$1.5 million grant expands Innovation Beehive Network

Friday, October 16, 2020

Funding for Mercyhurst leads to mobile outreachbeehive logo

The Appalachian Regional Commission has awarded $1.5 million to the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network, which provides entrepreneurial support and business guidance at four coordinated university labs. The network partners – Mercyhurst University, Edinboro University, Gannon University, and Penn State Behrend – will match that funding, generating $3 million in economic support for businesses.

The ARC funding will expand the services that are available through the network, which will soon offer app development, co-working spaces, mobile outreach and case management for entrepreneurs. The three-year grant also will extend beyond the network’s initial five-county reach, providing support to start-up companies and inventors in 17 counties, including portions of New York and Ohio.

“The Innovation Beehive sites have become a lifeline for businesses that encounter roadblocks as they develop new products and approaches,” said Amy Bridger, the senior director of corporate strategy and external engagement at Penn State Behrend. “By coordinating our university resources, we can provide expertise at every stage of the product-development process, from prototyping to branding to business intelligence. That investment, we’ve found, also pays off for the tri-state region: Companies aren’t likely to leave a community where they have built a network of support.”

The Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network was formed in 2014. It built on the success of Penn State Behrend’s Innovation Commons, an ideation and rapid-prototyping space that is part of the Invent Penn State network. By linking the Innovation Commons to specialized labs at Mercyhurst, Edinboro, and Gannon and to an affiliate lab at Erie County’s Blasco Library, the network provides a comprehensive business support system with multiple points of entry for entrepreneurs.

From its inception, with seed funding from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, the Economic Development Administration and Invent Penn State, the network was designed to be collaborative: To receive funding, projects had to involve partners at more than one Beehive site.

The ARC funding will enhance and expand that support, which already has advanced more than 400 entrepreneurial projects and provided experience and networking opportunities for students. More than 100 students contribute to Beehive projects each year, and seven undergraduates have been named as inventors on patents that developed from their work at the Beehive sites.

The specialized labs include:

  • Mercyhurst University’s Innovation Entente Lab, which provides market analysis and competitive business intelligence strategies. With the new grant funding, Mercyhurst will launch a mobile unit to provide support on-location to companies in Erie County and across the expanded service area. Mercyhurst will add a third team of students to its business intelligence service and will supplement Edinboro’s graphic design services.
  • Edinboro University’s Center for Branding and Strategic Communication, which provides marketing services, digital design and video production, will develop a co-working space for student entrepreneurs. The center will scale up its services, which include website design, social media management and podcasting, to assist startups across the expanded 17-county service area.
  • Gannon University’s Center for Business Ingenuity, which provides business consulting, will pilot an intensive case-management service for entrepreneurs. The center, which is linked to the Small Business Development Center and the Erie Technology Incubator, will now offer crowdfunding consultation, pitch-deck generation and best practices for managing startup capital.
  • Penn State Behrend’s Innovation Commons, an ideation and rapid-prototyping space, will introduce a suite of services focused on Industry 4.0, including data analytics, sensor management and virtual and augmented reality. The commons also will expand its support for app development.

To learn more about the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network, or to request help with a project, visit the NWPA Beehive website.

More About Mercyhurst’s Innovation Entente Lab

Brian Fuller, director of operations for the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences which oversees the IEL, said the lab combines the university’s strong expertise in applied sciences with its rich tradition of liberal arts education to help promote community entrepreneurship and innovation. 

It offers interested clients high-caliber market analysis and competitive business intelligence products that identify key marketing strategies, potential funding pipelines, the necessary strategic media options, and branding or graphic design support, to help place entrepreneurs and small business owners on the path to successfully attain their goals. 

All projects are designed by the Mercyhurst IEL team, in full collaboration with its clients at the state-of-the-art Beehive Lab located in Hammermill Library. The IEL consists of three teams with each consisting of three student analyst project leads, one graphic design student, one research specialist, and one grad student team lead.  

Fuller said the most recent grant funding allows entrepreneurs and small business owners to have more direct access to Beehive services, increases the number of projects students will be able to gain valuable experience working on, and expands the Mercyhurst presence in communities.  

The new grant increases Mercyhurst’s ability to reach entrepreneurs and potential clients though a more robust marketing and advertising campaign. The grant also provides funding for the creation of an assistant director for the IEL. 
All forward movement, Fuller noted, is contingent upon COVID-19 safe practices and policies. The university continues to work remotely in engaging with clients and potential clients.