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 “makerspaces” – 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 and business 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.
Student-centered collaborative projects and grants are crucial to the Ignite Erie effort, which relies on two models of support:
The Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network is a continuously evolving and growing collaborative project that develops and implements support services for industry, entrepreneurs, and the community. With sites at all four regional universities and another at Blasco Library, the Beehive Network offers business planning support at Gannon University, product development and rapid prototyping at Penn State Behrend, marketing and branding support at Edinboro University, business intelligence at Mercyhurst University, and an open makerspace at Blasco Library.
Quickstarter Teams, developed by Mercyhurst University and now coordinated by the Idea Fund Erie LLC, 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. Quickstarter has continued to operate with a greater than 90 percent success rate.