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Innovation Cafe is about connections and advancing ideas

Editor’s note: The next Innovation Cafe is 5 to 7 p.m. on  June 30. Click here for more information

Allan Fausnaught

Penn State Harrisburg engineering student Allan Fausnaught, founder of Woodland Percussion, shows the construction elements of his drums.

Innovation and music may not be an obvious connection, but it created perfect harmony at Penn State’s latest Innovation Cafe, a networking program organized by the College of Medicine’s Office of Technology Development.  The quarterly Innovation Cafe encourages collaboration between investors, entrepreneurial faculty, students and industry professionals committed to building a vibrant start-up community in Central PA.

Offering a variety of topics, like Innovations in Music, helps attract diverse backgrounds and disciplines, which can lead to much needed connections.

“You never know when you are going to meet that one person that will help you advance your idea, your invention or your business to the next level,” said Erika Swift, associate director of research innovation at the College of Medicine. “Our goal is to create a forum where people can share their work with others and help make the connections that lead to new collaborations. It’s our hope that Innovation Cafe encourages this type of relationship building.”


Phil Fizur, who works with Penn State College of Medicine’s Dr. Paul Eslinger, discusses therapeutic effects of music on patients with brain trauma.

By merging education and networking, Innovation Cafe is fun, interactive and engaging. Most importantly, it gets people talking. For example, the March program was segmented into short 5-to-7 minute presentations followed by the crowd being released to interact with the speakers and each other.

“We want to intrigue people’s sense of curiosity with relevant topics,” Swift said. “To facilitate this goal, the theme of music was chosen for March because, by its very nature, it infuses energy and excitement.”

Speakers included two student entrepreneurs, a humanities faculty member from Penn State Harrisburg, and a faculty member, a clinician, a resident and an intern from the Hershey campus. Topics ranged from discussion of a social networking app for musicians to collaboratively create music, the effects of music on your social identity, to a clinical trial on the effects of jazz on postoperative pain at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Hakeem Muhammad and Prateek Nair

Penn State Harrisburg business students Hakeem Muhammad and Prateek Nair, founders of Loudhouse, innovators of a music-based social networking web site.

While the program is organized through the College of Medicine as part of its efforts to bring new technologies from its research labs to the marketplace, it complements the university-wide Invent Penn State initiative. Invent is a $30 million investment in economic development and student career success and leverages Penn State’s research, knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit to bring to market needed ideas, products and services. Penn State Harrisburg was awarded $50,000 to create the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Adam Gustafson

Dr. Adam Gustafson, professor of humanities, Penn State Harrisburg is a composer and studies music’s role in shaping social identities.

“With Penn State Harrisburg, the Penn State College of Medicine and the Penn State Dickinson School of Law in such close proximity, the Capital Region brings together some of the best and brightest in the state,” said Penn State President Eric Barron at the opening of the center in February. “This is a hub for talent and innovation, with ample resources in business, engineering, medicine, law, entrepreneurship and related fields.”

Kevin Harter, director of the Penn State Harrisburg Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, began conversations with Swift about creating more collaboration between campuses to engage faculty, students and the capital region community. This led to an introduction to Dr. Susannah Gal, associate dean for research and outreach and the Innovation Café being held at Harrisburg campus for the first time.


Dr. Sonia Vaida, center, Penn State College of Medicine, has conducted a clinical trial on the effects of jazz on postoperative pain.

“Penn State Harrisburg has strong business and engineering programs, Hershey has medicine, and Dickinson has law, so the three campuses are really a perfect marriage for collaboration,” Harter said. “University Park’s numerous colleges on a single campus give them strength and collaboration opportunities. Here, we are sometime siloed by being on different campuses. But, by pulling together, we are able to create a powerful force in the Capital Region, similar to University Park.” says Swift.

The next Innovation Cafe will be held adjacent to the Penn State College of Medicine campus at the Cocoa Beanery from 5 to 7 p.m.  on June 30. The theme will be Women Entrepreneurs in Medicine. There will be food, drink, live music and the opportunity to meet that one person you may just need to meet.

  • Jennifer Vogelsong contributed to this story. 

Innovation Cafe is a chance to make connections to move an idea forward and learn what others are doing. Included in the crowd are Dr. Susanna Gal, Harrisburg professor and director of outreach; Dr. Joe Hackett, MI12 Angel investor, Dr. Billie. Moore, business development manager at Penn State College of Medicine.

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