ERIE, Pa. — The Appalachian Regional Commission has awarded $1.5 million to the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network, which provides entrepreneurial support and business guidance at four coordinated university labs, including Penn State Behrend's Innovation Commons. The network partners — Penn State Behrend, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Gannon University and Mercyhurst University — will match that funding, generating $3 million in economic support for businesses.
The ARC funding will expand the services that are available through the network, which will soon offer app development, co-working spaces, mobile outreach and case management for entrepreneurs. The three-year grant also will extend the network’s initial five-county reach, providing support to start-up companies and inventors in 17 counties, including portions of New York and Ohio.
“The Innovation Beehive sites have become a lifeline for businesses that encounter roadblocks as they develop new products and approaches,” said Amy Bridger, the senior director of corporate strategy and external engagement at Penn State Behrend. “By coordinating our university resources, we can provide expertise at every stage of the product-development process, from prototyping to branding to business intelligence. That investment, we’ve found, also pays off for the tri-state region: Companies aren’t likely to leave a community where they have built a network of support.”
The Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network formed in 2014. It built on the success of Penn State Behrend’s Innovation Commons, an ideation and rapid-prototyping space that is part of the Invent Penn State network. By linking the Innovation Commons to specialized labs at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Gannon University and Mercyhurst University, and to an affiliate lab at Erie County’s Blasco Library, the network provides a comprehensive business support system with multiple points of entry for entrepreneurs.
From its inception, with seed funding from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, the U.S. Economic Development Administration and Invent Penn State, the network was designed to be collaborative: To receive funding, projects had to involve partners at more than one Beehive site.
The ARC funding will enhance and expand that support, which already has advanced more than 400 entrepreneurial projects:
- Penn State Behrend’s Innovation Commons, an ideation and rapid-prototyping space, will introduce a suite of services focused on Industry 4.0, including data analytics, sensor management and virtual and augmented reality. The commons also will expand its support for app development.
- Edinboro University’s Center for Branding and Strategic Communication, which provides marketing services, digital design and video production, will significantly expand its Student Start-Up Hub, which provides a co-working space for student entrepreneurs. The center will scale up its services, which include website design, social media management and podcasting, to assist startups across the expanded 17-county service area.
- Gannon University’s Center for Business Ingenuity, which provides business consulting, will pilot an intensive case-management service for entrepreneurs. The center, which is linked to the Small Business Development Center and the Erie Technology Incubator, will now offer crowdfunding consultation, pitch-deck generation and best practices for managing startup capital.
- Mercyhurst University’s Innovation Entente Lab, which provides market analysis and competitive business intelligence strategies, will launch a mobile unit to provide support on-location to companies in Erie County and across the expanded service area. Mercyhurst will add a third team of students to its business intelligence service and will supplement Edinboro’s graphic design services.
Each of the Beehive sites will continue to provide experience and networking opportunities for students. More than 100 students contribute to Beehive projects each year, and seven undergraduates have been named as inventors on patents that developed from their work at the Beehive sites.