centerforinnovation

The Pennovation Works is a 23-acre site set to be finished in 2016.

Photo: Ritika Philip

With construction of the Pennovation Center underway, innovation is all the rage at Penn — but many may not know that support and funding has been long available through a variety of channels within the University.

Innovation has been a buzzword around Penn since Penn President Amy Gutmann announced the opening of the Pennovation Center in Penn’s South Bank this past October. Student-run startups and iPhone apps have been popping up all over campus, and Penn’s array of resources and aid for student ideas are on the rise.

The Pennovation Works is a 23-acre site set to be finished in 2016. It will include the Pennovation Center, which will “be a dynamic hub that maximizes Penn’s impact by bringing together researchers, students and the private sector to foster innovation and development in the region,” Gutmann said in October.

However, this type of aid for researchers has existed for a long time at Penn, through the Penn Innovation Center, which opened last year as an offshoot of Penn’s Center for Technology Transfer.

“We are a one-stop shop for the entire University in terms of commercialization of early stage technologies,” said Penn Innovation Center Chief Operating Officer Laurie Actman. “We try to proactively facilitate relationships with private sector partners.”

The Penn Innovation Center mostly works with faculty research in connecting them to various commercialization opportunities — but this summer they are introducing undergraduates to the mix in a start-up accelerator program called I-Corps.

“I-Corps is basically an accelerator where we are trying to graduate 30 student-faculty teams a year and we train them and provide advice on creating commercialization plans around early stage technology,” Actman said.

Yet there are other startup incubators on Penn’s campus that help students in different ways.

On a student level, the Weiss Tech House is a group that works to help students with funding, commercialization and connections with groups outside of the Penn community.

“We are all student-run,” said College junior and future co-student director of the Weiss Tech House Benjamin Feis. “We really have our ear closer to the ground as far as the innovation scene at Penn goes.”

The Weiss Tech House holds the annual Pennvention competition, which offers money and advising for students hoping to implement new technological ideas.

But even ideas outside of the tech industry can find support at Penn — though it might be difficult to decide which source is best suited for a particular project. Between Penn’s schools, the list of available resources might be overwhelming.

Students can win monetary prizes through Penn-sponsored competitions such as the Wharton Business Plan Competition, or external competitions like the Hult Prize.

Students can also apply to grants through the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, which offers funding for travel, research, initiatives and events, even on an individual basis, and the Vagelos Undergraduate Research grant is another path for funding.

Undergraduate students can also receive funding and advice for their business and finance ideas through several Wharton initiatives including the Wharton Social Impact Prize and the Wharton Venture Initiation Program — through these resources and others, the University funnels thousands of dollars into student ideas.

“We think that there is a great deal of innovation going on here at Penn,” said Sherryl Kuhlman, the managing director of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, a group that supports social impact ideas. “When students come to us and ask for help with something they want to get involved in, we are happy to do so.”

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