FirstEnergy Foundation Provides Grant Funding for Small Business Projects

JP Tambourine, manager of economic development and Pat Kelly, director, economic development at FirstEnergy, stand with student project team at the Learning Factory Showcase.

The Need

One of the many challenges facing startup, small and mid-sized businesses is finding low cost ways to implement engineering design projects. For many businesses, they lack the time to dedicate to new projects, the expertise in unique technical areas, and the funds needed to develop these projects.  

The Penn State College of Engineering’s Learning Factory provides an opportunity for businesses to sponsor a team of senior undergraduate engineering students to work on an engineering design project over the course of an entire semester. The Learning Factory supports over 200 engineering design projects each year to help sponsors advance technical design challenges toward viable solutions. This program provides an excellent low-risk opportunity for startup, small and midsize businesses to engage with Penn State resources, students, and faculty. 

The PennTAP Connection

PennTAP has a long history of working with startup, small and mid-size businesses throughout the Commonwealth. Since 1965, PennTAP has supported businesses through direct technical assistance and building connections to the considerable resources of Penn State. As part of this mission, PennTAP partners with the Learning Factory to attract business sponsors and scope design projects that will challenge students. 

During the Fall 2017 semester, FirstEnergy Corporation worked with PennTAP to sponsor two Learning Factory projects. That positive experience inspired the FirstEnergy Foundation to support economic development and innovation in their service areas by providing PennTAP grant funds to cover 50% of the Learning Factory project sponsorship costs for businesses with financial need.  

The Foundation made a three-year commitment to fund Learning Factory projects in 2018, with $100,000 earmarked for University Park for the initiative. 

Outcomes and Benefits

Since the inception of the FirstEnergy Foundation grant program in the fall of 2018, 34 businesses have utilized the FirstEnergy Foundation grant funds to help sponsor a Learning Factory project. These businesses have reported economic benefits in excess of $899,000, seven jobs created, and five jobs retained. The benefits realized so far demonstrate the significant economic development impact both the grant and Learning Factory are having on small businesses throughout the Commonwealth. 

The FirstEnergy Foundation is funded solely by FirstEnergy Corp. and provides support to non-profit, tax-exempt health and human services agencies; educational organizations; cultural and arts programs and institutions; and civic groups in areas served by FirstEnergy’s 10 electric operating companies and in areas where the company conducts business. 

FirstEnergy is dedicated to safety, reliability and operational excellence.  Its 10 electric distribution companies form one of the nation’s largest investor-owned electric systems, serving customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and New York. The company’s transmission subsidiaries operate more than 24,500 miles of transmission lines that connect the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. Visit FirstEnergy online at and follow FirstEnergy on Twitter @FirstEnergyCorp.

The project helped Impulse Technology explore manufacturing techniques for further development of our prosthetic product. [FirstEnergy’s grant] and the Learning Factory’s equipment availability made this possible.

Dr. Kamrun Nahar, Co-owner, Impulse Technology (a grant beneficiary)

About the Company

FirstEnergy Corporation 
6670 Beta Drive 
Mayfield Village, OH 44143 

Economic benefits metrics updated on 10/12/2020.