Seven new startups launched by community and student entrepreneurs graduated from Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank’s FastTrack Accelerator. The startup ideas spanned health tech, ed tech, and environmental businesses including a biodegradable seed square, to a mentor network supporting economically disadvantaged students, and a health tech startup that focuses on improving quality of life for individuals with mobility impairments. Startup teams met virtually for 15 weeks starting in November of 2020 working with program directors to test both their assumptions and the market while avoiding common and costly startup mistakes.
As part of the program, each team received weekly 1-on-1 mentoring, no-cost legal and intellectual property advice, free server credits, a one-year subscription to SolidWorks and POWr website plugins, access to 80+ expert advisers, and the opportunity to earn up to $6,000 in funding for customer discovery, paying interns, and running market tests.
The 2020-21 FastTrack Accelerator teams include:
- College Prep Project works with high school students, especially in economically disadvantaged areas, to identify and apply to colleges and universities. Their curated mentor network matches high school students with college students who can provide them guidance on and access to educational resources to help them navigate the college application process based on their interests and financial needs. Team members include Ethan Liebross, Penn State World Campus undergraduate student and Eli Kalfaian, Princeton University undergraduate student.
- Cyclone is an automated recommendation platform to help maintenance technicians prolong the lives of their machines, reducing downtime and maintenance costs through artificial intelligence based predictive insights. Team members include Sean Vaez, Penn State University Park undergraduate student; Michael Allan, Penn State University Park undergraduate student; Kshitij Dawar, Penn State University Park graduate student; and Peter Sauer, Northwestern University graduate student.
- Digilatics - is a marketing lead audit platform that simplifies the process of determining which marketing tactics result in sales. Designed for small and medium-sized businesses without a dedicated marketing team, their lead audit dashboard displays the number of leads generated, the source of leads (Google/Facebook etc.), cost per lead (CPL) and lead conversions to help a business quantify their ad spend based on sales. Startup founder is Khurram Shahzad, State College community member.
- Lingo Consulting helps law enforcement agencies identify possible criminal activity by analyzing GPS location data and deliver actionable intelligence reports. Team members include Jason Lingo, Dan Weaver, and Hannah Hauser, community members from Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
- ParaPer4mance is a health tech startup that focuses on improving the quality of life for individuals with mobility impairments. By providing content, consultation, and established partnerships within the community, their goal is to be a leader in the rehabilitation service industry. Startup founder is Kenneth Keitt, community member from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. He has worked extensively with the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox team.
- Shared Roots manufacturers a biodegradable "seed" square used to grow a variety of vegetables, flowers, and grasses while also acting as a barrier for weeds. Designed for gardeners and landscapers, their multi-tasking squares reduce the time required to plan, plant, and grow seeds. Made from upcycled brewery grains and other biodegradables, the squares also add organic nutrients to the soil as they decompose. Startup founder is Krista Schneider, community member from Hazleton, Pennsylvania. She has worked extensively with the Hazleton LaunchBox team.
- Vandra JMS is a job search management platform that helps job seekers aggregate and organize their job search information to land a job. With jobseekers typically applying for 50 plus jobs, the Vandra platform reduces the time required to manage and track job applications, communications with companies, and job status. The platform includes features like automated application and communication tracking, a recruiter database that assists with networking, and a cold email generator that allows users to reach 100 plus contacts in one click. Team members include Rahul Kejriwal, Penn State University Park undergraduate student and Zach Deible, Penn State University Park undergraduate student.
Fast track graduates receive immense value from the program, including connections to other programs. Prior to joining the FastTrack Accelerator cohort, the Cyclone team completed the Nittany AI Challenge, then migrated to the Fast Track program, and currently is gearing up to work on their startup full-time over the summer thanks to funding from the Invent Penn State Summer Founders program. The biggest lessons the team learned were to, “always be learning about your startup’s market and the ultimate focus should be on the consumer,” said Peter Sauer, Cyclone co-founder.
When asked about the value they received from completing the FastTrack Accelerator program, Cyclone founder, Sean Vaez said, “Our coaches were particularly helpful. From receiving feedback on business development to technical engineering, we were able to have great conversations with the advisors. Being able to tap into the network was a huge lever of success for us. With every conversation, our next steps became clearer.”
Lee Erickson, chief amplifier of the Happy Valley LaunchBox and program lead, said the coaches are amazed at the diversity of ideas and the problems that the startups bring to the program. “A key part of working with so many different ideas are leveraging the incredible expertise of the coaches and advisors in our network,” Erickson said. “We are also constantly practicing what we are preaching by constantly learning from our own Customer Discovery what adjustments we need to make to the program to help accelerate and de-risk these startups.”
FastTrack Accelerator 2021-22 applications will open in early Fall 2021. More information is available on the Happy Valley LaunchBox website.
Past program graduates include startups such as Argolytics, Office Yum, Smoke Shield, and TrophyTracks.
To view more Penn State-affiliated startups, visit StartupNavigator.psu.edu. Entrepreneurs seeking resources can visit ResourceNavigator.psu.edu or submit an inquiry via invent.psu.edu.