Penn State Berks Flemming CEED Center announces Customer Discovery Lab

Written by Lisa R. Baldi, Director of Strategic Communications at Penn State Berks.

Budding entrepreneurs are invited to apply to the Penn State Berks Customer Discovery Lab, a four-week series of workshops organized by the college’s Flemming Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) Center.

This opportunity is open to Penn State students, recent alumni, faculty, staff, and community members interested in exploring the commercial viability of their idea or innovation. The deadline for applications is Mar. 13, and applications can be found at https://sites.psu.edu/ceed/.

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The winning team will be awarded $500, as well as a micro-grant of up to $500, which can be used to develop prototypes to help with the customer discovery process.
The spring 2023 Customer Discovery Lab will begin on Mar. 28.

The workshop follows the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, an immersive, entrepreneurial training program that facilitates the transformation of invention to impact. These “boot camp” style training sessions help entrepreneurs to begin customer discovery. They learn how to develop a business model and validate it through a scientific process, network and get feedback from faculty experts and experienced entrepreneurs who serve as business mentors, and determine if a market exists for their innovation. The program ends with a pitch competition in which the participants present their work.

Penn State Berks sophomore information technology major Alina Rodriguez, a former program participant in the Customer Discovery Lab, stated, “The Customer Discovery Lab was an eye-opening experience. The program exposed me to why listening to potential customers is crucial and allowed me to apply real-world applications of concepts as we learned them. The entire lab shifted my perspective on how startups work and how to develop a product/service idea properly. I highly recommend the experience to anyone seeking to learn more about validating their startup ideas.” 

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The Customer Discover Lab’s lead faculty members include Sadan Kulturel-Konak, professor of management information systems, and Abdullah Konak, distinguished professor of information sciences and technology. Kulturel-Konak is also the director of the Flemming CEED Center and the program chair for the entrepreneurship and innovation (ENTI) minor. In addition, Ada Leung, associate professor of marketing, supports the marketing segment of the program.

Kulturel-Konak summarized, “The program is based on the Lean LaunchPad, an entrepreneurship methodology to test and develop business models based on querying and learning from customers. You can’t test your business idea inside the classroom. Through the Customer Discover Lab, we can easily see whether a business model can succeed or what it needs to do. I feel really good about how much we have been able to help our teams in our sessions.”

Konak stressed that another goal of the Customer Discovery Lab is to increase awareness of and interest in the Penn State Berks entrepreneurship and innovation (ENTI) minor. “Most students do not start a business after they graduate. However, we hope that this experience will help them come up with a solution for any problem and give them a foundation for starting a business beyond graduation.”

Early-stage entrepreneurs who have scalable ideas with unclear or unknown business models are encouraged to apply to this program. Teams must commit to attending the required workshops and cohort meetings and start their customer interviews by the second week of the program. For more information and to apply, visit https://sites.psu.edu/ceed/.

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