When a supervisor asked me (Chris Sherbine) to have a chat in his office, I didn’t expect the conversation to be about a Shark Tank-like television show. Although, having worked at NPC for over a decade, I really should have been prepared to expect the unexpected.
As a sponsor of the WPSU television program The Investment, NPC was invited to send representatives to attend the live TV taping at WPSU’s studios in Innovation Park, State College, on April 7, 2018. In exchange for clearing my calendar on a Saturday afternoon in April, and perhaps writing a small article for the company website, I would have the opportunity to see the production of a television show. It seemed like more than a fair trade, even before the mention of a free lunch, so I accepted.
In addition to NPC marketing manager Jamie Eichenlaub and myself, Brandon Horton and Nick Stahl were also given an opportunity to represent NPC at the taping. Brandon and I have worked together in NPC’s document processing department for several years, and are both members of the company’s content creation team. Nick is an IUP communications major who plans to spend his summer as an intern in NPC’s marketing department. He also has direct experience with studio production, and I looked forward to hearing his perspectives on the WPSU equipment.
WPSU’s staff and facilities make genuinely great first impressions. Their personnel were quick to express appreciation for NPC’s ongoing patronage — NPC has sponsored The Investment each year since its inaugural season in 2016 — and appeared eager to answer any questions we had about their work. WPSU also took us on a tour of their impressive studios, which we gladly accepted. WPSU’s interior has a clean, modern aesthetic and the facility also proves quite versatile; I was surprised to learn that they tape part of The Investment in their lobby.
NPC is a long-time supporter of WPSU Penn State, which provides original, local and commercial-free programming for public radio and television. NPC has donated the printing services of WPSU’s monthly Program Guide for more than 20 years.
After we found our seats, a member of the WPSU staff provided a brief explanation of the show’s premise and mechanics. The Investment features teams of student entrepreneurs competing for a share of a $30,000 prize. Each of the six teams in this episode is introduced via a prerecorded video. The videos provide quick narratives about the genesis of their ideas and companies. The students themselves then walk out on stage and deliver a presentation highlighting the value of their ideas. A panel of judges, comprised of successful entrepreneurs, listens to each team’s presentation, poses questions, and ultimately decides which teams present the strongest ideas. In grand reality-show style, the winning team or teams are then presented with giant checks, which they can use to kickstart the growth of their companies.
With the preliminaries out of the way, the first contestant walked to his mark on stage and began his presentation. In a fun reminder that we were not watching a finished product, after he completed the opening portion of his presentation the contestant was asked to exit the stage. Apparently, he started speaking before one of the cameras was in position, so a few minutes later he walked back to his mark and restarted his presentation as if nothing had happened.
In the first few moments of the production, I found my eyes following the behind-the-scenes action more than anything else. There was a camera on a massive extended arm designed to provide elevated, sweeping camera angles. There were several technicians communicating to each other through earpieces as they moved around the periphery of the studio. There were even people coming in through the main doors of the lobby that had to be quickly and quietly diverted.
“It was a great experience to see the different types of film gear, lighting techniques, and cameras that were used during the taping,” said NPC’s Nick Stahl.
NPC got its start in the newspaper business in 1954 in a small building on East Main Street in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania. Another collaboration between WPSU and NPC was the 2017 production of Our Town: The Cove. NPC sponsored and contributed to this production.
While the novelty of watching a television show as it was being made never quite wore off, I was surprised by how quickly my attention shifted almost entirely to the student entrepreneurs themselves. I was thoroughly impressed by how articulate and poised they appeared when delivering their presentations, and when answering the judges’ sometimes pointed questions.
The students also served as remarkable representatives for their school. All six teams attended Penn State campuses. Certainly, one of the central themes of the show is the development of entrepreneurial activity in our state and the growth of local economies.
These student entrepreneurs offer intriguing solutions in the fields of PC customization, made-to-order footwear, recycling, student loan debt, rodeo sports, and personalized health care. One potential spoiler: be on the lookout for a 3D-printed bow tie. While not the focus of a presentation, I know that I want one. I encourage everyone to see the show for themselves.
“It was nice to see NPC sponsoring an event that helped college students achieve their dreams and ambitions,” NPC’s Brandon Horton said.
Student entrepreneurs from Penn State University campuses present creative and innovative business ideas to a panel of judges in a Shark Tank-style TV show environment with hopes of winning cash prizes to help jump-start their ventures. The initial air date for The Investment 2018 was May 24, 2018.
When production concluded, I understood why NPC would choose to sponsor a program like this. Beneath the fun trappings of a reality television show — complete with giant checks — there is a substantive core that aligns closely with NPC’s values. This show is designed to accelerate the development of companies founded on the ideas and passions of self-reliant individuals. NPC was born out of a similar entrepreneurial spirit. And clearly, NPC shares a similar concern for local economic development.
Ultimately, what makes this show fascinating is also one of the reasons why NPC chooses to sponsor it. Both NPC and The Investment recognize the value of innovative ideas.
In my experience, NPC has always demonstrated a willingness to seek out, refine, and implement employee ideas. In the last 10 years, I’ve seen my department largely transformed by employee ideas that other organizations might have reflexively dismissed as either impractical or unusable. Many of our department’s processes are now built on those ideas. As a result, the customized software tools we now employ are far more sophisticated and precise. Just as importantly, there are more safeguards in place to ensure that the quality of our work exceeds customer expectations. Obviously, these ongoing innovations don’t happen without a concerted effort from every level of the organization: ownership, leadership, supervisors, and an engaged workforce.
While watching the show, it occurred to me that if these young entrepreneurs had not already started their own companies, they would certainly make excellent NPC employees. I suspect they would appreciate a culture and infrastructure that supports, develops, and values employees with an aptitude for innovative solutions.
I hope that the companies they build (or work for) will prove as supportive and solutions-focused as NPC.
Written by employee Chris Sherbine, who works in NPC’s document processing department and is also a member of the company’s content creation team.