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Home > News > University Program Helps Launch Tech Firms

University Program Helps Launch Tech Firms

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07.16.09// A pioneering project at Millersville University is helping a handful of technology start-ups in the midstate gain a foothold — for free.

The Lancaster County university’s Software Productization Center links emerging technology companies to assistance from students and faculty in designing, launching and marketing products.

In return, the students gain “real world” experience in fields of business, public relations, computer science and design, and are allowed to use the finished products in their portfolios.

The center is wrapping up its first round of partnerships with local companies and in the coming weeks plans to announce the firm it will work with this year.

The center’s board — which includes representatives of the local business community — and students and faculty pick the companies to work with through a written and in-person interview application process. No money changes hands for the assistance.

It’s the first initiative of its kind in the state, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The center is funded by a three-year, $182,541 grant from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

About 40 percent of that money goes toward student stipends because work is done during the summer and outside of class, said Stephanie Elzer, the center’s director and a professor of computer science.

Faculty chose the nine students based on interest and class performance, Elzer said.

Millersville students and staff members have worked with two companies — coincidentally both located in the Murata Business Center in Carlisle — during the past year.

“When we saw (the center’s application), we thought it was a great opportunity for us,” said Adrian Fang, president and chief executive officer of Cruzstar, which provides online catering concierge services and online ordering for restaurants.

“(The center) pretty much provided us with software resources, human resources and the technical know-how to able to develop the product earlier than we expected,” he said.

That product, called Cruzcourt, is slated for launch this fall. Students and faculty worked alongside Cruzstar to develop the application, originally scheduled for launch in two years.

Cruzcourt is intended to be a “virtual cafeteria” where a subscribing business’s employees order food using an online application, then have it delivered to the office, Fang said. The meals come from a local catering company.

The second company the center partnered with is WorkXpress, whose software of the same name allows businesses to build customized applications for their firm over the Internet.

The company applied to the Software Productization Center because it was looking for market research, particularly in the area of social-networking tools, to aid in the launch of its product, said President and Chief Executive Officer Treff LaPlante.

“As a start-up company, you have limited resources,” he said. “When you can get good, professional help, you need to put in that extra effort.”

The idea of working with college students in the emerging field of social-networking marketing also appealed to LaPlante, he said.

Students began working with WorkXpress in January, and by April had compiled a report in which they recommended eight to 10 social-networking marketing tools.

Web traffic has grown “dramatically” since the center’s presentation of its results and the business has signed a contract that stemmed directly from its use of the social-networking tool Twitter, LaPlante said.

“I was impressed that they arrived independently at some of the same conclusions we had,” LaPlante said. “It’s not easy to pick a business up midstream and learn enough of the details to give credible advice.”

Students also suggested a Web site and logo redesign.

In addition to working with WorkXpress and Cruzstar, the center held a seminar on e-marketing for businesses, featuring speakers from the faculty and local firms.

The center plans to choose one company to work with this year and at least one more before the grant period ends, Elzer said.

The grant is intended as seed money, and the program board is investigating how the center might be funded or in what form it might continue after the grant period ends, she said.

Chris Willet, a Millersville design student who will soon graduate and worked with both companies, said the experience will give him a leg up on other entry-level job applicants, who might have only encountered hypothetical projects in class.

“This gives me an opportunity to take everything I’m learning and apply it to a real project,” he said. “It shows that not only can I do the task, but also, (that I can) work with clients.”

This article was originally published by: Central Penn Business Journal
Writer : Paula Holzman
Link to
original aritcle in the Central Penn Business Journal