In what looks from the outside like a nondescript part of Levine Hall, students from all four of Penn’s undergraduate schools are championing innovation.
Located on Levine’s second floor, the Weiss Tech House is a student-run hub for idea development and implementation in science and technology.
Managed by six committees of student volunteers, these programs take on a number of forms. During the first week of November, the Tech House held Innovation Week, a yearly series of speaker events that provides mentoring and guidance to budding innovators and promotes the House’s services.
This year, so many people attended the events that there was “standing room only,” according to Abhiraj Modi, a senior in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology who acts as student director for the Tech House, along with fellow Wharton and Engineering senior Avantika Agrawal.
On Dec. 10, the Tech House will host the first round of PennVention, a three-phase competition that helps students turn an idea into a marketable product or service and culminates with the Invention Fair in April.
But even when no specific events are happening, the House acts as an ongoing center for students looking to network, get advice on ideas, bring science and technology into the community through outreach or simply find a well-equipped place to study.
The House has an open study space with tables and computers, in addition to private rooms and lab space that anyone can rent for use.
“There’s not something just like us,” Tech House Director Anne Stamer said, explaining that she has “bench marked” the program against those at other schools and never found an exact equivalent. “We have so many different initiatives, and we’re run by students,” she said.
College senior Shivani Kesaria, who serves as the House’s community relations chairwoman, said she was drawn to the Tech House because of its mission to promote innovation, the diversity of its volunteers’ passions and the nature of its service programs.
“I loved the fact that the Tech House provided focused community service,” Kesaria said. Every week, the Community Relations Committee sends teams to public schools in West Philadelphia to teach lessons on science and technology. Kesaria said they are also hoping to work with Civic House to provide adults in the area with training and support for vocational skills and business ventures.
As for Tech House students’ business ventures, many alumni have gone on to see real-world success. These include 2005 Wharton graduate Allison Floam, whose business, SunSak LLC, sells a beach towel Floam designed to convert into an over-the-shoulder bag, 2005 Engineering graduate Edison Conner, who founded a company that produces eco-friendly surf boards and 2006 Engineering graduate Kunal Bahl, who invented concentrated laundry detergent capsules called Dropps that are now sold at Target.
Jason Halpern, who graduated in 2010 from the five-year Management and Technology combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program, developed a company that received a $500,000 grant this spring from the New Jersey state government for an idea he first pitched at the Tech House and later developed through PennVention, in which he won third place.
Halpern — whose company, PowerFlower Solar, builds portable solar power devices tailored for certain environments — also contributed to the initial development of PennLaunch, an online network for students, faculty and alumni seeking collaborators with different skill sets or ideas.
Stamer said expanding PennLaunch is one of the Tech House’s top priorities, along with attracting more students outside of the Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Kesaria, who described herself as one of the “only College kid[s]” in the Tech House, called it an “approachable, accessible” environment that students should take advantage of. “I think the House itself is one of the most under-used resources on campus,” she said.
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