It has been 18 months since Mark Trusz received a $3,000 grant from Lehigh Valley LaunchBox (LVLB) and became part of this University and community-sponsored business accelerator program for early stage entrepreneurs. We checked in with Trusz, who is IT support at Penn State Lehigh Valley, to ask how his escape room is coming along and hear the advice he has for other entrepreneurs.
Trusz’s escape.exe Escape Room is the next-generation escape room with the latest in technology and puzzle design. Every experience has multiple endings, multiple decisions and multiple consequences tied together with a single, unified story. escape.exe's Escape Rooms are custom built and custom programmed, in order to bring the most immersive experience in the market. From the custom created AI called "GAVIN", to the incredible partnerships, they want visitors’ experiences to be the best they can make it.
What inspired you to start your business?
“After earning my MBA from Penn State, I knew that starting my own business simply had to happen -- there was no other option. When I discovered the escape room industry, I knew that I had to bring my vision of an escape room experience to life. In 2016, I completed my first-ever escape room in Richmond, Virginia and I immediately fell in love with the entire concept. I had always wanted to make video games and I saw escape rooms as my opportunity to deliver an action movie fused with a real-life video game. As it turns out, the escape room industry allows me to blend my unique and broad skill set into something truly remarkable. From programming to web design, from cinematography to carpentry, I knew I had the perfect background to deliver an immersive and innovative escape room.”
What was a challenge you had before receiving a Lehigh Valley LaunchBox portfolio grant, and how did you overcome it with the help of your grant?
“One of the largest hurdles I had to overcome was time -- I needed to move quickly to enter the market with my fresh and innovative ideas. The LVLB grant helped my business expedite the process, by providing enough funding to acquire the necessary network hardware to connect my business to the internet and with enough funding to purchase hardware/components to start prototyping.”
How do you define success?
“I define success differently for every facet of life. For me, success as an entrepreneur is looking in a mirror and loving the fact that the only person responsible for my performance review is looking back at me. Success as a business is the ability to consistently identify and then deliver a product/service that earns positive feedback and customer satisfaction. I knew I had created something special, when I had a group of enthusiasts finish my escape room and the only way they could express their gratitude and excitement was by shaking my hand, gathering their thoughts, then applauding, and finally spending nearly half an hour discussing their experience with me.”
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who may request a Lehigh Valley LaunchBox portfolio grant? Or, more generally, as they start their businesses?
“My advice to those looking to start their own business is to be honest with yourself. Take some serious time for introspection. Once you decide that you are going to start a business, be sure talk to an accountant and a lawyer as soon as possible.”
When did you open, where is the escape room and how much does it cost?
“The business opened its doors on Nov. 29 (Black Friday)! At this point in time, the ticket cost per person is $29.99 with all taxes and fees included. The main facility is located at 3844 Linden Street, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.”
Are there any jobs associated with the new business?
“As the business expands and as more escape room experiences are added to the location, there will most certainly be positions to fill. The primary position will be ‘Game Master,’, which includes greeting customers, providing game rules/regulations, monitoring escape games, and wrapping up with participants. Game Masters need excellent customer service skills with a blend of acting skills as well.”
What advice, expertise or mentorship helped you the most?
“The amount of support I have received has been overwhelming and there is no one piece of advice that really stands out to me. That being said, I would like to thank my parents, my sister, Natalie, Alejandro, Mike, Nick, Scott and Wayne!”
Lehigh Valley LaunchBox (LVLB) is an early-stage business accelerator program for entrepreneurs. As a signature program of Invent Penn State, LVLB partners with a network of community and university partners to offer continuing support to small business owners and guides them through every step of their startup journey.