Two years after the Berks LaunchBox opened its doors within the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading in January 2019, it is clear that entrepreneurship and innovation have sparked positivity and harnessed energy within the Greater Reading community. In the past year alone, the Berks LaunchBox has assisted 80 entrepreneurs with startup ideas, hosted eight co-working companies, and welcomed more than 800 community members to free classes and webinars.
The mission of the Berks LaunchBox is to support economic development and entrepreneurship. An innovation hub of Penn State Berks, the 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. It specializes in supporting technology-based, medical innovation, and social enterprise startups. Services include assistance with prototyping, conducting market research, and connecting with mentors. The 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.
“The Berks LaunchBox team is amazed by the entrepreneurial spirit of our community and the drive people have to learn, grow and give back to others,” stated Erica Kunkel, interim director of the Berks LaunchBox, “We see this from the large number of attendees who learned something new this year, taking the next step in reaching their ‘daydream,’ and also from all those who were willing to share their expertise with others.”
While the coronavirus pandemic altered the delivery of the LaunchBox’s services – personal mentoring sessions became Zoom meetings, in-person classes became remote webinars, and hands-on instruction was delivered through private sessions – these changes have increased the accessibility for busy community members while meeting the demand for a creative escape or new business opportunity.
Josue Torres, founder of Azure Vista Financial, a social enterprise co-working company, recently thanked the LaunchBox team, commenting, “I appreciate the efforts of the LaunchBox staff in continuing to help us grow and succeed through these challenging times. It has been immensely valuable to expand and retain connections virtually, like the Startup Success webinar I attended as a panelist.”
Highlighted below are just some of the ways that the Berks LaunchBox has empowered local startups, community members and students.
Free classes, webinars, workshops and equipment training in Makerspace
The LaunchBox offers several seminars per month for entrepreneurs and small business owners focused on business development, social media marketing, legal issues, intellectual property, cybersecurity, pitch presentations, minimum viable products, brainstorming and validating business ideas, customer discovery, and ways a business can pivot to address customer issues. In addition, the LaunchBox offers hybrid courses in basic CAD and 3D printing, as well as training in the use of a laser cutter and associated software. Community members and entrepreneurs are able to schedule appointments with Patricia Leshinskie, a mechanical engineer, to learn the technology that will bring their product ideas to life, such as how to create a simple circuit, use 3D modeling software, design and print product labels on the vinyl plotter, and how to use SolidWorks.