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Startup Week at Penn State Wants to Help Make Dreams Come True

by on April 18, 2017 5:00 AM

There are always a lot of diverse and amazing events and activities happening on the Penn State campus and in our town. That is part of the charm of living in a college town and this week is no exception. There are a series of events taking place that are worthwhile for more than just the students.

It’s Penn State Startup Week, the newly expanded version of the highly successful College of Information Sciences and Technology’s Startup Week that began in 2012. Penn State President Eric Barron’s “Invent Penn State” initiative inspired this new campus-wide version of Startup Week, with its major emphasis on entrepreneurship.

[More information on Penn State Startup Week and the schedule of the events]

Last April I had the privilege of delivering two talks at Startup Week in the IST Building. The first presentation was entitled “Sports Technology: Just Scratching The Surface.” The second was “Pragmatic Passion: Dream Big, While Keeping it Real.”It focused on identifying your passion and putting together the pragmatic plan to help make your dreams come true. It was a great experience and I had the opportunity to meet some of the best and brightest rising alumni stars, most of whom have gone on to launch very successful businesses.

In fact, when I first looked at the list of speakers, I wondered what this old coach had in common with all these incredibly successful, and much younger, entrepreneurs. It certainly wasn’t net worth. What we did share was a passion to help others by passing along some of our life stories and business experiences.

It was at last year’s Startup Week reception (held at my old hangout, Pegula Ice Arena), that I met Weebly co-founder’s and IST alumni David Rusenko and Chris Fanini. David is the chief executive officer of the web-publishing startup and Chris is the chief technical officer. These guys founded Weebly in 2006, along with fellow Penn State graduate Dan Veltri, while they were still students. In just 10 years, Weebly has become a $500 million company.

David is also responsible for coming up with the idea of IST hosting a startup week.  He created the "David Rusenko Emerging Entrepreneur Scholarship" and the "David Rusenko Entrepreneur-in-Residence Scholarship," to help IST students start their own companies while they are still in school. Talk about an attitude of gratitude.

David and Chris are incredibly bright and successful young men, but what impressed me most, is how down to earth they were and how willing they were to help others. In fact, it was during Startup Week that our oldest son, Jon, met with Chris to talk about career options. Jon did an internship this past summer with Weebly at their San Francisco headquarters and it turned into a full-time job.  

When we visited Jon over spring break this March, we got the grand tour of Weebly headquarters and we met a lot of the amazing young people who work there. Impressive doesn’t begin to describe the business and amazing would be an understatement in describing the work environment. If I had any tech skills whatsoever I would work there in a heartbeat.

On Monday, I had the honor of speaking once again at Startup Week, but this time I was joined by good friend and colleague Ken Pasch, who recently retired after 20 years of teaching in the Smeal College of Business. We teamed up to deliver a presentation entitled, “Developing Options and Making Informed Decisions in the Digital Age.” The talk really focused on developing the very essential “intangible” skills needed to be successful in a world dominated by technology. Based on the immediate feedback, the session was well received.

Ken is a 1975 Penn State graduate and the CEO and president of KiVisions, Inc., and he has extensive experience in leadership and management. He is a retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel and has more than 30 years of experience in the business environment and health care sector, in addition to his many years in the military as a pilot and squadron commander. He is the author of the book “Become the Boss You Always Wanted,” and is putting the finishing touches a second book, “On Course – Become a Great Leader & Soar!”

Ken and I have been friends for years and worked in the Smeal College of Business at the same time for a couple years. We are “kindred spirits” in our interest in leadership development and with regard to helping others. Oh, and we both love hockey.

I strongly encourage you to get out to hear the amazing slate of speakers that are visiting State College this week. Chris Fanini and David Rusenko are scheduled to speak this Thursday at 1:35 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectively at the IST Building.

Before I conclude this week’s column, I wanted to revisit my last column, “Family First, Right Now.” Here is a quick update under the category of “putting my money where my mouth is.”

We spent a fun Easter weekend with family (and ate way too much Italian food thanks to my cousin Rachel and “MeeMaw” Battista). The Battista Family Reunion is now scheduled, the Penn Hills Park picnic grove reserved, and the picnic committee formed. Everyone is jazzed, I recently had breakfast with my former assistant coach and old friend Bill Masullo and I called long-time family friend and former Icer Booster Club President Paul Fatur. Our family stopped by to visit Paul in his senior living home in Greensburg on our way home. It was great to visit with “Mild” Bill and “Poppa Fatur” and catch up on old times. Hope you have reached out to your family and friends as well!



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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