One year after opening its doors within the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading, Pennsylvania, the Berks LaunchBox has already seen how innovation can spark economic development and generate momentum in the Greater Reading community.
To date, the Berks LaunchBox has assisted 33 entrepreneurs through mentorship, website development, and use of coworking space. In addition, eight student startups have received services. Since January 2019, the Berks LaunchBox has welcomed more than 400 entrepreneurs, prospective entrepreneurs, youth and community group members.
Highlighted below are just some of the ways that the Berks LaunchBox has empowered local startups, community members and students.
Classes and workshops
The Berks LaunchBox offers monthly Meetups for entrepreneurs and small business owners focused on business development and technology, as well as courses in basic CAD and 3D printing (offered in English with Spanish translators) and use of a laser cutter and associated software. In addition, the Berks LaunchBox also hosted a class on WorkPlace Professionalism presented by the Literacy Council of Reading–Berks and a meeting of 20 entrepreneurs from the technology industry with the goal of forming a local Tech Hub in Reading.
The professional staff at the Berks LaunchBox have advised 21 entrepreneurs, and in some cases, connected these entrepreneurs with mentors and resources in the Greater Reading area.
The Berks LaunchBox offers a rent-free, inviting space for coworking companies to meet and collaborate with other entrepreneurs and mentors in a location specifically designated for use by technology-focused and social enterprise startups.
Currently, the Berks LaunchBox houses five coworking companies. One company, Verde Mantis, has hired local employees and rented additional space at the GoggleWorks to begin production of their new product, an easy-to-use 3D printer. Another startup, World Brand/Coasty is taking their eco-friendly straws to market. They will be sold in 10 locations of Redner’s Markets and offered in many local restaurants.
Marketing Mondays is a program that began in August 2019. It helps local entrepreneurs, including artists who rent workshop space at the GoggleWorks, to build, improve and expand their websites. In 2020, Marketing Mondays will be held every Monday by appointment between the hours of 3–7 p.m.
Community outreach presentations
In 2019, the Berks LaunchBox welcomed several community groups with more than 100 members into the makerspace to present topics of interest. The Exeter School District STEM Educators completed growth mindset activities to inspire ideas for startups, which they plan to teach to their students. A retired teachers’ group completed a similar activity.
Staff at the Berks LaunchBox believe that growing an entrepreneurial mindset in youth helps to develop future entrepreneurs. In the past year, the Berks LaunchBox worked with eight groups and more than 150 students, ranging from elementary school through college level. The Berks LaunchBox welcomed youth into its makerspace to learn how to print a snowflake on the 3D printer. Young children completed STEM activities, while older students learned about robotics, 3D printing, and developing a growth mindset. In addition, youth enrolled in summer camps at the GoggleWorks had an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship through the Berks LaunchBox.
Looking ahead to 2020
In the coming year, staff at the Berks LaunchBox plans to expand course offerings to include a series of classes and workshops designed to help those who wish to become entrepreneurs or expand their business with a product or service but need assistance with creating and validating their business ideas. Additional courses will address negotiation skills in Spanish and English, cybersecurity, bookkeeping basics for business owners, and CAD.
About the Berks LaunchBox
The mission of the Berks LaunchBox, located in suite 105 of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading, is to support economic development and entrepreneurship. An innovation hub of Penn State Berks, the Berks 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. Services include assistance with prototyping, conducting market research, and connecting with mentors. The Berks LaunchBox offers entrepreneurship workshops, coworking space for startups, Meetups focused on business development, a makerspace with 3D printers for prototyping, and special youth programs.
The Berks LaunchBox is supported by Invent Penn State — a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student success, launched by Penn State President Eric J. Barron in 2016. For more information, visit berkslaunchbox.psu.edu or contact Michelle Hnath, Berks LaunchBox facilities coordinator, at [email protected] or 610-396-6400.