Shenango student entrepreneurs win grand prize in Inc.U Competition

Ali Izzo and Holly Masters secure $15,000 in startup funding during Inc.U Competition finale 'The Investment' on WPSU-TV
Penn State President Barron standing with student company founders of Purpose Therapy Box

Purpose Therapy Box founders Ali Izzo and Holly Masters were honored by Penn State President Eric Barron at the 2019 Startup Week reception on April 4, 2019.

Credit: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Shenango student entrepreneurs Ali Izzo and Holly Masters won $15,000 for their startup Purpose Therapy Box in an annual “Shark Tank”-style competition hosted by the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP)

As part of PennTAP’s Inc.U Competition, Izzo and Masters competed against five other student companies from across the Commonwealth for up to $30,000 in funding on WPSU-TV’s “The Investment,” which aired at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 16.

The judges awarded Purpose Therapy Box the top prize, which makes it the first winner from a Penn State Commonwealth Campus.

“Purpose Therapy Box stood out during the video competition phase due to their passion, enthusiasm and commitment to solving a unique problem,” said Tim Kerchinski, PennTAP innovation team lead. “It was a scalable solution, and they were already generating revenue at the time of the competition. Their ideas for expanding their product line and markets were also impressive.”

Izzo and Masters are both graduates of Penn State Shenango’s occupational therapy assistant and human development and family studies programs. Both are certified and licensed practitioners currently working with nursing homes and hospital patients. Through their work with patients, they found that depression and loneliness were common, so they developed Purpose Therapy Box as a solution.

“Our vision is to decrease sadness and loneliness within the older adult population with gift boxes that also contain useful products,” said Izzo. “We want to use our education, clinical experience and resources to help parents, grandparents and any other older loved ones all over the United States, and eventually the world.”

Purpose Therapy Box’s office is located in a suite at Penn State Shenango’s innovation hub, VenturePointe at the eCenter @ Linden Pointe. Izzo and Masters found out about PennTAP’s Inc.U Competition through Georgia Macris, the entrepreneurship initiative coordinator at VenturePointe. They credit the VenturePointe support they received from their local community as a significant contributing factor to their success.

“We received amazing support from our campus,” said Masters. “Claudia Brown, a professor in human development and family studies, was the first person who truly believed in our idea and allowed us to do customer discovery, market research, and business planning within her class. The campus director, Dr. Jo Anne Carrick, drove to University Park to attend the taping at WPSU and cheered us on. Georgia Macris and the PennTAP adviser, Tim Kerschinski, listened to our pitch and helped us refine it. Liz Izenas, coordinator for communications and community relations, helped us figure out how to promote our business. And our entire campus has shown us overwhelming support and has believed in us from the very beginning.”

Izzo and Masters plan to use the prize money to further develop their digital presence and provide a more seamless user experience on their website.

“The funding we received will help us with website design, functionality and marketing,” said Masters. “By adding details like a secured and protected subscriber survey to our website, we will be able to further personalize our product and provide a more personalized experience for the customer.”

Penn State President Barron standing with student competitors of the 2019 Inc.U Competition

The Inc.U Competition student startup teams were honored by Penn State President Eric Barron at the 2019 Startup Week reception on April 4, 2019.

Credit: Penn State

“The Investment” judges also awarded $10,000 to Vitable Health and $5,000 to CastPak. Vitable Health is a health care app and service that provides certified nurse practitioners for house calls to reduce the high cost of emergency room visits for nonemergency ailments. CastPak is a technology company that uses proprietary encoder technology to compress files and allow for high-definition streaming of events via a portable and easy-to-use camera.

Both Vitable Health and CastPak were already familiar with the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Penn State as participants in Happy Valley LaunchBox’s FastTrack Accelerator Program. Going through the accelerator and being exposed to the entrepreneurial community in State College prepared the teams for their final pitches on “The Investment.”

“We had the opportunity to have three pitch practice sessions with some local entrepreneurial leaders,” said CastPak co-founder Ben Cutler. “Lee Erickson, Liz Kisenwether, and Tim Kerchinski gave us lots of tips on how we should effectively be pitching our business.”

The other three student startups that competed in the 2019 Inc.U Competition were:

  • Clot Not, a patent-pending device designed to provide home-recovery patients who are prone to blood clotting an option to continue mechanical therapy for stimulating blood flow, thus reducing the need for blood thinner medications.
  • DermatoloMe, an innovative testing company that aims to identify the optimal antibiotic treatment for patients who suffer from severe chronic acne.
  • Vytah-Fit, from Penn State Berks, a weight-lifting fitness company that uses Internet of Things sensors and data analysis to improve a user’s technique to increase workout efficiency while avoiding injury.

“The Investment” television show is the culmination of the Inc.U Competition managed by PennTAP in partnership with Invent Penn State, Penn State Outreach, and the Penn State Commonwealth Campuses. The initiative is funded by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Prizes were made possible from the support of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA, Invent Penn State, and the College of Engineering.

Visit the WPSU Penn State website to watch the show online.