Rodney Ridley discusses CollegeTowne in downtown Reading

Partnership with Alvernia’s O’Pake Institute funds business incubator and student mentoring


Alvernia and Customers Bank expand their longstanding relationship to boost entrepreneurship and stimulate the redevelopment of downtown Reading through the Reading CollegeTowne initiative. The expanded partnership includes Customers Bank becoming a sponsor of the University’s O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship in addition to supporting experiential learning opportunities for Alvernia students through the institute’s newly established business incubator and student fellows program.


“Customers Bank’s support of our Reading CollegeTowne initiative of having AU students and community mentors working together to help develop new businesses is a natural extension of their ongoing support of Alvernia’s Franciscan mission to serve the underserved in the City of Reading through creating the economic engine to lift our community,” said Alvernia President John R. Loyack. “The growing list of O’Pake sponsors showcases our business community’s enthusiasm for providing experiential learning opportunities for local students and reviving engagement, energy and business development in Downtown Reading.”


Customers Bank has pledged to provide financial support and mentors for the O’Pake Institute. The Customers Bank mentors will work directly with students in the Institute’s business incubator as well as provide Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to early-stage entrepreneurs.


“We applaud Alvernia and the O’Pake Institute for taking much needed action. Pennsylvania lags most other states in new business formation,” said Richard A. Ehst, president and CEO of Customers Bank. “It is critical to the region’s economy that we support technology transfer and entrepreneurship injecting new vitality to the business ecosystem. Sponsorship of the incubator complements our role as a major contributor to the PA Small Business Development Centers state office at Kutztown University. Cooperation and partnership benefit us all.”


Customers Bank will continue its annual funding of the South Reading Youth Initiative, the longtime after-school enrichment program managed by the university’s Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement that pairs Alvernia faculty, staff and students with the Reading School District to provide educational enrichment and literacy services to more than 100 elementary students at Millmont and Tyson-Schoener elementary schools every day.


“Customers Bank’s continued support of Alvernia’s community engagement programs highlights their dedication to enriching the lives of Reading residents,” said Alvernia board of trustees Chairman Michael Fromm. “I’m encouraged by the business community’s increasing support for the revitalization of Downtown Reading through the CollegeTowne initiative.”


Customers Bank becomes the second sponsor of the O’Pake Institute after Pepsi recently agreed to expand its university partnership by providing financial support to Alvernia students working with entrepreneurs in the business incubator and providing mentoring in the areas of sales and food service.


Through a new student fellows program, O’Pake serves as the catalyst for educational and business expansion in center city. Alvernia recently announced partnerships with Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center, SCORE Berks Schuylkill Chapter and Lehigh Valley Angel Investors. These partnerships will aid the establishment of an Alvernia University Technology Transfer Office and Office of Industry and Community Outreach as O’Pake Institute offerings as well as the development of a financial services operation that will bring capital and knowledge to early-stage entrepreneurs in a unique delivery that includes new academic offerings for Alvernia students, as well as financing, investment and mentoring for rising entrepreneurs.


“The collaboration of corporate sponsorship and entrepreneurial support provide the perfect spark for economic revitalization,” said Vice President, Associate Provost and Chief Operating Officer of the O’Pake Institute, Dr. Rodney Ridley. “We are thrilled that the O’Pake network continues to grow for the betterment of our students and the Reading and Greater Berks County business community.”


In December, Alvernia unveiled Reading CollegeTowne, a strategic model for economic development in downtown. Alvernia assumed ownership of its newly acquired building at 401 Penn Street on June 30. The downtown location also is where the new O’Pake offerings will operate.

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