We Rise Together program focuses on diversity, inclusion at Lehigh Valley campus

A man holding an award certificate

In this file photo, Penn State engineering undergraduate student Victor Ariyo, right, holds a certificate after completing Invent Penn State's 2019 Summer Founders Program, a 13-week accelerator that provides teams with funding, resources and mentorship to accelerate their business ideas. 

Credit: Penn State

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — From staff and faculty book clubs to an entire Arts Project ONLINE Essence of Democracy series that gives a voice to those often unheard, Penn State Lehigh Valley is constantly finding new and innovative ways to promote diversity and inclusion within the walls and minds of its community. But a recent initiative — We Rise Together — takes it a step, or more accurately, an entire network farther by way of support resources for minority entrepreneurs within Pennsylvania communities.  

The initiative is offered in partnership with the Black & Brown Founders, a group that brings extensive startup experience and best practices in community building, and includes trusted advisers specializing in assistance for underrepresented groups. The We Rise Together program helps to make sure that inclusion is at the forefront of initiatives offered by LaunchBox, a hub that connects entrepreneurs to the resources need to build sustainable and scalable businesses. The program focuses on understanding the desires, capacity and challenges faced by diverse entrepreneurs, and how to best ensure their representation and meaningful inclusion in entrepreneurship. 

“Across the commonwealth, the University contributes $11.6 billion to our economy while supporting, directly and indirectly, more than 105,000 jobs,” said Penn State Lehigh Valley Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson, who is leading the overall strategy of the initiative for Invent Penn State. “And that’s not counting the business revenue and personal income generated by millions of visitors to sporting and cultural events, and other attractions annually. But we are perfectly positioned to do more across our state to connect promising, yet drastically underserved, communities to resources that will bolster their business ventures and our economic strength.” 

The Invent Penn State program continues to focus on new business startups, partnerships among researchers and entrepreneurs, student career success, and job creation at innovation hubs in 21 communities across the commonwealth. Initiatives presented by the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox have already made tremendous strides and include recent additions of bootcamps, mastermind programs, a ladies speaker series and Ambassadors Circle, and an annual teen entrepreneurship camp here in the Lehigh Valley. 

Despite the LaunchBox's many offerings, access to opportunity across racial and ethnic groups is disparate in the Lehigh Valley. From access to loans and reliance on personal capital to peer mentors and outreach, the We Rise founders understand there is a profound need to do more. 

The We Rise Together project consists of four virtual sessions presented by the Black & Brown Founders team with a focus on planning/strategy, education/training, and community building. Three of the four sessions have been held, with the fourth scheduled for April 2021. The final session will tie together the first three and challenge program leaders to think about how they will serve their local community/campus, identify outstanding needs, and start putting plans into action.