Learn more about how entrepreneurship is growing in Pennsylvania's I-99 Corridor and resources that are helping startups get off the ground.
Jason Cohen is doing something most people his age only dream about: building a business based on his passion. While still a student at Penn State University, the recent graduate founded Analytical Flavor Systems (AFS), a State College-based startup that develops quality control and flavor profiling software for producers of craft and artisan beer, spirits and coffee. The inspiration for his business began with a research project known as the Tea Institute, a group Cohen founded at the university to analyze how people perceive flavor. Finding enough students to sip tea for data analysis was difficult, so he decided to lure them with beer and coffee. The tastings became so popular that Cohen was able to gather enough data to build algorithms for developing and quantifying flavor in these beverages.
“We realized what we created was valuable and should be a company,” he says.
Working closely with university advisers and the statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners program for tech entrepreneurs helped Cohen and his partners land their first client. The startup now works with a growing base of breweries, distilleries and coffee roasters nationwide to help them improve quality and consistency in their batches through its sensory-based Gastrograph software and mobile app.
University leaders hope to build on entrepreneurship even more through its Invent Penn State initiative, which includes creating ecosystems on its campuses to help students, faculty and people in the community develop ideas into businesses. In 2015, the university opened the Happy Valley LaunchBox, a business accelerator with coworking space in downtown State College, and it has six more in the works.
“Our goal is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in students and give them the resources they need to succeed,” says Neil Sharkey, vice president for research at Penn State.
Bringing Ideas to Life
Developing young entrepreneurs is also the mission of the Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence at Penn State’s Altoona campus. Launched by local entrepreneur Steve Sheetz and his wife, Nancy, the center offers students courses, workshops, seminars and experiences focused on entrepreneurship. While it works most closely with students studying business and engineering, “our goal is to touch every discipline,” says Donna Bon, executive director of the center. It also hosts business training programs for entrepreneurs in the community and provides students with mentors as often as possible.
“There are not too many places where a student can sit across the table from a CEO, so for them to be able to learn from individuals who are making it happen is priceless,” Bon says.