Happy Valley LaunchBox supports company serving underrepresented students
This article is part of a series celebrating the five-year anniversary of Invent Penn State’s LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network. Learn more here.
When Joel Sakyi first arrived at Penn State, he found himself far from home and in search of organizations and people to connect with. This yearning led him to join BLUEprint, a peer mentoring program focused on offering cultural, social, and academic support to students of color, specifically those who are first-year or change-of-campus students.
His experience with BLUEprint inspired him to found Vybrnt, a social networking platform which launched in October 2020.
“My experience within that organization led me to create Vybrnt because I wanted to see if there was a way to make this more scalable and have more students connect with the people and the resources that can help them through college and support them,” said Sakyi, who graduated Penn State in 2020 with a degree in information sciences and technology from the College of Information Sciences and Technology.
Vybrnt provides underrepresented students better access to the resources and opportunities that help them succeed during their time at college. In the centralized app, students can browse different student organizations and learn more about ones that match their interests. Users can also connect with the organizations’ leaders and learn how to join these organizations from the app. As its userbase grows, the app will be monetized through advertisements and sponsorship.
When Sakyi attended Penn State, he benefitted from its entrepreneurial ecosystem. In 2020, he participated in the Invent Penn State Summer Founders program, which provides startups with at least one Penn State student founder a $15,000 grant to work full-time on a startup, social good, or nonprofit idea over the summer. Summer Founders also features weekly meetings and 1-on-1 coaching sessions with entrepreneurs and industry experts. The program does not take equity in participating businesses or nonprofits.
“Summer Founders helped me learn that I needed to be more dynamic with how I’m building my business,” Sakyi said. “It was very informative because it taught me how different entrepreneurs have accomplished their own goals in their own ways. There’s a lot of different paths people take to get where they need to be.”
Summer Founders programing is provided by Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank, one of 21 innovation spaces in the Invent Penn State LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network. Located in the new Penn State Innovation Hub at 123 S. Burrowes Street, Happy Valley LaunchBox serves the State College and Penn State communities, offering no-cost resources that include coworking space, accelerators, and legal and intellectual property advice, among other services.
“Joel is driven by his passion for making a difference for underserved students here at Penn State,” said Lee Erickson, associate director of economic development and student programs. “This passion has been instrumental in his ability to juggle school while starting a new venture and now juggling the demands of a new career. It’s been amazing watching him grow his idea into the Vybrnt app. He’s also grown his leadership skills and his understanding of how to validate and test his idea. We’re excited to support the important work that he is doing.”
Prior to the Summer Founders program, Sakyi participated in Happy Valley LaunchBox’s Idea TestLab in fall 2019. Idea TestLab is a four-week program that helps evaluate the viability of business ideas through a proven method of customer discovery and problem analysis. Sakyi said Idea TestLab helped him communicate with customers effectively while determining if his business idea was financially viable.
“Happy Valley LaunchBox became another form of mentorship for me, which is something that has always been important and dear to my heart,” Sakyi said. “The people at Happy Valley LaunchBox will challenge you, so you can be the best entrepreneur you can be. They’ll help you grow into the leader you can become. I appreciate the love they gave me, my company, and my teammates. It felt like a second home to me.”
Currently, Vybrnt is working to improve its app design to help it become more useful for students and organizations. It is also discovering ways to connect alumni of colleges and universities to current students, which can provide an additional resource for users.
“I’m trying to find ways I can help students be more active socially and help student organizations to find times to meet, whether it’s a planned or unplanned event,” Sakyi said. “I think those in-person interactions can help students make better connections and discover resources they wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”
About Invent Penn State
Invent Penn State is a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success.
The Invent Penn State LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network is made up of 21 innovation spaces embedded in Penn State campus communities offering no-cost coworking space, makerspace, accelerator programs, pitch competitions, speaker series, access to experts and mentors, and legal and IP advice through Penn State Law clinics. Since its inception, the Invent Penn State LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network has supported 4,976 community entrepreneurs, created 302.5 jobs, and helped to launch 218 new Pennsylvania companies. Gifts to support the network, as well as select economic development initiatives across the commonwealth, are a priority of the University’s current fundraising campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence.”
To learn more about how to make a gift and secure a match before the campaign concludes on June 30, 2022, please contact Heather Winfield at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the campaign is available at greaterpennstate.psu.edu.
To find a location near you, visit invent.psu.edu/programs/pa-innovation-hubs.