Happy Valley LaunchBox offers no-cost resources to entrepreneurs

Written by Staff Writer

June 22, 2021

Almost two years ago, Krista Schneider had an idea for a new business: up-cycling spent grain from the beer brewing process into pre-seeded, biodegradable “garden squares” ready for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. To test the viability of her business model, she took advantage of programs offered by the Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank. Taking part in the 15-week FastTrack Accelerator program connected Schneider with a free Intellectual Property Law Clinic offered in partnership with Penn State, as well as a unique internship program for engineering students.

“I learned the amount of work needed to launch a successful startup,” said Schneider, who went on to win first place in a business competition hosted by tecBridge, an organization that supports entrepreneurship and innovation in northeastern Pennsylvania. “[The FastTrack Accelerator] program taught me to do it thoughtfully and efficiently, instead of throwing something together without much of a plan.”

“The purpose of the grants was to jumpstart entrepreneurial activities in Penn State campus communities by building upon partnerships with local industry and community organizations to meet the needs of their unique business startup ecosystems. Penn State’s campus system offered an enormous advantage to partner with communities to spread entrepreneurship in a deliberate way by providing accessible business resources.”

Happy Valley LaunchBox is a signature program of Invent Penn State, a statewide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. Founded in 2016, the Happy Valley LaunchBox is part of the LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network, a vibrant grassroots network of 21 community-based innovation hubs throughout the Commonwealth.

“The LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network was born out of $50,000 seed grants for three consecutive years to launch or enhance entrepreneurial centers,” said Ashley Palmer, interim director of marketing and communications for Invent Penn State. “The purpose of the grants was to jumpstart entrepreneurial activities in Penn State campus communities by building upon partnerships with local industry and community organizations to meet the needs of their unique business startup ecosystems. Penn State’s campus system offered an enormous advantage to partner with communities to spread entrepreneurship in a deliberate way by providing accessible business resources.”

In 2018, a $1 million grant from PNC Bank helped to support Happy Valley LaunchBox’s mission of providing early-stage startups with the support and resources needed to build a sustainable and scalable business and a viable plan for growth.

“We saw a gap when it came to supporting those with untested ideas that often have unknown or untested business models, or are testing the waters with new solutions to problems.”

“PNC Bank is engaging with the Invent Penn State initiative to drive economic development in Happy Valley,” Jim Hoehn, PNC regional president of Central Pennsylvania, said at the time. “We look forward to seeing the impact our relationship will have in the future.”

Lee Erickson, a former instructor in the entrepreneurship program at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, joined the LaunchBox team full-time in August 2016. Her role involves de-risking and accelerating early-stage scalable startups—those with unknown business models and unproven ideas. Erickson and the LaunchBox staff help these startups through accelerator programs that focus on key startup milestones; mentorship and access to a network of expert advisors; and a variety of perks that include access to free tools and support.

“When we envisioned the LaunchBox’s role in the community, we were purposeful to not provide services that already existed,” Erickson said. “The … area already has lots of amazing resources that support small-to-large traditional and Main Street businesses. We saw a gap when it came to supporting those with untested ideas that often have unknown or untested business models, or are testing the waters with new solutions to problems.”

“Helping to change people’s lives is our greatest success story.”

Jason Huber joined Happy Valley LaunchBox at its opening in March 2016, bringing relevant experience from growing up in an entrepreneurial family and having run his own successful business. Huber manages the facilities and events, and builds a network of resources that startups can leverage.

“Helping to change people’s lives is our greatest success story,” Huber said. “A key part of what we do, in addition to helping people launch businesses, is building entrepreneurs. It’s exciting that we can connect them with so many experts and really smart people who can advance their ideas.”

For many early-stage entrepreneurs who seek assistance from LaunchBox, their original idea is not the one with which they ultimately have success in the marketplace. One example is Moichor, a technology-powered animal diagnostics lab that develops deep-learning models to more accurately provide a complete blood count for exotic avian species. Co-founder Shevy Karbasiafshar’s initial idea was to develop a similar solution for human patients, inspired by the experiences of chemotherapy patients like his grandfather who are unable to travel to outpatient lab centers for blood work. Learning about the subjectivity and high costs associated with blood diagnostics in exotics medicine propelled his business vision in a different direction.

Vital Stats:

111 startups graduated

$2.25M+ in funding/awards

22 new jobs created

“LaunchBox was instrumental in taking my idea and creating a well-rounded startup,” Karbasiafshar said. “They offered co-working space for my team, a vast network of mentors, and, most of all, an infectious atmosphere that motivated me to work harder.”

While funded by Penn State, the centralized services and programs offered by LaunchBox are available to all startups at no cost. These include:

  • The Idea TestLab — a four-week program that helps you take your idea from concept to business by identifying the problem you want to solve, who your potential customers are and what you can offer them that others can’t.
  • The FastTrack Accelerator — a 15-week program that teaches participants to avoid common startup mistakes, build an actionable plan to launch their business, test the market quickly and devise solutions based on customer feedback.
  • Co-working — Scheduled to reopen Aug. 16, 2021, co-working spaces and services include hot-desking and conference rooms with video and teleconferencing capabilities.
  • Advising — On-site professional advice, business clinics and expert speakers help you hit the ground running and avoid common mistakes that many startups face.

For more information, visit: https://launchbox.psu.edu.

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