For the fourth graduating class of the Happy Valley LaunchBox, the teams’ diverse ideas were brought together by a common goal: break into the high-risk, high-reward world of entrepreneurship.
On Wednesday night, the six teams pitched their companies in front of a crowd gathered in the no-cost, downtown accelerator.
“College can be a wonderful time to start a business, you often are more willing to take more risks,” said Lee Erickson, LaunchBox director. “A lot of college students have debt and a number of things they can’t just drop and do it. But if we can give them the entrepreneurial mindset and some of the tools, they can do that now or they can take that knowledge and do it at a later time.”
Since opening last year, the space has produced 26 teams that have collectively generated more than $200,000 in funding and awards, Erickson said. On the jobs front, those teams have produced about 13 full-time positions and more than 90 interns.
The LaunchBox is a brainchild of the Invent Penn State initiative and is funded through the university. Its early-stage accelerator program tasks teams to survey customers, devise a business plan and transform their idea into a functioning startup.
The program, Erickson added, is open to more than just students. Staff, faculty and community members have also participated in the accelerator’s 10-week boot camp.
That mix was present in Wednesday’s graduating class. Besides ideas for helping hunters with data (TrophyTracks) and producing makeup (Unoia Beauty), the spring cohort included solutions for building smart city infrastructure with communications technology (Ogovo), providing a personal assistant for college students (ClassGotcha) and facilitating real estate transactions (Digital FSBO). KinderMinder, which is helping increase treatment compliance for pediatric health conditions, rounded out the group.
Two teams from the LaunchBox’s master class, or companies further along in the process, also presented.
“It taught us a lot about how to develop a business, not just a product,” said Xiang Li, one of the co-founders of ClassGotcha.
The graduation also attracted interest from investors and business leaders — target audiences for the young companies.
“This is my shopping center,” said Matt Rhodes, general partner at 1855 Capital, a seed and early stage venture capital fund focusing on Penn State enterprises. “I’ve actually come back into the community, feel like this whole entrepreneurship (movement) is a really key initiative for the community and am trying to do my best to figure out how to add value to it and try to bring some financing capital to some of those ideas.”
But while the odds are against them — half of new businesses fail within the first five years, according to the Small Business Administration — starting, failing and learning are part of the process.
From an investment standpoint, Rhodes said less than 1 percent of all startups get to a first round of investment. Even fewer get to round two.
“The funnel winnows down very quickly,” he said. “But you need a lot of ideas: A great entrepreneurial environment has a lot of experiments.”
With Wednesday’s graduation, the number of experiments continues to grow.