An idea to bring underserved communities in Dauphin County information on creating wealth turned into a successful center for innovation and entrepreneurship for central Pennsylvania.
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, with a mission to help the underserved receive educational opportunities, started the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) about three years ago.
Today, that center is recognized as forward thinking and successful, in part because it is led by a well-respected entrepreneur and not an academic, said John Sider, vice president of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania, which collaborates with the center.
The entrepreneur, Jay Jayamohan, was recruited by the university to help the community understand what funding opportunities exist and how to start a business.
Jayamohan said he leads the effort that strategically positions HU to have a greater impact – economic and social, by having innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs from in and around Central Pennsylvania coming together with students and faculty to collaborate on ideas and solve problems.
After initially turning the job down, a board of trustee’s member convinced him that while larger regions are attractive, the central Pennsylvania region had nothing like this and he could make a greater impact here, he said.
He does this with his team which includes Jamal Jones, MaDonna Awotwi and Michael Hughes.
“Our goal is to create an economic ecosystem that can compete with other areas,” he said. “Our focus is on training the next generation of entrepreneurs, creating technological advancements and scientific discoveries through new startups and fostering innovation here at HU and throughout the area.”
The focus is on those who are economically disadvantaged and minority populations, he said.
Jayamohan said models like this center exist in areas with large universities and they work. “This shows that we can develop economies in smaller areas.”
The center has three main programs: the launchU, a Shark Tank-like program for high school students and community members to bring business ideas forward; The Blend, a program that offers information and expert advice to companies in their infancy; and an incubator which provides space and four paid student workers to help startups build.
Joy Boudreau, who took part in The Blend’s Business Acceleration Program, won more than $8,000 for her business, Joy of Events Group LLC. The six-week program sponsored by M&T Bank helped her establish credit, create a business plan and gain access to capital, among other things, she said.
“It culminated with a pitch to the judges, and it means a lot,” she said. “It has given me credibility and exposure.”
The incubator, which Jayamohan said gives startup businesses about $100,000 worth of space and labor for up to 18 months, currently has eight companies.
“This provides powerful support right here in the region,” he said. In fact, the program has been so successful, HU is opening new space in Strawberry Square by late fall to make room for 20 more companies.
One of Jayamohan’s success stories is a black woman who is a veteran with PTSD. He said she created a communication app that keeps veterans with emotional and addiction issues connected so after they leave rehabilitation programs, they are not on their own.
“Here’s where we are helping founders that are rooted here solve problems that are found here,” he said.