Invent Penn State’s LaunchBox and Innovation Hub Network Demonstrate Economic Development Impact
According to its most recent survey of activity and outcomes, Invent Penn State’s LaunchBox and Innovation Hub Network is having a significant impact on entrepreneurial communities across Pennsylvania. The 21-hub network provides Penn State communities 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.
The innovation hub program began modestly in 2015 when Invent Penn State funded five Penn State campuses $50,000 per year for three years to create entrepreneurial hubs in their communities. Over the next three years, the program expanded to 21 campuses. Today, 96% of Pennsylvanians have a LaunchBox or Innovation Hub within 30 miles of where they live or work.
Since the first hub opened in 2016, the network has:
- engaged 10,750 faculty and students through its programs
- supported 3,325 community entrepreneurs
- graduated 345 startup teams from its accelerators
- created 247 new product development projects
- helped to launch 164 new Pennsylvania companies
- created 433 student internships
- garnered $ 11,857,828 in external matched/leveraged funds
Programs like the FastTrack Accelerator, Idea TestLab, and Idea DesignLab have graduated tech startups with innovations that range from protecting the environment to improving access to healthcare—all while enhancing student career success and growing the Pennsylvania economy.
An example of the importance of the LaunchBox and innovation hub offerings is phosphorous renewal startup, Phospholutions, founded in 2016 by Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences alumnus Hunter Swisher. Then an undergrad, Swisher went through a Happy Valley LaunchBox accelerator program to develop a soil-amendment product called RhizoSorb. RhizoSorb is a patented technology developed to naturally improve nutrient retention, increase plant uptake, and ultimately reduce leaching and waste. In 2019, State College-based Phospholutions raised $1.5 million through an investment round co-led by 1855 Capital and Maumee Ventures.
“The Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic has helped us with everything from setting up the LLC to issuing unit agreements between stakeholders, all of our distribution agreements,” said Swisher. The IP Clinic helped us file a provisional patent application, setup our license agreement, trademarked our name — I mean literally everything. These Invent Penn State programs give us the unfair advantage we need,” he quipped.
Another notable LaunchBox alumni is Joe Kitonga, founder and CEO of Vitable Health. Vitable provides affordable acute healthcare coverage for people who are underinsured or uninsured. The idea was born out of Kitonga’s personal experience watching employees of his parents’ in-home healthcare agency struggle to receive basic coverage. As a Penn State undergrad, Kitonga went through Launchbox with an event app called “What’s Poppin” before pivoting to develop Vitable Health. Based in Philadelphia, Vitable Health recently raised $1.6 million in an investment round led by Softbank Group Corp Opportunity Fund.
Though Vitable Health wasn’t the idea Kitonga took into the LaunchBox program, he says, “The community of entrepreneurs and startups at Happy Valley LaunchBox drove me to succeed.”
Despite the demand for startup support, in March, the LaunchBox and Innovation Hub Network was forced to close facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the network swiftly pivoted to deliver needed programming and services online. For an overview of resources being offered by the 21 hubs across the commonwealth, click here.
“The LaunchBox and Innovation Hub Network have impacted their communities beyond what we could have reasonably expected,” said Delattre. “The program feels especially prescient given the challenges everyone is facing during the pandemic. Their ability to pivot and provide entrepreneurial training virtually, when more people than ever are depending on it, will be a game changer in some communities.”