ERIE, Pa. — An $896,000 grant from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority will expand the services and geographic reach of the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network, which includes the James R. Meehl Innovation Commons at Penn State Behrend.
Four entrepreneurial-support labs — Beehive sites at Penn State Behrend, Gannon University, Mercyhurst University and PennWest Edinboro — each will receive $200,000. The Idea Lab at the Erie County Public Library will receive $96,000.
The Penn State Behrend funding will be used to hire an event coordinator, who will support programming across the Beehive Network.
“We want to amplify the public programming that we offer,” said Jacob Marsh, the industry relations coordinator at Penn State Behrend. “Our services and public events are designed to directly benefit entrepreneurs and start-up companies in our region. If we can steer more inventors and entrepreneurs to those programs, where they can network and tap into the support resources that we offer at our innovation spaces, we’ll see more of these ideas become viable businesses.”
The balance of the Penn State Behrend funding will be used to expand outreach efforts in communities beyond Erie. Students and staff at the beehive sites will take a mobile entrepreneurial lab to programs in Albion, Corry and Union City, among other communities.
“Inventors can be protective about the ideas they have for a new product or service,” Marsh said. “Unless they already have relationships in place, they might not be comfortable coming to a university and asking for help. By going to them, we can demonstrate our commitment to the entrepreneurial process: We want them to succeed, and we want them to have the same access to these programs and services.”
The Meehl Innovation Commons opened in 2015 and was the pilot site for the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network. The lab also is part of the Invent Penn State network, which has created 21 innovation spaces that offer co-working, accelerator programs and access to experts and mentors across the commonwealth.
The lab is a product-design and prototyping space. Student employees offer part design, computer-aided drafting, no-cost 3D printing, app design and Industry 4.0 training, among other services.
Student employees at the lab have supported more than 240 projects for local entrepreneurs, start-up companies and community groups. That work has led to 14 new companies and 15 patent applications.
The new ECGRA grants include funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was designed to stabilize businesses that lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of businesses were set back by the COVID pandemic,” said Perry Wood, the executive director of ECGRA. “Often, small businesses were hurt the most. They didn’t have the reserves when everything shut down. This funding is a way to support those businesses and put them back on track.”