Penn State Hazleton was awarded a $150,000 Invent Penn State seed grant on Monday to help fund a joint program with CAN DO and the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress (DHAP) that will assist entrepreneurs with starting a business.
The grant was announced during Penn State University’s Invent Penn State Day at the Capitol in Harrisburg. Penn State Hazleton Chancellor Dr. Gary Lawler and Jocelyn Sterenchock, CAN DO coordinator of entrepreneurial services, were joined by Senator John Yudichak and Representative Tarah Toohil at the event.
The grant will be distributed in $50,000 increments over a three-year period for the operation of The Hazleton Innovation Collaborative (THInC) program, which will function as a coordinated network of sites and services in southern Luzerne County. Within this program, Penn State Hazleton will play the important role of education provider and operator of the future downtown Hazleton incubator (THInC Downtown), which will be regarded as a new center for entrepreneurship/innovation education within the community.
The THInC Downtown center, which is expected to open next year, will be located at the site of a former bingo hall at 13-15 West Broad Street. The building, which was donated to DHAP by DHD Realty in 2017 specifically for this purpose, underwent Phase One renovation last year. Concept design for the space has begun and second phase construction is expected to begin by the middle of this year.
The THInC program, which is currently in development, will have several components. In addition to the future shared working space at THInC Downtown, office and light manufacturing space will be available at CAN DO’s CAN BE Innovation Center in the Valmont Industrial Park and an information center will be established on the campus of Penn State Hazleton. Additional planned components of the program will include using the digital arts studio and makerspace inside the art center that’s currently under construction in the former Security Savings building, as well as a virtual program for those working from home.
Sterenchock said, “The THInC program is going to have a tremendous impact on the development of entrepreneurship in Greater Hazleton. CAN DO, through its entrepreneurial arm, CAN BE, is committed to being an active part of this program. We look forward to partnering with Penn State Hazleton, the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress and the numerous other community partners involved to use our combined resources to foster a spirit of innovation throughout the area.”
In 2017, Penn State Hazleton was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Invent Penn State program for the development of the THInC program. Over the past six months, Penn State Hazleton faculty and staff, together with CAN DO, DHAP and other community partners, have been working to establish the foundation of the program that is designed to further grow the spirit of entrepreneurship in Greater Hazleton that began with the opening of the CAN BE Innovation Center in 2005.
Penn State Hazleton will staff and operate the THInC Downtown center. The CAN BE Innovation Center will serve as a resource as part of a mentoring collaboration that will also include community volunteers. CAN DO’s partnership with entrepreneurial support organizations such as the Wilkes University Small Business Development Center, the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, TecBridge and Ben Franklin Technology Partners will be incorporated into the program.
CAN BE will serve as the formal screening organization for entrepreneurs who decide to apply for the program. The entrepreneurial education curriculum is being derived from the Happy Valley LaunchBox curriculum at Penn State’s University Park campus in State College. After entrepreneurs complete the education program, they will continue to receive follow-up assistance and mentoring from CAN BE staff, Penn State Hazleton faculty and community volunteers. They will also have the opportunity to pitch their business plan to the THInC program advisory committee for a chance to receive a $1,000 mini-grant that can be used to offset startup expenses.
The Greater Hazleton Hispanic Business Association, the Society of Hispanic Professionals of the Hazleton Area and Latincubator members will help support Hispanic entrepreneurs by providing translation and business advice. Representatives from the Hazleton campuses of Luzerne County Community College and Lackawanna College have also offered to provide support to the Hispanic business community.
CAN DO President Kevin O’Donnell said, “CAN DO is very interested in assisting budding entrepreneurs with launching businesses. At our CAN BE incubator in Valmont Industrial Park we have been doing exactly that for more than 12 years. This new venture in downtown Hazleton with another incubator will further our commitment not only for entrepreneurs but also to the revitalization of our center city.”
Gary M. Lawler, chancellor of Penn State Hazleton, said, “The Launch Box in Hazleton, THInC, the Hazleton Innovation Collaborative, is a true community collaboration with partners, including the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, CAN DO, CAN BE, and the Society of Hispanic Business Professionals, all of whom anticipate the impact and success that this downtown Hazleton center will bring to the entire business community and economic development.”