People might think that Erie’s colleges are in constant competition, but when it comes to entrepreneurship, they are very much in favor of collaboration.
Mercyhurst University, Gannon University, Penn State Behrend and Edinboro University of Pennsylvania have come together to form the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network, which seeks to help small and large businesses in the Erie region.
David Dausey, Ph.D., provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, calls this interplay of cooperation and competition “coopertition.”
“Recognizing the competition still allows you to find the mutual interests in any venture,” he said.
Each university will have a specialized beehive focused on one of the four stages of the business development network. Mercyhurst is specialized in business intelligence analytics, Gannon focuses on business development, Behrend focuses on engineering and design, and Edinboro is specialized in the advertising, marketing, and communications aspect of the business market.
The “beehive” term is used to show how efficient and specialized these market networks are among the four universities. Just like bees, each member has their job and does it exceptionally well.
“It makes a lot of sense to have the universities collaborate,” said Dausey. “The idea of advancing collaboration and synergies across universities is really critical. I think this project is a great demonstration of the good will among the universities and their desire to work together.”
This project came about through two aspects of Ignite Erie Industry in 2014: The Quickstarter Crowdfunding Program of Kris Wheaton, associate professor of Intelligence Studies, and the initial engineering beehive of Penn State Behrend. These programs were made possible through the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA) and the Ben Franklin Technology Partners.
With Behrend spearheading the project and already having an established collaboration plan with Mercyhurst Intelligence Program, the two universities agreed to partner on a grant from ECGRA.
“When you are working with these things, especially at a small school, without David Dausey and the leadership of the school stepping up to approve our efforts and participation in these things, they would not have happened,” said Brad Gleason, director of the Center for Intelligence Research Analysis and Training.
As time went on, Gannon and Edinboro joined the collaboration to partner through two new grants from Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency (EDA).
These grants allow the universities to bring blended teams of students from each specialty together to help local businesses and innovators. The teams will have 28-35 market studies to complete from these two grants.
“We are used to doing market studies and analysis to that end here,” said Gleason. “But a novel piece is we are doing it with students from other schools, and we play to their strengths on the team.”
The blended teams come with huge positives for all those involved. Students receive faculty-led research and real world experience with local businesses. Not only do the students get paid for their work, the beehive teams develop strong relationships with other universities and businesses that will potentially be interested in hiring for their companies.
“We are saying, ‘Let’s create a beehive network that once you come into that network as an innovator, we will do everything we can to keep you in it,’” said Gleason. “This changes the ‘rust belt culture’ of traditional Erie while at the same time, we can become and entrepreneurial cutting-edge entity.”
The beehives are a key part of Ignite Erie Industry’s goal of improving business development in Erie to support larger established businesses and encourage small business growth even in its risky environment.
Gleason sees the collaboration as an opportunity to make a larger statement about the Erie region.
“We need to talk more and more about coming together to keep identifying ourselves to the world,” said Gleason. “All of these universities have something unique and successful. We should use this to send a larger message to the region saying that we have all these varying successful capabilities and programs.”
Both Dausey and Gleason are excited to continue to enhance the program and encourage cooperation among universities.
“The beehive is a very important concept and one that really speaks well to the universities collaborating together,” said Dausey. “It is certainly one aspect that this university is doing in reference to innovation, but not the only example of that.”
Gleason wants to focus the next few years primarily on delivery of the market studies.
“It is easy to get big eyes, but we are all about delivery. We have a lot to deliver with these new awards. The opportunity for the beehive to get bigger is in the closest future,” he said. “That is the first thing to grow bigger and how to incorporate their skill sets too. That will make the whole network stronger.”
The collaborative project speaks to those from the past as well as to what may come.
“The sophomores, juniors and seniors that have worked on these projects leave a legacy of the good work that people have done in this region,” said Gleason, “It is a groundwork for something that is of value that we can continue to grow.”