From organic beekeeping to gourmet dog biscuits with an upcycle twist, the third annual LionLaunch Business Plan Competition proved that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Schuylkill County.
For the past three years, as part of the LionLaunch-Invent Penn State initiative, the Schuylkill campus has played host to this competitive event where small business owners and budding entrepreneurs are invited to pitch their ideas to a panel of local business and community leaders for the chance to win up to $5,000 in seed money.
This year, the competition featured five local startups including Greenway Apiaries, an organic beekeeping operation; Local Bones, a gourmet dog treat company; nonprofit grant writer Schuylkill Grantworks, LLC; Noteworthy Automation, with an invention they hope will change the woodwind reed market; and Project 4 Love, a website created by Penn State Schuylkill rising sophomore Lillian Stoyer to promote local nonprofit organizations and connect them with potential donors.
The evening’s program commenced with remarks from Penn State Schuylkill Chancellor Patrick M. Jones. Jones noted the teamwork between Penn State Schuylkill and its community partners, “who volunteer to make our programs successful,” and also thanked the program sponsors, “who, without their generosity, this event and the preparatory programs that led to it would not be possible.”
Representatives from several of these partner organizations comprised the panel of judges. The distinguished panel included Karen Kenderdine of Mid Penn Bank; William Reppy of Lehigh Valley Hospital-Schuylkill; Jonni Gray of the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce; Jeff O’Neill from M&T Bank; Jeanne Porter of Boyer’s Food Markets, Inc.; Savas Logothetides of Pottsville's Wheel restaurant; Schuylkill County Commissioner Gary Hess; and Darlene Robbins from the Northeast PA Manufacturers and Employers Association.
State Representative Mike Tobash, from the 125th legislative district, served as master of ceremonies, a role he has graciously undertaken in previous business plan competitions.
Each business was allocated six minutes to pitch their idea followed by an informal Q & A that gave the panel of judges further opportunity to evaluate the proposals. After the presentations were completed, the judges gathered to deliberate. Approximately 20 minutes later, master of ceremonies Tobash took the stage to announce the winners.
Erin Portland of Schuylkill Grantworks, LLC and Stephen Goodale, representing Noteworthy Automation were the evening’s big winners, each taking home the maximum $5,000 prize. Portland plans to invest the money in professional equipment to create a series of grant writing webinars and Goodale will finance the creation of four prototype machines that feature their proprietary woodwind and wind reed-cleaning and preserving immersion system, “Dr. Dunk.”
The judges also awarded $2,500 to Angel Cicero of Cicero’s Crafts for her Local Bones project – a gourmet dog treat that would combine the spent grains from local breweries with a few select human-grade ingredients to create a palatable and healthy dog biscuit. Noting the billion dollar pet treat industry and the natural affinity between dog-friendly breweries and people who love dogs, Cicero outlined a business model that would grow to not only employ additional bakers but also provide fundraising opportunities for local dog rescues and shelters.
Project 4 Love’s Lillian Stoyer was awarded $3,500. The idea for her community-minded website actually began while Stoyer was still a high school student participating in the Schuylkill Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!). While YEA! targets teenaged entrepreneurs, it is another example of the kind of programming that is available through local community partnerships aimed at spurring economic growth in and around Schuylkill County.
Although Devon Paderewski of Greenway Apiaries did not receive any funding for his organic honey bee farm this time around, he was given some helpful advice by the panel to improve his business plan and invited to return next year.
Darcy Medica, director of academic affairs, closed out the evening by acknowledging both the panel of judges and the evening’s contenders. She emphasized the value of LionLaunch programs like the Business Plan Competition and noted the network of local organizations, who with Penn State Schuylkill, help provide a pathway to success for many up-and-comers in the local business community.
To date, LionLaunch and its partners have awarded $63,000 in seed money to help launch 18 new businesses in Schuylkill County. Learn more about LionLaunch programs and the Office of Community Engagement here.