By David Rockower
Springboard, which opened in 2017 as an incubator and coworking space, is moving to The Lofts in downtown Bellefonte. Photo: Ellen Matis.
With its local breweries, boutiques and cafes, the vibe in downtown Bellefonte is one of revitalization and change. Just a short drive from State College, Bellefonte continues to develop its own personality and, since 2017, SpringBoard has offered area entrepreneurs and small business owners a space to generate ideas, collaborate and practice their crafts. It’s clear that SpringBoard has been instrumental in helping Bellefonte thrive; in fact, SpringBoard has attracted so many entrepreneurs, its outgrown its space.
Ellen Matis, board president of Downtown Bellefonte Inc, said, “SpringBoard … is an initiative powered by Downtown Bellefonte Inc., a Main Street organization which aims to revitalize the downtown — in part by providing small business support and attracting and retaining businesses.”
“As a result of the initiative, more businesses have opened in downtown Bellefonte, more visitors are frequenting the community and more resources are available to existing and aspiring entrepreneurs."
When SpringBoard opened in 2017, early-stage business owners and entrepreneurs could rent desk space at a low cost and then eventually move to bigger spaces as needed. But, over time, that model changed.
“Entrepreneurs most attracted to the rentable desk space model were service-based businesses or remote workers — those that never would necessarily need their own brick and mortar location. As a result, SpringBoard moved into a more coworking-centric model in 2020 and into a second-floor space on Allegheny Street,” explained Matis.
Matis shared that SpringBoard has a wide variety of members and drop-in users. “There are long-term members that own service-based businesses. There are drop-in remote workers that work for corporate companies that just need to get out of the house sometimes. The space is often rented by photographers and videographers by the hour for content creation. Downtown brick and mortar business owners congregate at SpringBoard to discuss ideas or plans. The list goes on.”
The space can also be rented out for longer, multi-day projects. “One of the neatest ways I've seen SpringBoard be used over the years is by photographers and artists. There are photographers that have totally cleared out the space to turn it into a studio for a weekend, and an artist that rented the space out for a quiet place to paint for a weekend,” said Matis.
Collaboration is another important part of Springboard’s mission. “Entrepreneurship can be extremely lonely — I say this as a business owner myself! Having a place to connect with other startups to share ideas, brainstorm and more is an incredible opportunity. As a result, new and exciting business ideas are formed,” explained Matis.
Every year, SpringBoard also offers a grant opportunity that helps a new business owner develop and launch a marketing plan.
“SpringBoard … is an initiative powered by Downtown Bellefonte Inc., a Main Street organization which aims to revitalize the downtown — in part by providing small business support and attracting and retaining businesses."
“As part of their grant, they recieve a SpringBoard membership, are able to receive coaching from local professionals and get access to the other resources that SpringBoard offers,” said Matis.
This grant has helped several businesses expand.
“Hoop Stars, a basketball program designed to teach children the fundamentals of the game, was able to expand exponentially because of the grant opportunity. Last year's recipients, GWG Books and Spring Creek Picnics, are both well-known business names in the Bellefonte area now,” explained Matis.
Kat Hoffman, owner of GWG books shared just how important the grant was in helping to grow her business. “I learned how to design rack cards to advertise and how to leverage social media. The grant allowed me access to a group of local businesspeople who really believe in the strength of other small businesses. It showed me how important knowing your community is and how amazing it can be to be part of a group of local people who are passionate about what they do.”
From entrepreneurs, to artists, to event rentals, Springboard is used by a wide variety of workers. Photo: Ellen Matis.
Matis mentioned that Jennilyn Schuster, main street manager for Downtown Bellefonte Inc. and Devin Kos, the organization's marketing and administrative assistant, have done an excellent job expanding the organization's programming and small business resources.
“The ‘How to Start a Business in Bellefonte’ workshop series has been a really big hit, as have panel discussions with different leaders on important topics pertaining to business ownership in our community. As a result, there's often a full house on certain days at the Allegheny Street location, which can make working a bit more difficult for full-time coworking members,” shared Matis.
So, for 2023, SpringBoard will move to The Lofts, a prominent building in downtown Bellefonte.
“The new location will afford SpringBoard users more than double the square footage — which allows for a main coworking space and programming area, two rentable conference rooms or private workspaces and a private phone or video-conferencing room,” said Matis.
Matis is excited about the new location and believes it will continue to inspire Bellefonte’s entrepreneurial spirit. She said, “Coworkers will have views overlooking Spring Creek and Talleyrand Park, the Gamble Mill and the beautiful scenery that makes our downtown unique. Its central location makes it easy to grab a coffee at one of many downtown options, grab a bite at every downtown restaurant or go for a walk on a much-needed break in the park.”
“The new location will afford SpringBoard users more than double the square footage — which allows for a main coworking space and programming area, two rentable conference rooms or private workspaces and a private phone or video-conferencing room."
The new SpringBoard space will be powered by Arize Federal Credit Union. Arize’s marketing manager, Chista Hosterman, is excited to support this new endeavor.
“Arize Federal Credit Union has been invested in the Centre and Huntingdon County communities for many years, and we are taking that commitment a step further by partnering with Bellefonte Springboard on their new space. Springboard is truly a community-driven initiative, and we are proud to provide an investment to ensure local entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed,” said Hosterman.
If all goes as planned, the new location will open in early February. Though its space is changing, SpringBoard’s mission will not. “As a result of the initiative, more businesses have opened in downtown Bellefonte, more visitors are frequenting the community and more resources are available to existing and aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Matis.
Not only will SpringBoard continue to offer a comfortable and innovative workspace, it will also fill a much needed void in the community.
“One of the most exciting aspects of this new space will be the way it can be utilized for private event rentals by the general public — filling what is a huge gap in our community right now. While we have amazing boutique venues like bed and breakfasts, and rentable small, intimate spaces within the downtown, there is no option currently for standard events like bridal and baby showers, birthday parties and other [events], especially in poor weather. The new space has been designed with this in mind, and SpringBoard will be able to transform easily to accommodate them. Renters will be able to utilize the entire Downtown Bellefonte Inc. membership roster to host the perfect event, and be able to be connected with caterers, bar service options, musicians and more.”
Upcoming and ongoing programming at SpringBoard includes: