WYOMISSING, Pa. — Since its inception, Berks LaunchBox has made a significant impact on the Berks County community. Over the last five years, Berks LaunchBox has assisted 582 entrepreneurs, taught new skills to 1,100 community members in its Makerspace, offered entrepreneurship classes to 3,800 community members, and impacted 1,042 students (elementary school through college).
Berks LaunchBox is recognized as a valuable resource for entrepreneurs and innovators to help them grow their startups and develop new skills. This year, Berks LaunchBox is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its expansion from Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Downtown Reading Campus to the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading. The expansion has greatly enhanced its space and capabilities.
“The Berks LaunchBox has been an invaluable resource for our startup KissUX, as well as our existing digital design company, We Are Cactus Club,” stated Vera Hempel, co-founder of KissUX and We Are Cactus Club. “As a co-working space, the Berks LaunchBox has been a great place for our team to brainstorm and hold meetings with potential investors — at no cost to us. It is safe to say that we wouldn't be where we are today without the support of the LaunchBox and all its team members. The LaunchBox team is genuinely passionate about helping startups succeed.”
Kiss UX is a startup that is developing a cloud-based tool to streamline communication of application concepts to designers and developers.
An innovation hub of the Invent Penn State initiative, Berks LaunchBox was created through a seed grant in 2016. Its mission is to assist early-stage entrepreneurs and startup companies with accessing the tools and resources they need to launch and grow in Greater Reading.
“The Berks LaunchBox has been a vital partner in the growth and success of my business,” said Talonda Rogers, owner of 4th Trimester Maternal Advocates Helping Magnify Education and Empowerment (MAHMEE). “The consultation, mentorship and resources provided have been instrumental in helping me achieve my goals. I am grateful for the assistance and support I have received from them.”
Every year, the impact of the Berks LaunchBox grows. In 2023 alone, Berks LaunchBox has assisted 202 entrepreneurs (42% were from under-represented groups), taught new skills to 479 community members in its Makerspace, offered entrepreneurship classes to 500 community members, and impacted 362 students, elementary school through college, with free classes and activities. In addition, 16 entrepreneurs were awarded Creative Entrepreneurs Accelerator Grants, with the help of the LaunchBox team and 14 entrepreneurs and organizations received assistance developing their prototypes.
“The expansion of the Berks LaunchBox into the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts allowed us to engage with our community members more directly in an accessible and innovative way. This partnership has been instrumental in our growth and in meeting our mission to support entrepreneurs while continuing to maintain low barriers to access,” stated Erica Kunkel, director of the Berks LaunchBox and director of continuing education at Penn State Berks. “We're proud to be one part of the journey for the amazing entrepreneurs in our community.”
Free classes, webinars, workshops, and equipment training in Makerspace
Berks LaunchBox holds free monthly seminars for entrepreneurs and small-business owners focused on business development, social media marketing, legal issues, intellectual property, pitch presentations, minimum viable products, brainstorming and validating business ideas, customer discovery, and ways a business can pivot to address customer issues. In addition, LaunchBox offers free courses in basic CAD (computer-aided design) and 3D printing, as well as training in the use of available equipment and associated software through workshops where participants can create items such as laser-engraved coasters, wooden lanterns and more.
Berks LaunchBox offers a rent-free space, allowing co-working companies to meet and collaborate with other entrepreneurs and mentors. Co-working companies benefit from 24/7 access to office space for one year, meeting and event space, high-speed Internet, legal support, community connections and LaunchBox advisers. Startups also receive assistance with prototyping and marketing, free monthly seminars, and support from staff.
Advisers Support Success
In addition to the Berks LaunchBox staff, entrepreneurs can benefit from the knowledge and expertise from more than 25 advisers who dedicate up to five hours per month to supporting the success of LaunchBox entrepreneurs. Advisers offer support in a multitude of ways from guidance on accounting principles and software to prototyping assistance.
Youth and community outreach
The LaunchBox staff believes that growing an entrepreneurial mindset in youth helps to develop future entrepreneurs. The LaunchBox participates in Remake Learning Days, an innovative learning festival in which thousands of hands-on and engaging events designed for kids of all ages are held in a variety of settings around the world.
Berks LaunchBox also holds events, partners with area schools, and offers open lab nights for individuals and families with children to design and create items such as 3D-printed and laser-cut snowflakes, custom-engraved coasters, house signs, greeting cards, and more – all in an effort to introduce these technologies and spark creativity and innovation.
Outreach to the Latino and Hispanic community
In 2024, Berks LaunchBox is expanding its Spanish-language programming to include more entrepreneurial education workshops, webinars, networking opportunities and Makerspace events. The staff is working to secure funding to increase "Grow Your Startup” grants for entrepreneurs. Additionally, successful coworking companies will move into a newly created "founders" status after they have graduated from Berks LaunchBox services and transitioned to advisers and mentors for new startups.
Finally, with the addition of two Makerspace coordinators, plans are underway to add Makerspace classes with a focus on hands-on experiences offered in both English and Spanish.
The mission of Berks LaunchBox, located in Suite 105 of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading, is to support economic development and entrepreneurship.
Berks LaunchBox is supported by Invent Penn State — a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. For more information, visit berkslaunchbox.psu.edu or contact Erica Kunkel at 610-396-6221 or via email at [email protected].