Penn State Lehigh Valley's business accelerator program Lehigh Valley LaunchBox hosted a meet and greet with the region's emerging entrepreneurs on Nov. 15 for more than 100 local community members.
Lehigh Valley LaunchBox grant recipient, Matthew Heintzelman, senior finance major at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, and Randall Forte, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council were featured during the event. ”
They have teamed up to launch Eternally Art, a startup company that creates beautiful, handmade funeral urns to celebrate art and commemorate life. The company's soft launch took place at the Nov. 15 event where they had four urns on display in the Ronald K. De Long Gallery at Penn State Lehigh Valley. Three of the four artists who created the urns, all members of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council, were in attendance as well.
With cremation rates nearly doubling in the last 15 years, the timing could not be better. (According to the Creation Association of North America, rates in 1999 were 25 percent and in 2014 the cremation rate was 47 percent).
The Lehigh Valley Arts Council partnered with Eternally Art to increase the aesthetic value of the urns, making them one-of-a-kind pieces of deeply personal artwork.
“Art is the highest form of expression. It has the power to make our lives better, heal emotional wounds, and bring people together. Eternally Art offers choices that can be more meaningful. The pieces are intended to reflect the character of the person,” said Forte.
The artist will meet with the customer in advance for a consultation and interview to get to know the customer’s interests and values to properly embody the person.
Mike Krajsa, faculty liaison for Lehigh Valley LaunchBox and instructor in marketing at Penn State Lehigh Valley, opened the evening’s program by introducing Penn State Lehigh Valley Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson, who welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming. Bill Hacker, Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Advisory Board Chair, then shared his experience of helping to steward the grant recipients during their entrepreneurial endeavors. Since Matthew Heintzelman could not attend due to an exam at University Park, his twin sister Erin spoke on his behalf. She shared how Matthew came up with the concept of the personalized funeral urn and details of his journey to bring it to fruition by working with Krajsa and receiving a grant from Lehigh Valley LaunchBox. Through his connections with Lehigh Valley LaunchBox, Matthew was introduced to Forte and the partnership with the Lehigh Valley Arts Council blossomed. Forte then gave his remarks before inviting all in attendance to visit the art gallery to see the urns on display.
“Eternally Art is a great way to continue to serve any member of our community because it allows the families we serve to customize and express themselves in a beautifully handcrafted piece of art,” said Erin. “I look forward to seeing the unique urns that will come from the incredibly talented artists that will touch the lives of many families and keep the legacy of their loved ones very much so alive for years to come.”
“I am very grateful to Matthew Heintzelman and his family for sharing their dream and supporting the Lehigh Valley Arts Council in this new business venture,” said Forte.
Since Lehigh Valley LaunchBox began one year ago, it has funded 28 different projects, including Eternally Art. Other LaunchBox grant recipients who had their products on display at the event included:
- Shannon Varoe of TroubleMaker, LLC, which is a children’s toy company that promotes inclusivity and collaboration through education and open-ended play. The first product, ZYX Sticks, is a wooden building set and learning tool used to create abstract structures without instructions. Varoe currently has a limited number of sets available for sale.
- Erin Sowell of Tera by Air Releaf, which is an aesthetically designed plant container that simplifies plant care, while enhancing the plant's natural air purifying capabilities. Air Releaf inspires customers to add nature to their homes in order to live healthier and happier lives. The company is preparing for their launch in early December. They have a limited number of Tera's available on their website and in local stores. They are using the LaunchBox grant for research and development, inventory and equipment such as a 3D printer.
- Nick Miller of TeraDrones, LLC, which offers professional cases for flight equipment and point-of-view cameras. Miller is currently working on securing warehouse space on the West Coast as he has a strong demand from the California film market. He is also working on a deal with the University of Montana to provide drone cases for their field research department. Grant funding from LaunchBox was used for startup costs such as setting up the company website, applying for the LLC, online advertisements and expanding his product line.