STAFF Q&A/Anne Stamer has helped turn Weiss Tech House into Penn’s ‘hub’ for technology.
“Our mission is to help excite and invigorate students around technology.”
During the early days of the Weiss Tech House, Director Anne Stamer, Faculty Director Karl Ulrich and about 20 students operated out of a cubicle in Huntsman Hall. But these days, things have certainly changed for the campus technology and innovation hub.
About 50 Penn students volunteer on various Tech House committees, and another 70 regularly pass through to study or attend lectures in the Levine Hall space.
“The physical space has been the most important thing because we can hold events, bring people through and say ‘this is our lab space, this is our lounge,’” says Stamer. “It’s really, I think, built a community.”
Stamer is and has been key in building that community. She advises the engineering students if they come to her with problems, concerns—or a great idea. She also brings in her “little Tech House dog,” Molly, every day and emphasizes that the House is open to staff and faculty, too. “We will let anyone in and try and give them support.”
Q. Do you have an engineering background?
A. No. I was in hotel and restaurant management. I did sales, marketing, event planning. Penn actually was a client of mine and I got to know some people here and I really liked their attitudes, so I got a job at a research center.
It’s funny—I never thought I wanted to work with students. And then I took the job at the entrepreneur program where I was working with MBA students. I fell in love with working with them. After 2 1/2 to 3 years this opportunity came along to work with undergraduates. I jumped at the chance.
Q. What is your role?
A. In the beginning, Professor Ulrich and I designed what the Weiss Tech House would actually be. Based on my experience working at the entrepreneurial program, I knew the things that worked well and the things I thought were missing at the University. I helped to create some components that could be of value to students.
The only people on staff are Professor Ulrich, myself and some work-study students that run the desk. Everyone else is volunteer and they come here for various reasons—leadership roles, because it’s a cool, exciting program.
Q. How do most students use the Tech House?
A. Our mission is really to help excite and invigorate students around technology and innovation. We are a hub like Kelly Writers House. We have several ways that we do that. One is by having the facility, which has lab space. We offer an environment for students to come between classes to both work on their class projects, work in groups, use it as a study hall or have conference ability to actually have room to meet with their teams. The second [way to get involved] is to attend some of our events or meet with our mentors. The third way they get attached is by having an idea and applying to the Innovation Fund or entering PennVention, which is our competition. Those are the ones that we really touch because we actually provide them with very in-depth mentoring, funding, space. We have several things that in six months are going to launch into the marketplace.
Q. Can you talk about what those products are?
A. I can talk briefly. One of them is called Sunsack. [The inventor] won third prize at PennVention and her idea is a new beach towel. We hooked her up with a mentor who has helped her with production and she will be hopefully on QVC. Her tentative date is May. I have another guy who’s in PennVention right now and in our Innovation Fund who has a single-pack liquid detergent that’s biodegradable and environmentally safe. I have another one who as a junior, came to us with a medical device. He has formed a company and built an advisory board of some very leading faculty here on campus in orthopaedics and is out there meeting with venture capitalists. We had a landmine sweeper in the Tech House for a while and they’re out there trying to get some venture capital to get money in order to get their working prototype. We also have another idea that came to us as edible artwork and has now moved on to edible advertising.…
You have everything from tasting to an orthopaedic device to consumer products. And that’s what we tell people—they can be very high-grade, high-tech projects, or low-tech. You can come here with just a little idea. And if it’s something we feel we can support you on, we’ll go forth and give you all the support we can.
Q. Do students have to apply to the Fund and PennVention?
A. They do. Anyone can come to our mentoring dinners, anyone can use our mentoring office hours with the MBA students and law students, but you have to be accepted through the Innovation Fund, which is a student-run venture capital fund—they give out $2,000—and/or to be part of PennVention, which is our inventor’s competition. That’s a year-long competition that’s actually judged by people in industry. The Innovation Fund is run by students who are trained on how to determine projects.
Q. What are some things that you’ve learned, working with undergraduates?
A. I look at them and think, I wasn’t like that when I was 19! Penn students are amazing students and I don’t know how they do it.… I don’t know if this is typical of the rest of Penn. Maybe it’s just those several hundred that come crashing through our door, but I really feel like the Weiss Tech House is making a difference in students’ lives by providing mentoring and access to people and helping them move their ideas along and giving them leadership.
Originally published on April 13, 2006