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2017-03-24 / News

Happy Valley Launch Box combats “brain drain” by promoting local entrepreneurship

By r. brock pronko
Regional Business Analyst

Young, educated, entrepreneurial – these are the characteristics of people that large and small cities across the U.S. are trying to attract. They are hoping that once they come, they will stay, grow their businesses and create new jobs and industries.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that Pennsylvania has been an exporter of twenty-somethings for more than two decades. Known as “brain drain,” it deprives Pennsylvania of the marketable skills, hard work and tax dollars invested in each student. The good news is last year, Pennsylvania had a net gain of over 14,000 twenty- somethings.

One reason for the uptick has been local and state-wide initiatives to promote entrepreneurship among a generation whose role models are tech savvy self-starters such as Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Eulon Musk.

Invent Penn State, established in 2015 by Penn State President Eric Barron, is an initiative that funds 13 innovation hubs across Pennsylvania. One of the programs funded by Invent Penn State is Happy Valley Launch Box, a start-up accelerator program located in downtown State College. Launch Box provides community entrepreneurs with free business training, consultation, mentors, co- working spaces and legal advice.

“Our goal is to help early stage startups to de-risk their business and accelerate their entry to market,” said Lee Erickson, director of Happy Valley Launch Box.

“We not only work with students but anyone in the community interested in starting a business.”

Entrepreneurs enroll in a 10-week accelerator program.

“We take five to 17 groups each semester, three semesters a year, and we have around 40 times that number apply every semester, so the program is very competitive,” said Erickson.

Rain Reality is a Launch Box start-up that developed a way to use augmented reality and virtual reality to create educational modules for college and K-12.

“The idea of Rain Reality’s augmented reality app is to create a more immersive educational experience,” said Erickson.

“You could be walking on a path at Shaver’s Creek, take a photo with your phone’s camera and the app could show you how that environmental looked 600 million years ago by overlaying native plants and dinosaurs on top of the actual environment.”

Another new app created at Launch Box is Someonew, which is a friendship app that helps strangers who have common interests engage in conversations face to face. It was developed by Penn State students Andrew Simpson and Kenny Dundorf.

“When customers sign up for the app, they create a profile and select up to five interests from our list, five things they can talk about with anybody, and then agree to open themselves to a face-to-face conversation with a complete stranger in the Penn State community who shares their interests,” said Dundorf.

When two users come into close proximity, they get an alert they have a match. When they tap the notification, it will open the app and the user is free to accept or decline the match. If both parties accept the match, they exchange profiles.

“We’re using Facebook integration, so it will tell you the person’s real name and show you their profile photo and then a text chat will open up. Let’s say they are both in Starbucks, they can have coffee together and talk about their interests,” said Dundorf.

“If it works out, they can contact each other again with our built-in text chat, and perhaps they will get to do that thing they both love such as going skiing at Tussey Mountain, and hopefully, it transitions into a real friendship.”

Simpson and Dundorf are now developing a second app to serve the business community.

“We’ve got a lot of feedback that this app would be useful at tradeshows, conferences and events, so we’re rolling out a new events app where businesspeople can connect with others in close proximity who share personal interests or professional interests,” said Dundorf. .

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