UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Since its launch five years ago, Penn State Law’s Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic (EAC) has been helping startup and early-stage businesses get off the ground. In 2021 alone, it advised almost 1,000 new clients and facilitated the formation of nearly 500 new businesses in Pennsylvania. Based in downtown State College at the Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank, the clinic has expanded beyond its initial focus on entrepreneurs in Centre County to now serve small businesses all over Pennsylvania, irrespective of any connection to the University, as part of its land-grant mission.
Now, Tom Sharbaugh, professor of practice at Penn State Law and founding director of the EAC, along with his wife, Kristin R. Hayes, have stepped forward with a gift of $100,000 to support EAC student internships. The University will contribute a one-to-one match of the gift through the Economic Development Matching Program, yielding a $200,000 endowment that will provide annual internship funding in perpetuity.
In recognition of the outgoing University president’s leadership in prioritizing growth of the Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank, the student interns will be known as “Eric J. Barron Entrepreneurship Interns.”
“Tom’s success in pioneering the EAC has been a powerful endorsement of the Invent Penn State initiative, and I am deeply honored by the commitment that he and Kristin have made to deepen their support through this gift,” said President Eric J. Barron. “Both the law students who engage with the clinic and the entrepreneurs who benefit from their guidance will carry forward the vision that Tom, Kristin and I share and our belief that Penn State and Penn Staters can drive economic growth in our communities.”
Sharbaugh, a 1973 alumnus of the Smeal College of Business and former firm-wide managing partner of operations at the global law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, designed the clinic to attract clients through referrals from Penn State’s 21-location LaunchBox and Innovation Hub Network and from economic development organizations throughout Pennsylvania. These include the 16 Small Business Development Centers and Ben Franklin Technology Partners for Central and Northern PA. The EAC underwent an expansion of services in response to pandemic-driven disruptions, and after a period of sustained growth, three full-time lawyers now supervise a team of 20 law students. In late 2021, the EAC launched the Underserved Small Business Legal Services Program in order to focus on diverse entrepreneurs in Pennsylvania.
“Tom’s leadership in recognizing the need to support early-stage startups has made a difference for so many first-time business founders by helping them to avoid mistakes that create significant risks moving forward,” said Lee Erickson, associate director of economic development and student programs in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization. “By coupling his leadership in standing up the legal clinic with philanthropic generosity, Tom continues to make a lasting impact in helping to de-risk early-stage businesses across the commonwealth, as well as providing law students with invaluable, real-world legal experience. That’s a remarkable accelerant of educational and economic growth.”
Sharbaugh’s gift will augment resources and solidify the team of participants who provide the backbone of clinic operations. Interns assist early-stage, scalable startups by providing no-cost services, support and resources designed to help entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls and empower them to make more informed business decisions. Once established, these businesses then typically make the transition to becoming clients of lawyers in their communities.
Law students will become eligible for consideration for internship funding after completing at least their first year at Penn State Law and by demonstrating an interest in pursuing a career in business law in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States upon graduation.
“I see this as a win-win scenario from every angle,” said Sharbaugh. “EAC Internships will embed students with real-life clients in real-life situations as they navigate the daunting, high-stakes challenges associated with launching a business. Students benefit from analyzing scenarios and advising clients outside the classroom, and our neighbors throughout Pennsylvania benefit through our fostering of entrepreneurial activity. Since the moment he took office, President Barron championed the EAC’s unique mission, so Kristin and I felt this would be a meaningful way to commemorate his extraordinary vision in supporting this clinic.”
The couple’s gift to support interns through the Happy Valley LaunchBox deepens their already substantial philanthropic legacy at Penn State. Sharbaugh and Hayes have previously spearheaded the Schreyer Honors College Gateway Scholars Program Scholarship and created the Anna M. Griswold Open Doors Scholarship in the College of Agricultural Sciences. They also have used social media to galvanize crowdsourced support of the Microfinance Match Loan Fund at Penn State, and they later established the Bill Jaffe Leadership Initiative in recognition of their late friend and fellow philanthropist, whose generosity supported the new Palmer Museum of Art and other University priorities.
Sharbaugh serves in volunteer roles for several educational and nonprofit institutions. At Penn State, he chairs the Annual Giving Advisory Council and the President’s Club and serves as a member of the Campaign Executive Committee for the “Greater Penn State” campaign. He also is a member of the board of trustees of the Penn Medicine Health System in Philadelphia, the chair of the board of managers of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, and a member of the board of directors of the Mount Nittany Conservancy.
Hayes, who spent nearly 20 years as an assistant United States attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania trying cases related to fraud, corruption, tax, narcotics and firearms, now serves as an adjunct professor of law at Penn State, teaching Evidence.
Their gift to the Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.