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The Penn State Altoona LaunchBox brings vitality to downtown


Downtown Altoona is now home to a new, no-cost startup accelerator and co-working space ten years in the making. The Penn State Altoona LaunchBox is designed to provide early-stage companies with the support and resources they need to build sustainable and scalable businesses.

The 4,400-square-foot space currently houses a social media marketing company, a nonprofit organization, a digital marketing firm and a meditation concern. LaunchBox is expandable, with capacity to eventually house 20 startups per year.

Altoona — and the surrounding Blair County — “is a community of entrepreneurs,” says  Stephen McKnight, president and CEO of the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation (ABCD).

“Forty-two of our longtime, homegrown family businesses together now employ more than 9,000 people,” he explains. “There is an entrepreneurial culture here that we need to promote and leverage. We need to make it as easy as possible for those with a great business idea, large or small, to launch that business.”

Altoona LaunchBox is an important new tool in the region’s economy.

“We are often asked ‘Where do I begin?'” says McKnight. “The more entry points we can provide for folks to enter the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the more chances we have to assist and move them forward.”

There is an entrepreneurial culture here that we need to promote and leverage. We need to make it as easy as possible for those with a great business idea, large or small, to launch that business.Stephen McKnight

To address the perennial challenge of access to small, seed-level funding, ABCD recently formed the First Frontier Network, a group of local investors aimed at closing that gap.

“This group is made up of business owners and investors with diverse backgrounds and experience,” he says. “Their ‘been there, done that’ point of view is highly valued by many startups. The group has evaluated seven new startup opportunities since May with several more in the pipeline.

“Services and programs like Penn State Altoona LaunchBox, our First Frontier Network, Catalyst Space (an Altoona maker space) [and a new regional effort called Startup Alleghenies] are all playing a critical part in building out a new modern entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The space is also a boon to downtown.

“Focusing these efforts in our downtown is creating more chances for those unscripted meetings of the minds on sidewalks and in coffee shops,” explains McKnight. “People meet, connect, barter and make business happen.”

The LaunchBox expects to host a wide range of technology startups.

“It’s tough to confidently define a sector nowadays,” he says. “It is safe to say that new technology development impacts all sectors, be it manufacturing, retail or health care. I would guess that we will see new technology-inspired ideas that will be advanced through smaller, more nimble business structures. Some may be looking to sell their idea and start all over. What is most important is to create more wealth-generating opportunities and investment, and to attract people.”

Altoona LaunchBox is a project of the statewide Invent Penn State initiative, aimed at boosting economic development, job creation and student career success. 

According to Donna Bon, executive director of Penn State Altoona’s Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, “It blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university-community collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services that can benefit Pennsylvania.”

ELISE VIDER is news editor of Keystone Edge.

Lead image: The ribbon-cutting for Penn State Altoona Launchbox, Thursday, June 1, 2017.

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