READING, Pa. — Philanthropic support is expanding services at Berks LaunchBox powered by Penn State, which delivers a range of entrepreneurship and economic development resources for the Reading community. The gifts, valued at $1.2 million, received 1:1 matches from the LaunchBox Matching Program or the Economic Development Incentive Matching Program, doubling the total value of the endowments to $2.4 million and enhancing the anticipated impact of the programs.
“These gifts represent an exciting step forward for the Berks LaunchBox because they establish a solid financial foundation for the LaunchBox’s activities,” said George Grant, chancellor of Penn State Berks. “When Reading leaders channel support to the tools and services that incentivize innovation and collaboration, the impact is far-reaching and the entire community benefits. Forming partnerships and disseminating knowledge is at the core of Penn State’s mission, and we are truly grateful for the generosity that is helping to drive forward these goals.”
The Berks LaunchBox serves as an entrepreneurial hub to the Reading community, and it is part of the Penn State LaunchBox and Innovation Network, established through the Invent Penn State initiative. Begun in collaboration with Penn State Health St. Joseph and housed in the Goggleworks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading, the LaunchBox is designed to provide early-stage companies with the no-cost accelerator programs, support and resources that they will need to launch and grow in greater Reading.
The LaunchBox’s key facilities are a makerspace, which provides a wide range of tools and equipment for developing and prototyping product designs, and a rent-free coworking space open to certain types of early-stage entrepreneurs. The Berks LaunchBox also offers educational and support resources, including webinars on legal issues, accounting basics, social media marketing and prototype development, as well as workshops on topics such as customer discovery, building a business model canvas, creating a business website, crafting a pitch, 3D printing and more. These services at the LaunchBox are enhanced by the expertise of twenty experienced business advisors, who work with entrepreneurs to help de-risk and accelerate their startups.
Several area startup companies have recently received early-stage support from the Berks LaunchBox, including GenHydro, producer of green hydrogen energy; World Brand, producer of biodegradable drinking straws; and DN Organics, a natural hair-care company with plant-based products for curly hair.
Two businesses that have drawn on a range of LaunchBox support services began selling their products in 2022. Enigma Networkz, a cybersecurity software company helping small and medium-sized businesses keep their data safe, received an investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania and $200,000 from the Angel Investment Network to help small and medium-sized businesses keep their data safe. CartoCamp, which makes lightweight sleeping platforms for car camping, recently won the 2022 Invent Penn State Inc.U Competition, securing a $15,000 investment.
“In the short time since opening its door, the Berks LaunchBox has already had a positive impact on the Reading economy,” said Pamela Shupp Menet, Berks County director of community and economic development. “It has tremendous potential to further spur innovation, collaboration and revitalization and is a foundational partner in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. The permanent funding made possible by these gifts means that the LaunchBox will be able to fulfill that potential, building upon the facilities and programming it already offers to better meet the growing and dynamic needs of our small business and entrepreneurship community in the uncertain times ahead.”
The Berks LaunchBox is a signature program of Invent Penn State, a $30 million initiative launched in 2015 by former Penn State President Eric Barron to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. Invent Penn State provided seed grant funding to start 21 campus-affiliated innovation spaces in downtowns across the Commonwealth. The Berks LaunchBox was created in 2016 through an initial three-year University grant.
“We are deeply grateful to the Reading business leaders and foundations who are directing philanthropic support to the Berks LaunchBox so that we can bolster the services that are carefully tailored to meet the needs of starts-up in our community,” said Erica Kunkel, interim director of the Berks LaunchBox. “We all understand the urgent need to invest in people and organizations that are generating new ideas and products, creating jobs and finding innovative solutions to our region’s challenges. These new resources will be an engine of economic development that jumpstarts partnerships and growth throughout the area.”
With the record-breaking success of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” which raised $2.2 billion from 2016 to 2022, philanthropy is helping to sustain the University’s tradition of education, research and service to communities across the commonwealth and around the globe. Scholarships enable our institution to open doors and welcome students from every background, support for transformative experiences allows our students and faculty to fulfill their vast potential for leadership, and gifts toward discovery and excellence help us to serve and impact the world we share. To learn more about the impact of giving and the continuing need for support, please visit raise.psu.edu.