Penn State Beaver and the Beaver Valley LaunchBox are expectantly on the cusp of an outgrowth of innovation in their community. Shortly after LaunchBox opened last year, Royal Dutch Shell began construction on a $6 billion ethylene cracker plant just a few miles from Penn State Beaver campus.
A boon to economic development, the Shell project is expected to bring 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs to the area, creating an influx of residents and concomitant needs for resources and infrastructure. Penn State Beaver and Beaver Valley LaunchBox are positioning themselves to prepare both students and community members to take advantage of the pending surge in innovation activity.
“With the summer 2016 announcement that Royal Dutch Shell would build a cracker plant in Beaver County, the need for an innovation hub with a LaunchBox business accelerator component was made clear,” said Chancellor Dr. Jenifer Cushman.
Despite not having its community space renovated, the LaunchBox team leveraged campus and community resources, created co-working space at the local Chamber of Commerce and began offering programs and services. In its first year, the Beaver Valley LaunchBox hosted two pitch competitions with 20 participants and prizes totaling $5,000, offered training programs and workshops, provided mentorships from local business and community leaders, and awarded merit-based microgrants, all at no cost to participants. The team offered professional advice on finance, technology, marketing and legal issues.
“Our first priority is to evangelize the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the local communities and on campus,” said Ashu Kumar, the LaunchBox’s coordinator and a Penn State instructor in information sciences and technology. Even if people aren’t ready to start businesses, they can get help developing their ideas. “We offer programs like Idea DesignLab, Lion’s Den competition and Local Entrepreneur Speaker Series to help students and community members who have an aspiration to start their own venture,” he said.
The Idea DesignLab is a 3-week program helping aspiring entrepreneurs develop new business ideas and identify the next steps of the start-up process. The February 2019 cohort had 14 participants. Some participants moved on to the Art Business Idea Competition happening during Penn State Startup Week, April 1-5, with a top prize of $5,000.
Different from Idea Design Lab, the Lion’s Den Competition is campus-focused and asks students to pitch their ideas for how to improve life and learning for Penn State Beaver students. Finalists are mentored by faculty members and their ideas are presented to the chancellor and campus leaders in a “Shark Tank” style competition. The 2018 Lion’s Den Competition saw pitches for a new student collaboration project room in the library, having umbrellas available in campus buildings, installing shades in the Bordhead Bistro, and equipping campus vehicles with E-ZPass.
In the early stages of Beaver Valley LaunchBox Kumar brought students on board to help establish and promote the programs. Sam Sharpless, a senior majoring business benefitted from real-world program development, marketing, and event planning experience.
“Through networking and social events, we’re able to connect to local resources,” said Sharpless. “We’re helping to develop programs that would be cool to try and, in the process, connecting with like-minded people.”
While the LaunchBox currently has office space in the Chamber of Commerce, most events have taken place on campus. Locations are currently being scouted for a larger county “innovation hub” and the LaunchBox will have its own space within that facility.
“We recognize we will experience unprecedented economic development that will reinvigorate this community,” said Kristen Doerschner, director of Campus Relations, Public Relations, Campus Leadership. “The LaunchBox can help maximize the opportunity by equipping entrepreneurs with the skills, education, ideas, and background they’ll need to be successful.”
This spring the LaunchBox has a 2-Day Launch Camp in conjunction with Seed Spot where entrepreneurs with an idea are provided with a safe space to explore and launch that idea. The program provides access to mentors, content experts, SEED SPOT’s curriculum, and a network of supporters. The camp would normally cost $1,000 per person, but thanks to sponsors, it costs $50 for students or $100 for non-students.
To learn more about the Beaver Valley LaunchBox visit https://beaver.psu.edu/academics/academic-affairs/invent or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Launch Camp, click here.