Fayette LaunchBox welcomes inaugural student cohort

Inaugural Fayette LaunchBox Cohort

Rachel Kaplan, Fayette LaunchBox co-director; Maria Schultheis; Matt Verlinich, manufacturing program associate at Innovation Works; and Megan Czekaj at the first virtual workshop, “Launching a Business from Idea to Implementation,” on May 26. 

Credit: Penn State Fayette

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Five students of Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus will receive mentorship, microgrants and access to Fayette LaunchBox to develop their promising entrepreneurial ideas.

Fayette LaunchBox is a no-cost business accelerator designed to help regional entrepreneurs and University affiliates develop their ideas into commercially viable products and services. The facility is a joint venture between Penn State and the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, under the Invent Penn State program, which encompasses 20 similar accommodations across the commonwealth.

“This inaugural Fayette LaunchBox cohort is the result of a tremendous collaboration between Penn State Fayette and Fay-Penn to generate more technology-based start-up businesses in the region. These young entrepreneurs will grow and diversify our local economy in ways like we’ve never seen before,” said Bob Shark, Fay-Penn’s executive director.

The cohort includes Dustin Butler, Megan Czekaj, David Earnest, Andrew McGibbon and Maria Schultheis, selected for undergraduate research and independent projects — presented at the campus’ biannual Learning Fair — worthy of further development.

“Our objective is to encourage this cohort of students to further their research in the hopes of creating a product or service for the marketplace, and for them to one day consider setting up a business in Pennsylvania,” said Rachel Kaplan, assistant teaching professor of corporate communication, who co-directs the Fayette LaunchBox program with Barbara Kolar, director of outreach and continuing education.

The Fayette LaunchBox facility features collaborative workspaces, classrooms, light manufacturing labs, 3-D printers and other prototyping tools, product development services, legal and business services, programming and more. The students will also receive microgrants, provided by Invent Penn State, to support their research over the summer.

Czekaj, Earnest and McGibbon will work collaboratively on a single project under the mentorship of Ajaya Warrier, assistant teaching professor of chemistry. Butler will be advised by Douglas Rutledge, assistant teaching professor physics, and Schultheis will be advised by Julio Palma, assistant professor of chemistry.

Butler, who will use this opportunity to design and market a space-themed video game, expects to graduate in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He hopes to stay in his hometown of Connellsville and enter the workforce. “I'm most excited to see the outcomes of my work and other members' projects at the LaunchBox,” he said.

Czekaj, from Mount Pleasant, majors in plant science and expects to graduate in 2022. She is the recipient of a Blue and White award. “Our business idea is to come up with a home kit to test the iron level in field water,” she said. “I’m excited to see all of the different components that have to go into this process and the business aspect.”

Earnest majors in animal science and would like to work in agriculture after his expected graduation in 2023. “I’m excited to get a taste of undergraduate research and to hopefully accomplish our group’s goal,” he said. A resident of Marianna, he is the recipient of a President’s Freshman Award and serves as the president of the Christian Club.

McGibbon, a criminology and psychology major from Uniontown, would like to work in government after his expected graduation in 2022. He has served as vice president and president of the Outdoor and Adventure Club, as well as a senator for the Student Government Association. He is also a member of the Christian Club, Lion Ambassadors, Lion’s Gaming League, Pride Alliance Working for Students (PAWS), and Administration of Justice Club.

“Our idea of testing the amount of iron in water samples originally started as a proof of concept, but I hope that, if we can compact the idea and make it affordable and feasible, it could be rolled out in order to make an impact on areas that need it most,” said McGibbon. “LaunchBox has given me the opportunity to have a part in developing a product that could make the world a better place.”

The cohort, which was slated to work at the Fayette LaunchBox for eight hours each week over the summer, will collaborate remotely while Penn State facilities remain closed to students during the coronavirus pandemic. They will also attend virtual workshops facilitated by University and community entrepreneurs.

“These workshops will expose students to different elements of business planning, supply chain management, branding and marketing,” said Kaplan, who hosted the May 28 workshop, “The Importance of Branding and Recording Your Pitch.”

Matt Verlinich (Innovation Works) held “Launching a Business from Idea to Implementation” on May 26, and Afshan Khan (Innovation Works) will offer “Entrepreneurial Planning” on June 11.

The program will conclude on July 10. Students will be responsible for weekly journal entries, regular conferences with mentors and group members, scholarly and industry reading, a polished business report and marketing plan and an “investor-ready” video pitch, which will be entered into the 2021 Penn State Startup competition.

To learn more, visit fayette.psu.edu/launchbox. To request information about Fayette LaunchBox, email [email protected] or call 724-437-7913.