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Entrepreneurs tell their stories, offer advice during Start-up Week

Posted: March 29, 2013

Entrepreneurs tell their stories and offer advice to students.

Four successful entrepreneurs told their stories and shared tips and advice to students interested in starting businesses at a panel talk held Wednesday evening, March 19, during PSU’s Start-up Week.

CAS Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program Coordinator Mark Gagnon emceed the event, one of two in which the program participated during the week. Student business teams also made 60-second pitches of their business concepts during the AG-60 Elevator Pitch Event

The panel:

  • Rick Grazzini (’75 and ’93), the founder of Garden Genetics, a commercial plant breeder that also offers contract research services from its greenhouse facilities in Bellefonte, Pa. 
  • Bob Morgan (’89), co-founder and CEO of MorganFranklin, a business consulting and technology solutions company that serves clients with financial management, performance improvement and technology solutions.
  • Paul Silvis (’06), who founded Restek in 1985, and recently founded SilcoTek, which applies chemical vapor deposition to metal and glass, creating a surface similar to ultra-high temperature TeflonR.
  • Ethan Wendle, the founder and CEO of DiamondBack Automotive Accessories, Inc., which makes and markets a patented line of Utility Tonneau Covers for pickup trucks. Wendle started the company in 2003 while a College of Engineering student, took a break from his studies to launch and grow the company and is now back at Penn State, working toward a degree in civil engineering and a minor in engineering entrepreneurship.

Act upon your ideas by taking steps forward and don’t be afraid to fail, the panelists advised students.

Creating a business venture takes a lot of money, so run a lean household and business. Be resourceful and don’t saddle yourself with a lot of debt, they said.

Learn to “boot-strap,” or get by with the bare minimums and ask people for favors, the panel advised. Be tremendously resourceful and creative at stretching dollars.

And while in college, be sure to take courses to help develop a well-rounded skill set for running a business, the entrepreneurs advised. Take accounting, marketing and courses in entrepreneurship and leadership

Watch out for bad advice, said Silvas, and people who will try to discourage you. There will always be people who will find ways to tell you not to do it. And when you get bad advice, know that’s just a “brick wall” there to test your resolve and motivation, says Gagnon, Harbaugh Entrepreneurship Scholar.

The event was the first university-wide entrepreneurship panel.

About Rick Grazzini

Grazzini, who earned a Ph.D. in plant genetics from CAS, is a plant breeder who has created novel polyploids in more than 80 different plant species and helped Gary Grimes reinvent the H.G. German Seed Company in the late 1980s into what is now Grimes Seeds.

Grazzini spent the past 17 years of his career providing contract research services to the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, first as director of business development for Centre Analytical Laboratories, then as president of Exygen Research (created when he and a partner acquired Centre Analytical). 

Exygen Research was sold in 2006, enabling Grazzini to start GardenGenetics in 2007. Grazzini was honored as an Outstanding Alumnus in Penn State’s Eberly College of Science in 2003, as an Outstanding Alumnus in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences in 2009. 

Grazzini has also actively supported the CAS Entrepreneurship and Innovation program.

About Bob Morgan

Morgan’s primary focus is developing strategies to grow and improve MorganFranklin while ensuring that the MorganFranklin team is aligned with the vision of surpassing clients' expectations and achieving workplace excellence. 

Morgan's areas of expertise include strategy, organizational design, marketing and communication, and solutions development.

Morgan has served as a program manager at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, managing multimillion-dollar systems integration programs for the U.S. Navy, the White House Communications Agency, Special Operations Forces, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

His experience encompasses the implementation of fixed-site, mobile, and transportable secure communication and IT systems.

Morgan is a graduate of the College of Engineering at Penn State with a B.S. in electrical engineering, and a graduate of the Florida Institute of Technology with an MBA.

About Paul Silvis

Silvis founded Restek in 1985 to manufacture innovative, high-quality chromatography products. The company’s sales exceed $60 million and continue to outpace competitors by consistently maintaining double-digit growth and profits.  

In 2009, Silvis turned over the reins of Restek’s chromatography business to the employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) stock purchase. While Silvis remained on the board, his primary focus is on growing a new technology company, SilcoTek, which applies chemical vapor deposition to metal and glass, creating a surface similar to ultra-high temperature TeflonR.

Silvis earned a B.S. in chemistry/life science from the University of Pittsburgh in 1977 and graduated from the Penn State Smeal College of Business executive MBA program in June 2006. 

He has completed numerous entrepreneurial leadership courses such as Birthing of Giants, Masters of Business Dynamics, Inc. 500, and Entrepreneur of the Year education sessions. Silvis also serves on Penn State’s Board of Trustees, and has been the guest speaker for numerous leadership programs at Penn State and many local businesses.

About Ethan Wendle

Ethan Wendle is the founder and CEO of DiamondBack Automotive Accessories, Inc., which makes and markets a patented line of Utility Tonneau Covers for pickup trucks.

In 2003, Wendle took a break from his studies in Penn State’s College of Engineering to start the company and has spent more than a decade learning how to grow and sustain a company. Over that time, DiamondBack has grown from a two-car garage in Philipsburg, Pa., to a 26,000 square foot manufacturing facility that employs 36 people.

Wendle is back at Penn State as undergraduate student working toward a degree in civil engineering and a minor in engineering entrepreneurship.