, business/industry and community leaders can explore ideas, business models, and financing.
Faculty-led student projects and grants are crucial to the Ignite Erie effort, which relies on three models of support:
Intern Mashups leverage student time and talent by allowing companies to work with teams of students from different disciplines–and even different institutions–on projects not tied to any academic calendar or class schedule. Students commit to short-term projects or share responsibility for longer, more involved efforts. Penn State Behrend has used this model to collaborate with SKF North America Aerospace, FMC Technologies Measurement Solutions, and Cybersonics Inc., among other companies.
“Innovating Through Collaboration” Teams typically involve MBA students, undergraduate research assistants and faculty advisers. These individuals apply analytical rigor, critical thinking and expertise in multiple disciplines to help companies analyze new or expanded product markets, develop pricing strategies and improve processes. Micro-grants, typically between $500 and $2,000, help entrepreneurs obtain legal advice, market assessments and other services. Penn State Behrend has used the ITC model to assist Eriez Magnetics, EMD Strategies, and Advanced Finishing USA, among other companies.
Quickstarter Teams, coordinated by Mercyhurst University, assist entrepreneurs with graphic design, copywriting and marketing support before and during Kickstarter fundraising campaigns. Among its many successes, a 2014 effort involving Mercyhurst students raised nearly $13,700–more than three times the goal–in just 15 days to help open a new restaurant in Erie.