This article is part of a series celebrating the five-year anniversary of Invent Penn State’s LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network. Learn more here.
When Reading, Pennsylvania, natives Petros Pappalas and Shanna Henry founded World Brand LLC in 2018, they saw an opportunity to produce an environmentally friendly product line to combat plastic pollution while helping restore the town’s longstanding manufacturing tradition.
World Brand is a seed-stage startup researching, developing, testing, manufacturing and distributing sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics. Its main product is a dye-free, biodegradable paper straw line. World Brand’s paper straws are superior to current straws aesthetically and functionally; the company’s paper straws are manufactured to go 24 hours without unraveling and are up to five times stronger than other paper straws on the market.
During their first year, World Brand focused on and acquired direct-to-consumer sales across the country. In 2019, Pappalas and Henry heard about Penn State's LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network, which offers everything a startup needs, from office space to 3D-printing technology for prototyping and free legal and intellectual property advice. The no-cost services provided by Berks LaunchBox helped propel the company forward.
“The 3D printing was really helpful,” Pappalas said. “We wanted to make new products and it allowed us to very rapidly print, test and iterate on what we were developing. It was very fast. If I ordered those prototypes online, the lead time would be two to three weeks compared to two to three hours.”
In 2021, World Brand has placed greater focus on a business-to-business approach and wholesaled to more restaurants and hotels across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, as those industries are beginning to ramp up again. World Brand is also exploring new products beyond its paper straw line, as demand for more paper products continues to grow.
Pappalas continues to leverage the Berks LaunchBox and the growing entrepreneurial community in Reading. Berks LaunchBox hosts virtual meetups to help encourage active discussion in the local entrepreneurial community throughout the pandemic.
“That’s what is exciting to me — being in a space with other entrepreneurs where we can share ideas and discuss strategy, what’s working, and what’s not working,” Pappalas said. “It’s nice knowing I have a resource in my corner. That helps the company because if we have walls or obstacles, we can call on LaunchBox to help us out or point us to an experienced person who can help us get over the hump.”
One of 21 innovation spaces as part of the Invent Penn State LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network, Berks LaunchBox offers no-cost services to Penn State students and faculty, and community entrepreneurs. No affiliation with Penn State is required.
“The Berks LaunchBox supports entrepreneurs and startups in Reading through accelerator programs, customer discovery, access to advisers, co-working space and a makerspace for prototyping,” Berks LaunchBox Interim Director Erica Kunkel said. “World Brand leveraged the co-working space plus multiple pieces of equipment to help with prototyping both a new product as well as product packaging. We're open to all in the Berks community and appreciate the opportunity to help build daydreams.”
About Invent Penn State
Invent Penn State is a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success.
The Invent Penn State LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network is made up of 21 innovation spaces embedded in Penn State campus communities offering no-cost co-working space, makerspace, accelerator programs, pitch competitions, speaker series, access to experts and mentors, and legal and IP advice through Penn State Law clinics. Five years since opening, the Invent Penn State LaunchBox & Innovation Hub Network has supported 3,325 community entrepreneurs, created 194.5 jobs, and helped to launch 164 new Pennsylvania companies. Gifts to support the network, as well as select economic development initiatives across the commonwealth, are a priority of the University’s current fundraising campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence.”
To learn more about how to make a gift and secure a match before the campaign concludes on June 30, 2022, please contact Heather Winfield at [email protected]. Information about the campaign is available at greaterpennstate.psu.edu.
To find a location near you, visit invent.psu.edu/programs/pa-innovation-hubs.