LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — A cohort of five students from Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus completed an inaugural mentorship program at Fayette LaunchBox this summer.
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.
The mentorship program, which provides students with microgrants and resources to develop their promising entrepreneurial ideas, is an initiative to generate more technology-based start-ups in the region, according to Bob Shark, Fay-Penn’s executive director.
“The mentorship program provided ample opportunities for our students to work individually and collaboratively,” 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.
“Moreover, the students were able to access world-renowned entrepreneurs and work with highly skilled faculty members on crafting projects worthy of further development. I look forward to seeing those projects continue to mature and come to fruition.”
Megan Czekaj, David Earnest, Andrew McGibbon, Maria Schultheis and Dustin Butler were selected to participate based on undergraduate research and independent projects worthy of further development.
The cohort attended virtual workshops facilitated by University and community entrepreneurs, including “The Importance of Branding and Recording Your Pitch” (Rachel Kaplan), “Launching a Business from Idea to Implementation” (Matt Verlinich, Innovation Works), and “Entrepreneurial Planning (Afshan Khan, Innovation Works).
Students also completed weekly journal entries, conferences with mentors and group members, scholarly and industry reading, business reports and marketing plans, and “investor-ready” video pitches, which will be entered into the 2021 Penn State Startup competition.
Czekaj, Earnest, and McGibbon worked collaboratively under the mentorship of Ajaya Warrier, assistant teaching professor of chemistry, on the development of a home kit to test the iron level in field water.
“This program was an amazing opportunity for the members of our group to get exposed to undergraduate research and helped us realize that entrepreneurship is a very real possibility for future employment,” said Earnest. “Through our research, we continued to discover alternative ways for testing water, which encouraged us to design a concept for a test kit that could meet all our needs.”
Schultheis worked under Julio Palma, assistant professor of chemistry. Butler was advised by Douglas Rutledge, assistant teaching professor physics, in the design and marketing of a space-themed video game.
“The workshops opened up a lot of ideas and questions for me -- if I ever kick-started a business, what should my actions be?” said Butler. “These real-life examples allowed us to see how things would function.”
The LaunchBox is currently recruiting a cohort for the summer of 2021. Interested students may enter undergraduate research projects in the fall or spring learning fairs or contact Kaplan ([email protected]) and Kolar ([email protected]) directly to be considered. Selected participants will receive grants valued at $250, $500, $1,000, or $2,500.