On December 8, 2021, nearly 50 people attended the Berks LaunchBox, open house. This was the first event to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Berks LaunchBox and Invent Penn State, the commonwealth-wide initiative that established campus innovation hubs which was launched by Penn State President Eric J. Barron in 2016.
Attendees had an opportunity to learn about the state-of-the-art equipment in the Berks LaunchBox Makerspace and to chat with entrepreneurs who use its services.
Alumnus launches cybersecurity company
Mark Viglione ’15, a Penn State Berks and University Park alumnus with a B.S. in business management and a minor in information sciences and technology, founded Enigma Networkz, LLC with assistance from the Berks LaunchBox. Enigma Networkz is a SaaS cybersecurity company that provides data analytics, threat detection, and remediation solutions for small- to medium-size organizations.
He explains that he had a concept and he wanted to connect with local businesses, so contacted the Berks LaunchBox. “I had an idea that no one was piloting or testing. The Berks LaunchBox helped me to navigate the waters and connect with local area security professionals and businesses.”
In February 2021, Viglione received one of five “Grow Your Startup Grants,” which provide Berks LaunchBox entrepreneurs with $500 towards a need they have identified, specifically relating to talent or education. These grants are funded by The Marlin and Ginger Miller Educational Endowment for Education Innovation and Design Thinking made to the Berks LaunchBox. In addition, he connected with Berks LaunchBox partner Ben Franklin Technology Partners, which is providing seed funding for his company. For more information, visit enigmanetworkz.com.
Student and alumni create sleeping platforms for car camping
Penn State Berks student Nathan Bonslaver and two of his friends co-founded CarToCamp, a startup that creates universally fitting, lightweight, SUV sleeping platforms that ship to customers’ door and can be assembled without tools. Bonslaver, a mechanical engineering major with a minor business who will graduate in ’22, and two other Berks campus alumni – Robert Miller ’19 and Kevin Gulick ’20 – started the company in September 2020 based on their mutual interest in the outdoors and ‘car camping.’
Bonslaver explains that he initially contacted Sarah Hartman-Caverly, reference and instruction librarian at the Thun Library, Penn State Berks. Hartman-Caverly connected Bonslaver to the Berks LaunchBox, which provided patent resources and connections to mentors who advised him on pricing and helped him to prepare pitch decks.
“It’s been a great experience working with the Berks LaunchBox and the networking events are very helpful,” he states. Bonslaver and his co-founders have set up their business in Reading and they have purchased all the equipment to make the sleeping platforms, including 3-D and resin printers. For more information, visit www.cartocamp.com.
Entrepreneur creates app to help students choose a college
Kevin Clark is a Reading-based entrepreneur focused on helping students make the best decisions for their future. His company, Take Charge, Find Your Path, is developing a software program that allows students to define what they are looking for in a college and career, and then to find their perfect fit in higher education or within an organization.
“When a student’s path changes rapidly, it can become hard for them to find the right fit in a college. Take Charge, Find Your Path helps students navigate the path for future success. The app aligns the digital ecosystem with student goals and the needs of universities and employers,” explains Clark.
Originally Clark worked with a Penn State Berks student on the startup, and that student connected him with the Berks LaunchBox. He credits the LaunchBox with helping him to create a pitch deck and to file for a patent. He also enjoys the networking events. Clark is the CEO and co-founder along with David Moss, COO, and Carmen Malangone, CTO. They have seven core employees and five tech contractors. For more information, visit takecharge.ai.
Entrepreneur validates concepts through Idea TestLab
Tom Wentling, a local entrepreneur, founded Warrantycheck, a streamlined warranty registration process utilizing e-receipts and QR codes to make it more simplistic for the end user and to increase company registration rates. The goal is to help companies by reducing product malfunction, liability and fraud, while improving customer service and product development.
Wentling entered the Berks LaunchBox Idea TestLab accelerator final pitch competition. He completed the comprehensive six-week program to validate his concept for the company.
Through the competition, startups receive coaching and training to identify viable business models through intensive customer discovery. Startup entrepreneurs interview customers, build their business models, and craft their elevator pitches. The program culminated in a pitch competition, in which teams competed for seed funding to continue development of their business models.
Wentling explained that while some of his past concepts were not validated, he is working on a new concept, which took third place at the February 2021 competition. “It’s okay to fail if you fail fast before you find some measure of success,” comments Wentling.
The mission of Berks LaunchBox, located in Suite 105 of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading, is to support economic development and entrepreneurship. Berks LaunchBox connects local entrepreneurs to the support, resources, and facilities that they need to build sustainable and scalable businesses with a viable plan for growth. Services include assistance with prototyping, conducting market research, and connecting with advisers. Berks LaunchBox offers entrepreneurship workshops, co-working space for startups, Meetups focused on business development, a makerspace with 3D printers for prototyping, and special youth programs.
For more information, visit berkslaunchbox.psu.edu or contact Erica Kunkel, Berks LaunchBox interim director, at [email protected] or 610-396-6221.