[Originally published here at PABusinessCentral.com on November 18, 2016]
State College, PA – Penn State kicked off its annual Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) on Sunday, Nov. 13. The five-day event series is meant to celebrate entrepreneurship and engage Penn State students as well as faculty, staff and other members of the community in workshops, presentations and discussions. GEW is an international event celebrating world-wide entrepreneurship in more than 160 countries and organized at Penn State by the Penn State Small Business Development Center.
University Park held the first GEW Penn State in 2008. In 2015, GEW Penn State hosted one of the largest GEWs in the country with 124 events at ten different Penn State campuses as well as other Penn state affiliated locations in downtown State College.
Each of the five days of GEW Penn State has a theme which all the days’ speeches and activities are centered around. Monday’s theme was “Social- preneurship” where students and community members alike had the opportunity to learn how to “leverage [their] entrepreneurial energy to drive the economic and social development of [their] community,” according to the Penn State GEW website.
Bill Brock, president and CEO of Straub Brewery, Inc., gave Monday’s opening keynote address at University Park.
Straub Brewery began in St. Marys, Pa., first as Windfelder Brewery and was later changed to the Luhr Brewery before finally becoming Straub Brewery. Peter Straub, Brock’s great-great-grandfather and the founder of Straub Brewery, was first hired by the original owner of the brewery, Francis Sorg, to work as manager and brewmaster. Peter Straub took over ownership of the brewery in 1878.
“Thanks to Peter, we’re a legacy company and part of that legacy I think is most important, that I think is the basis for so much of what we do is that he taught his children and his children’s children to do the right thing, make the right choices, take the right actions and do it all for the right reasons,” Brock said during his speech. “I think a social entrepreneur takes risks and makes sacrifices because they positively want to benefit the community.”
The baseline of Brock’s speech was that while social entrepreneurship is meant to be a social endeavor, successful entrepreneurship of any kind begins within. It was Peter Straub’s ambition that brought him to beer-brewing in the first place. At the young age of 19, Straub immigrated from Germany to find the American Dream. He started young, worked hard and showed Brock that entrepreneurship is about growth, not hitting the jackpot on the first shot.
“It’s takes a long, long time to build yourself up to make the income that you think you’re worth. Don’t ever judge a job by the paycheck. If you think about start-up companies, entrepreneurs… They’re sleeping on people’s couches, in their cars, they’re begging, borrowing and stealing until they can finally make it,” said Brock. “Peter Straub probably didn’t have a penny in his pocket when he came to America and by the end of it, he had this huge family, he had a vibrate brewery, he owned 1400 acres of land, and that all happened over a period of about 40 years. So, be patient.”
Following Brock’s keynote address was a master class with him at the Happy Valley LaunchBox on South Allen Street. Each day of Penn State GEW features a master class where participants “get hands-on learning in these concentrated sessions taught by successful entrepreneurs,” according to the Penn State GEW website.
Brock’s Master Class was succeeded by one of the two workshops offered on Monday, which was also hosted at the LaunchBox. “Dreams: Seen, Felt, and Heard” was a presentation done by Project Vive’s founder, Mary Elizabeth McCulloch, as well as an open discussion about one’s dreams and the importance they play in entrepreneurship. For it is in the absence of dreams that small start-ups like Project Vive find their demise.
Participants in the workshop were also lucky enough to meet Arlyn, a beneficiary of Project Vive who has worked very close with McCulloch to develop the Voz Box into what it is today. The Voz Box was created as a “low-cost solution to overcome non-verbal communication barriers brought on by cerebral palsy and other related disabilities,” according to Project Vive’s website. The description on the Project Vive website explains that the Voz Box “works by “[using] small movements such as those from a knee, wrist, or finger to construct full sentences, allowing user [sic] to communicate on high levels.”
Arlyn, who has spent her whole life dealing with cerebral palsy, was able to speak to the crowd effectively and efficiently by using a personalized Voz Box that translated movements from her feet and legs into full sentences. In fact, she was even able to read some of her own poetry out loud to the audience as this was the first thing she told McCulloch she wanted to do with her new found voice.
Inspiration for the Voz Box, and the foundation of Project Vive as a whole, came from spending time in Ecuador as a foreign exchange student in 2010. During her time there, she spent time at an orphanage working with children and adults of all different ages with cerebral palsy.
“One device was donated from the United States and it was basically like a number pad. So, you would type two and it would say ‘hello’ or type three and it would say ‘goodbye’,” McCulloch explained. “I worked with a teen on how to use this. He was completely non-verbal and within about a month, he was able to say like 25 words, which for someone who thinks they have to have someone around them guess anything that they want to say, that’s a huge deal.”
McCulloch went on to explain that the device ended up breaking entirely, a heartbreaking moment for both her and the boy.
“You think of giving someone a voice for the first time. What if they didn’t have it for 17 years and you gave them a way to communicate and then, after a month, took it away?”
This is initially what inspired the shift in her life goal to helping “Give a Voice to the Voiceless”, which is now Project Vive’s official slogan. McCulloch returned to the United States to major in biomedical engineering at Penn State University where she ended up entering a prototype for the Voz Box into biomedical engineering competition.
“I didn’t win. At all,” McCulloch said. “But then I realized I actually want to do this with my life. This isn’t just something that I did for a competition or something I want to get instant gratification for.”
One thing to be learned from social entrepreneurship day at GEW Penn State, thanks to Brock and McCulloch, is that making a dream come true or a business successful does not come from the original winning idea. It comes from the hard work that you put into it to watch it grow slowly but surely.