The entrepreneurial spirit is thriving in Schuylkill County. Specialty car restorations, analog-to-digital conversions and restorations, and a new local archery range were among the innovations on display at Penn State Schuylkill’s successful inaugural Business Plan Competition held on March 1.
Ten teams competed for seed money to grow or start their small businesses in a contest announced Jan. 12. Seven of the ten were awarded between $1,000 and $5,000 for their inventive ideas. One winning entrepreneur artistically fashions recycled soda tab cans to craft beautiful handbags. Another startup offers a one-stop online shopping experience for car enthusiasts, offering a wide range of performance parts with personalized service and fast shipping.
Several of the participants attended a 10-week LionLaunch Boot Camp, which offered tips on areas such as marketing, finance and business law. Each team pitched their ideas for four to six minutes, followed by a brief question and answer session with a panel of judges. The campus will provide incubator office space for interested award recipients as part of the LionLaunch program.
The panel of judges was composed of local entrepreneurial experts, alumni and community partners, including: Monica M. Walborn, executive vice president, Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce; Jeff O’Neill, vice president and business banking team leader, M&T Bank, member of PADCO; William Reppy, MBA, president Lehigh Valley Hospital - Schuylkill East and South, senior VP Lehigh Valley Health Network; Darlene J. Robbins, president, Northeast PA Manufacturers and Employers Association and Council; Gary Hess, Schuylkill County commissioner, owner of Hess Catering, Inc.; Savas Logothetides, owner/operator of the Wheel Restaurant, vice president of Pottsville Business Association; Karen A. Kenderdine, CTFA, vice president and manager of relationship services, Mid Penn Bank Trust Dept., president of Downtown Shenandoah Inc., secretary of SEDCO, treasurer of Pottsville Business Association; Sonny Fenstermacher, retired, owned/operated Hadesty’s Hardware, Schuylkill County real estate manager, SEDCO and SCORE member; Craig S. L. Shields, executive director of the Pottsville Housing Authority, CEO of Barefield Development Corporation, member of PADCO.
“Penn State Schuylkill is fortunate to have excellent community partners in the LionLaunch program,” said Kelly M. Austin, Schuylkill campus chancellor, who kicked off the event by introducing Master of Ceremonies Mike Tobash, the 125th legislative district’s Pennsylvania House Representative. “Together, we can provide vital support to talented, enterprising and promising entrepreneurs throughout Schuylkill County.”
Participant entrepreneurs praised the LionLaunch program.
“Overall from start to finish, I had a great experience with the LionLaunch program hosted by Penn State Schuylkill,” Carmen Cicioni, owner of Car Men Restorations, said. “It was the perfect opportunity as a local entrepreneur and startup business to further develop and put my vision and goals into action.”
Mariann Young said she was grateful for the opportunity to pitch her business, Beauty and the Beads, and felt that the judges gave her great insight and a path to future success.
“They offered me contacts and hopefully I will use these to follow my dream,” she said.
According to Andy Savakinas, who pitched his business Parts Online Network, “The LionLaunch program is a great opportunity for an aspiring entrepreneur to get a better idea of what to expect as well as create relationships to help them achieve their goals.”
“I would recommend this program to anyone who is thinking about entrepreneurship,” he said.
Established in May 2016, LionLaunch is a community-based entrepreneurship program that provides funding and mentorship to start and grow businesses, as well as a community competition where winners receive startup funding, training and mentorship from industry, faculty and economic development professionals. For more information about the LionLaunch winners, judges and program, visit schuylkill.psu.edu/lionlaunch.
LionLaunch at Penn State Schuylkill is one of 13 campus community innovation hubs to receive seed grant funding from Invent Penn State, a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. For more information, visit invent.psu.edu.