Innovators welcome at Weiss Tech House

A student with a novel idea walks into a state-of-the-art facility to use the computer between classes. While there, the student bumps into a classmate with a knack for marketing. They start talking about ideas, and decide to partner on a project. They get funding and a place to work, and meet with a Penn Law student who specializes in intellectual and property law for advice on how to bring their project to fruition.

Welcome to the first year of Weiss Tech House, the newest hub where members of the Penn community come together to brainstorm, design and commercialize innovative technology.

The mission is simple: “To encourage and support undergraduates in the creative development and commercialization of technology,” said Karl Ulrich, associate professor of operations and information management at Wharton and faculty director of the Tech House. “[Undergraduates] have a very limited experience base. … The biggest thing we can do is connect them to people who have some experience. That can be in the form of other students or it can be in the form of faculty or members of the outside community.”

Like the Kelly Writers House and Civic House, the Tech House is part comfy space, part intellectual playground. It features 3,000 square feet where ideas can roam free and come to fruition.

The House is located on part of the first and second floors in the Graduate Research Wing of the Moore School, and offers a literal window on the world, as work bays on the first floor are behind floor-to-ceiling glass windows that overlook Walnut Street. The larger main room of the Tech House can accommodate audiences for speeches from successful innovators, as well as intimate dinners limited to 20 students.

Similar to the writing and community service houses, this technology hub hopes to reach across the University to draw in students with diverse skills. Tech House director Anne Stamer said that some events are designed to attract students who are interested in technology, but may not be studying it in class.

For those with definite ideas, the Innovation Fund provides young designers and marketers with a space to work, $1,000 in funding each semester and legal and marketing advice from Penn Law and Wharton grad students. Upon acceptance of the project, students get a reserved work bay, access to networked technology and can even have materials and supplies for projects delivered to the Tech House—something that is especially helpful for nomadic undergrads, said Ulrich.

This year, one team designed a simulated river and bridges to test the design that would best stand up to erosion. Another Fund team developed Smiling Screens, a new user interface for the elderly that is now an incorporated company. Ulrich is also excited about the partnership forged with the Center for Technology Transfer, where students have analyzed and prototyped some of the medical technologies developed by professors. This is now offered as a course.

While the house offers students help with marketing and patent law, it’s not necessary that a project turns a profit, according to Ulrich. Instead, Stamer, who is also associate director of the Wharton Business Plan Competition, said that the Tech House offers support for young innovators as well as tech outreach. “That is really what we’re here for.”

For more information, visit their web site at www.tech-house.upenn.edu

Originally published on January 29, 2004