In June 2017, the Altoona LaunchBox supported by the Hite family opened in downtown Altoona to provide startup companies with the support and resources needed to build sustainable businesses and viable paths to growth. A no-cost startup accelerator and coworking space, the Altoona LaunchBox offers a business accelerator course, product development services, a maker space, pitch competitions and much more. Since opening just over a year ago it has already supported 75 entrepreneurial teams.
The community quickly took notice of the valuable resources and activity at Altoona LaunchBox and in June of this year, local Altoona business leader Lee Hite and his family gifted the LaunchBox $1 million, which was matched by Penn State and will ensure the LaunchBox can operate in perpetuity. The Altoona LaunchBox was renamed the Altoona LaunchBox supported by the Hite family to commemorate the gift.
We sat down with Altoona LaunchBox Director Donna Bon for a question and answer session about what the Altoona LaunchBox has done so far and what she hopes it can do moving forward. (With Penn State for 14 years, Bon also currently serves as the Executive Director of the Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence and the Director of the Sheetz Fellows Program.)
1) What’s your role, and what prepared you for it?
I wear many hats at Penn State Altoona. I’m the Executive Director of the Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, the Director of the Sheetz Fellows Program, and Director of the Altoona LaunchBox supported by the Hite Family.
I was in industry for 15 years before I came to Penn State Altoona. I have held a variety positions in my 15 years – assistant manager, general manager, district manager, recruitment and training manager. I also own a small business. These positions prepared me for my role within Invent Penn State.
2) How long have you been with Penn State?
3) What makes the facilities at the Altoona LaunchBox unique from other campuses?
We’re in the heart of downtown. In fact, we’re located in an old department store, Gable’s, that was an icon for the Altoona area.
We also have access to a maker space on the second floor of the same building. We buy memberships in this maker space to help bootcamp participants with prototype development.
Another unique offering we have is our business triage team. Made up of Penn State Altoona faculty, community members, and business leaders, the team meets with aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs that need support, guidance, or connections and we help them advance. We’ve met with over 75 teams/individuals since we opened.
We have also partnered with SCORE as mentors. SCORE is no longer just retired executives but business leaders who want to share their expertise with those individuals who have a passion for launching a business or organization. it makes sense that SCORE and Altoona LaunchBox are partners.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention we have a great team at Penn State Altoona that is dedicated to achieving our goals. We also are very grateful for the support we have from our Chancellor and Dean, Dr. Lori Bechtel-Wherry.
4) How has the Altoona LaunchBox been received by the community?
We have had amazing support from our community. Support has come in the form of: mentorship; in-kind services from attorneys and accountants; connections to speakers; social media support; etc.
One of our biggest supporters was the Hite Family. Through the gift given to the Altoona LaunchBox by the Hite Family we will be able to continue being a resource in our community.
The key is to develop partnerships within your community. We here at Penn State Altoona could not offer all the programs and initiatives without the support of our partners; Altoona Blair County Development Corporation (ABCD); Blair County Chamber of Commerce; Ben Franklin Technology Partners; Steve Sheetz
We all want to see our city grow and prosper.
5) What are the top qualities you look for in an entrepreneur or someone wanting support from the Altoona LaunchBox?
Passion, determination, creative, competitive, strong people skills, self-starter, risk taker
6) Are there any examples of promising or interesting startups that have worked with the Altoona LaunchBox?
SiteRite Firearm Training Aid; UnisBrands; tzerolabs; railtechs
7) You’ve been driving the Altoona LaunchBox forward. What’s your favorite aspect of the job?
I enjoy meeting with entrepreneurs in our community. I get so excited to see the ideas people have and how they are achieving their dreams. I also enjoy working with our community members and leaders. We have many passionate people here in Altoona that want to help others be successful.
8) How does the Altoona LaunchBox support the mission of Invent Penn State?
Our mission at the Altoona LaunchBox is to provide the general public, students, faculty, successful area entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders with off-campus, co-working space, integrated with an entrepreneurial training program, to accelerate the transformation of innovative ideas into sustainable businesses.
We want to make a difference in our community. We want to see the city of Altoona thrive again. We are already seeing some of that happening with the new businesses starting up in our downtown; coffee shop; bakery; microbrewery, pizza shop, and boutique. It will be amazing to see the entrepreneurs we help become successful as a result of the resources provided by Invent Penn State and LaunchBox.
9) What are your hobbies away from Penn State?
I enjoy gardening and selling ice cream.
10) Any unique facts about yourself or a claim to fame?
11) Favorite dessert?
12) Any Pets?