In 2009, the Penn State Small Business Development Center was looking for ways to increase student engagement when Heather Fennessey, previous director for the Penn State SBDC, tasked one of her business consultants, Linda Feltman, to find a way to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week on campus. Feltman complied, but what she did not expect was how quickly Penn State and its Commonwealth campuses would embrace GEW. GEW Penn State grew into one of the largest celebrations in the United States, engaging both the college and local community.
Here is how they did it.
In its first year, GEW Penn State was small. It consisted of two events and engaged about 50 students. However, the students and faculty were excited, and the SBDC felt like their work during GEW had made an impact. Feltman caught the GEW bug.
The big break came in 2012, during the fourth GEW celebration at Penn State. Happy Valley Communications, a student PR firm advised by Feltman, took on GEW as a client. Thanks to HVC's GEW team, the celebration expanded to 16 events and engaged more than 500 students across the university.
In 2013, when Feltman shared that GEW Penn State had been ranked as the fifth largest GEW event in the country for 2012 — a colleague turned to her and asked, “How do we become number one?”
Feltman felt the faculty had joined the GEW bandwagon, too.
“In fall 2013, my faculty friends at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, College of Engineering and the College of Ag Sciences, all agreed to host events,” Feltman said.
Since then, Penn State's GEW celebration has expanded to 10 colleges and 16 commonwealth campuses across the state. What was the catalyst for the expansion? Feltman attributes it to several developments including Penn State President Eric Barron’s prioritization of innovation and community economic development and the launch of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation minor at Penn State.
“All of a sudden, faculty were looking for ways to engage their students in entrepreneurship and this was the perfect solution,” Feltman said about GEW.
The energy around GEW Penn State had grown into a campus-wide movement. By 2015, GEW Penn State hosted 120 events in five days. There was excitement around hosting a GEW event and the week was filling up with activities. With all the energy around entrepreneurship, Feltman and her team decided it was time to focus that energy into specific goals for Penn State.
Feltman, her team and more than 100 student volunteers make GEW a reality and it continues to grow each year. In 2015, Pennsylvania State Employee’s Credit Union endowed a paid internship for a GEW student leader. The young woman who received the award in 2018 became the president of the newly formed GEW club on campus. This club creates a full day of programming during GEW, working all year to research and invite speakers, and plan workshops – including a mini-pitch competition.
Each spring, interviews are held to select two student interns who will earn college credit as the Event Team Leads. Those two students are charged with recruiting, training and managing as many as 70 students who are the Event Team Members. That team of students works hard to ensure that each individual event goes off without a hitch.
“The more students we have engaged in this week, the more impactful GEW has become,” Feltman said.
For 2018, GEW Penn State has its sight set on making an even greater impact in the community by continuing to expand past the college campus into the local State College community.
“While we welcome the community to attend events on campus, we are also taking GEW to the community,” Feltman said. “We are moving the celebration to downtown State College for community days – two days dedicated to community entrepreneurship and involvement with GEW.“
GEW Penn State has joined forces with the State College’s Downtown Improvement District, the Chamber of Business and Industry for Centre County, Schlow Centre Region Library and several other partners to raise awareness about the entrepreneurship opportunities within the community. They will also be hosting innovation and entrepreneurship programing in community spaces, such as the State College Municipal Building and Happy Valley Launch Box, to encourage collaborations between the community and students. Feltman said the hope is that one day the community will be just as engaged with entrepreneurship as her students.
Feltman is also working alongside newly appointed Penn State SBDC Director, Kimberlee MacMullan, who hails from Hermosa Beach, California, where she ran many successful high profile events during her tenure. MacMullan has taken the lead at creating several new GEW high profile events to encourage alumni who are driving into town for the Wisconsin/Penn State football game to arrive a day early and participate in activities.
She is also using her film and media connections to collaborate with the Penn State Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications to create an arts and entertainment series for potential entrepreneurs in the creative space on November 12 – with panels filled with professionals who work in the film and media industries.
Feltman said she is not done growing just yet. In fact, one day she hopes to create a South by Southwest-type entrepreneurship event that is based in State College and Penn State.
“My dream? In three to four years, I’d love to open our GEW doors to university students around the country and the world,” Feltman said. “I could die happy then.”
With so much energy and enthusiasm for her work, it is no wonder Feltman was able to turn a small idea into a catalyst for innovation at Penn State.
GEW Penn State will be held November 7-15, 2018 on the University Park Campus and in Downtown State College.