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ECGRA partners with Mercyhurst, Behrend to 'Ignite Erie'

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA) has made a three-year, $750,000 commitment to Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and Mercyhurst University to lead the Ignite Erie™ Industry+University Business Acceleration Collaborative.

The announcement was made Wednesday morning during a press conference at ECGRA headquarters in Knowledge Park. Mercyhurst speakers included President Tom Gamble, Ph.D., and Jim Breckenridge, Ph.D., dean of the Tom Ridge School of Intelligence Studies and Information Science.

ECGRA launched the industry+university grant program in December 2014 to spur innovation by students, faculty, local industry, and emerging entrepreneurs. It is part of ECGRA’s three-part, $3.9 million initiative to catalyze small business development and advanced industrial innovation and strengthen the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The authority’s board of directors authorized the funding on March 12, 2015.

Penn State Behrend and Mercyhurst will match ECGRA’s $750,000 in funding, bringing the total three-year investment in local business to $1.5 million. The partners will work closely with a regional network of educational, industry, and community institutions equipped to support businesses and entrepreneurs in all stages of product and service development:

1. Ignite Erie Network Development—open and inclusive networking events and projects that bring students, academics, community and industry leaders, and current and prospective entrepreneurs together to explore ideas, business models, and financing and resource options

2. Student Innovation—teams of students from the area’s colleges and universities in many different majors working jointly under the mentorship and management of diverse faculty and staff members to solve applied research and development problems for businesses and entrepreneurs

3. Maker Spaces and Research Facilities Expansion—building centrally located high-tech spaces for product development and advanced R&D for use by high school and college students and academics, industry, and community partners

4. Business Acceleration—diverse teams of students and faculty and staff members from local colleges and universities working with existing businesses and start-ups to expand markets and launch new products

ECGRA Executive Director Perry Wood said, “These are substantive next steps to introducing new products, services, and technology to the region and the world. We look forward to measuring the impact on Erie County’s economy.”

Penn State Behrend will be the primary fiduciary agent for the grant. Balaji Rajagopalan, Ph.D., director of Behrend’s Black School of Business, and Ralph Ford, Ph.D., director of the Penn State Behrend School of Engineering and associate dean for industry and external relations, will co-lead the collaboration.

Jim Breckenridge, Ph.D., dean of the Tom Ridge School of Intelligence Studies and Information Science, will coordinate on behalf of Mercyhurst. The intelligence studies program provides high-quality, low-cost, open-source research and analysis to regional start-ups, federal, state, and local agencies, and Fortune 500 companies. A key moving part in the project will involve Intel faculty Kristan Wheaton, J.D., and his Quickstarter initiative, through which he and students manage awareness and fundraising campaigns for regional entrepreneurs.

Breckenridge said, “While Mercyhurst University and Penn State Behrend are equipped to manage many aspects of this process, our most notable success for the region will be to establish a vigorous cross-collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem alongside our academic, industry, and economic development colleagues.”

The Ignite Erie Industry+University Business Acceleration Collaborative was created by ECGRA in response to the Council of University Presidents’ The Path Forward, in which leaders of Erie County’s universities identified themselves as playing an important role in the development of the region’s economy. While Penn State Behrend and Mercyhurst University will work closely to manage the day-to-day initiatives of the collaborative, representatives from Erie County institutions of higher education, Erie County school districts, economic development agencies, and local industry will be invited to serve in governance and advisory roles; forward-thinking students from all five higher education institutions and Erie County high schools will be encouraged to participate in programs and activities.

Wood added, “This model mirrors what is successfully igniting economies across the country, where universities are collaborating with a multitude of entities to create an atmosphere conducive to innovation. Collaboration by all institutions remains ECGRA’s goal and this proposed governance and project management structure takes us one step closer to that.”