Summer Founders Program helps 6 student startups grow
The Invent Penn State Summer Founders Program, a 13-week student startup accelerator, concluded with a Startup Showcase on Aug. 10, where each team presented their startup and answered questions from the audience comprised of members from the local entrepreneurial community.
The Summer Founders Program provided selected teams a $15,000 grant allowing them to work full time on their startup, social good or nonprofit idea over the summer. The teams were given 24×7 access to Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank in the Eric J. Barron Innovation Hub, mentorship from a network of more than 60 advisers and $3,000 for customer discovery through the Invent Penn State NSF I-Corps program.
“Happy Valley LaunchBox is proud to be a part of the growth that these startups experienced throughout the program,” said Elizabeth Hay, the Jack White Family Director of Happy Valley LaunchBox. “We are grateful to have helped teach valuable skills, such as identifying product market fit, branding and marketing, and creating a sustainable business model for a company, to the newest generation of entrepreneurs.”
The program returned to an in-person format after being virtual last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s cohort included students from across three Penn State campuses as well as from the Graduate School at Penn State. The teams participated in a wide range of activities in and around the State College area, including field trips to learn about local businesses, a scavenger hunt around campus and downtown to learn about available startup resources and State College history, and weekly dinners with program advisers, mentors, and business founders.
Additionally, teams showcased their startups at Happy Valley LaunchBox’s tent during this year’s Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, as well as at the 3 Dots Pugh Street Shutdown.
“I would absolutely encourage as many students as possible to get involved with the Summer Founders Program,” said Nathan Bonslaver, co-founder of CarToCamp. “It’s an opportunity unlike anything else to work through your ideas with the professional guidance of people who have done it before you.”
Grants were awarded to the following teams:
- AIMADETHIS — a startup which aims to utilize the power of artificial intelligence to inform current fashion trends in terms of color and pattern to create patterns that are then dyed in small-batch manufacturing and cut and sewn into high-quality garments. The startup founders are Nisarga Kadam, a fourth-year student studying social data analytics, and Yasmeen Collins, a graduate student studying computer science and machine learning at Columbia University.
- The Ballet Scout — a subscription database for dancers to find auditions, training programs, and jobs based on their budget, housing needs, location, style, and dates available. The startup founders are Robert Fulton, a Penn State World Campus student studying business, management, marketing, and related support services, Sasha Ahrestani, a 2021 computer science alumnus, and Eugene Ryoo, a 2022 cybersecurity analytics and operations alumnus.
- CarToCamp — a startup that creates universally fitting sleeping platforms for car camping, which are shipped to the customer’s door and can be assembled and installed with no tools required. The startup founders are Nathan Bonslaver, a 2022 Penn State Berks alumnus, Robert Miller, a 2019 Penn State Berks alumnus, and Kevin Gulick, a 2020 Penn State Berks alumnus. All three founders studied mechanical engineering.
- Clove and Sprig — a startup company creating hand-crafted, small batch, seasonal candles with wooden wicks that allow for a longer burn time, cleaner burn, and more powerful scent than other retail candles. The startup founder is Kelsey Lauer, a third-year student studying advertising.
- Hey! — a voice-only dating platform, which introduces simplified and innovative matchmaking processes using search criteria and interests to instantly find a nearby partner to talk to through a live 1-on-1 voice conversation. The startup founders are Kevin Lord Josue, a 2022 engineering management alumnus of the Graduate School at Penn State, and Vaillant Domingue III, an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut studying accounting.
- ImaniK Travels, LLC — a consultation-based service that educates, de-risks, plans, and executes guided international trips to make travel more accessible for young students of color. The startup founder is Imani Murray, a 2022 materials science engineering and Chinese language alumna.
Support the Summer Founders Program
Startup funding for the Summer Founders Program is made possible through the donations of successful alumni entrepreneurs interested in supporting new student ventures. If interested in giving to the Summer Founders Program, please contact the Penn State Development Director of Strategic Initiatives, Heather Winfield at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the program, visit invent.psu.edu/programs/summer-founders-program.