Gannon University will be among the beneficiaries of a $1 million grant that has been awarded to the Innovation Beehive Network from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).
The grant, which was announced Tuesday at Gannon, will help fund the efforts being put forth by four local universities: Gannon, Mercyhurst, Edinboro and Penn State Behrend.
The four universities have been working for the last 10 months to establish a business development network to kick-start new businesses and help existing businesses in areas where they are lacking.
Each university will focus on a different aspect of business. Gannon will be the node that helps with consultations, which will help get new businesses off the ground and running through their proximity to the Erie Technology Incubator (ETI) and Small Business Development Center (SBDC) located in the Center for Business Ingenuity (CBI) on Ninth Street.
Penn State Behrend will help make new products for entrepreneurs or make existing products more efficient for business. Edinboro will assist in marketing to help make businesses attractive to potential customers, and Mercyhurst will provide business intelligence to business owners.
Students and the Erie community will benefit from this innovation because it will provide employment and experience.
According to Brad Gleason of the Center for Information Research and Training (CIRAT) at Mercyhurst, students graduating with various business degrees will be able to work with the Beehive, and gain real-life experience that employers look for.
“There will be paid opportunities for the students, which makes it real world,” Gleason said. “It also helps them [students] look attractive to future employers, which is very important across the board.”
The students at the four local universities will be able to work for and with the four nodes of the Innovation Beehive. By creating relationships with various businesses through the Beehive, students set themselves up for employment when they graduate.
“That keeps the students here, and that’s one of our major goals,” Gleason said.
Gleason also said that the network will be open to the Erie community at large and they will begin creating a marketing package that each university can use to help spread the word.
“There are entrepreneurial centers such as the Ben Franklin Foundation, for example, and other funders out there that’ll say, ‘You’re not ready for our funding yet, but you need to go see the Beehive Network,’” Gleason said. “The system’s out there already and it’s a heavy referral system, but I think we will continue to up the marketing as we also up the referral piece to this.”
In the 10 months of its existence, the Beehive has been able to secure $3 million in funds. Penn State was awarded funding from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
Gannon also contributed to the awards received from the Dr. and Mrs. Arthur William Phillips Charitable Trust.
Gannon hopes to increase the impact the ETI and SBDC have had on the Erie community already. The ETI has currently raised $36 million in private funding through its startups, which include 16 in software, manufacturing automation and medical technology. Also, the ETI offers a team of 70 professional mentors.
The SBDC has created 56 jobs and assisted in raising over $21 million in capital assistance since January 2017, which served 343 clients.
Gleason credited Ralph Ford, the chancellor of Penn State Behrend, and Amy Bridger, the senior director of corporate strategy & external engagement, for helping get the network started.
“We picked up some funding and they picked up the phone and started making phone calls to start the collaboration,” Gleason said. “As we started meeting and forming, they facilitated all of that, so it is their brainchild.”
Through this process the universities have created a bond between themselves that is stronger than it was before.
“We’ve been able to keep up, and at the same time we’ve built some relationships where we trust each other when times are tough to get through some of the harder parts of managing a grant, managing students and managing innovators,” Gleason said.
“We’re getting through some of the lumps now, and we’re positioned with this funding to do bigger and better things now.”
Steven Mauro, Gannon’s vice president of academic administration, said in a university press release that small businesses are the engines that drive job growth, commerce and economy in a city the size of Erie.
“Erie is uniquely positioned to be able to be fast and nimble enough to coordinate such development,” Mauro said.
“The newly created Innovation Beehive Network is a completely novel approach not implemented anywhere else in the nation, but is able to occur here to achieve that goal.”