READING, Pa. — An enthusiastic group of about 75 community leaders; city and county officials; Penn State Berks faculty, staff and students; and Penn State Health St. Joseph physicians and administrators, participated in a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the Langan LaunchBox, a signature social entrepreneurship and business accelerator program established with a $50,000 grant from the Invent Penn State Initiative.
R. Keith Hillkirk, Penn State Berks chancellor, said the overall mission of the joint initiative is to enhance community and industry relationships and put the power of social entrepreneurship to work to accelerate business development in the City of Reading, which faces a number of post-industrial challenges. A key focus is to create a culture of innovation to expand the number of entrepreneurs.
Explained Hillkirk, “We want to promote entrepreneurship and spur creativity and job creation in the city. Our faculty and students have embraced this initiative, as have our St. Joseph’ s colleagues. Work on nutrition and food access, health and medical sector innovations, and entrepreneurial skills and expertise is ongoing and will continue to expand — all intended to improve the quality of life for all residents.”
The Langan LaunchBox is located within the Penn State Health St. Joseph Downtown Reading Campus at 6th and Walnut Streets in Reading, in the former Community General Hospital, within the Langan Allied Health Academy, which was founded in 2015. It comprises five key initiatives, according to John Morahan, president and CEO of Penn State Health St. Joseph — health and wellness, community impact, medical innovations, the Berks Learning Factory, and the nutrition program titled “Be Bold, Take Charge.”
Morahan added that the Langan LaunchBox is not only committed to improving the health of the community, but also provides several opportunities for students and entrepreneurs in Reading. First, it will serve as an extension of the college’s Flemming Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Center, providing a designated meeting space for entrepreneurs from the college and the local community.
Second, it includes other initiatives such as the Additive Manufacturing Lab where students can work with 3-D printers to bring their ideas to life, and the Human Movement Research Center, an interdisciplinary enterprise that focuses on assessing wellness in the community and understanding the connection between the mind and body.
Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber and Economic Development Corporation (GRCEDC), said everyone applauds Penn State Berks and Penn State Health St. Joseph for making this investment in the heart of Reading.
“We are focusing on six key issues and the Langan LaunchBox addresses all of them: Reading matters, the work challenge (job creation), small business development (specifically Latino outreach), economic development through business expansion, turning around negative impressions, and stressing collaboration and integration,” said Peers.
Neil Sharkey, Penn State vice president for research, said the University launched Invent Penn State in 2015 with the goal of expanding economic development in the state and promoting career success among its students. Thus far, 13 campuses, including Berks, have been awarded $50,000 seed grants.
Penn State Berks competed in 2016 with other University locations for one of six seed grants from the Invent Penn State initiative. The criteria included an existing culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, potential for success, and partnership and support within the community and region.
“Already the results are having a positive impact on Pennsylvania sites and towns, and we are just getting started. A few achievements from over the last year include more than 400 industry research contracts, 48 startups formed with support from thousands of entrepreneurs, more than 50 community partnerships and $2 million invested in emerging Penn State technologies,” stated Sharkey.
Paul Esqueda, Penn State Berks senior associate dean for academic affairs, echoed that thought: “We have a long tradition of being engaged with the local community and beyond. Our faculty, staff and students have shown a strong commitment through their actions to include the successes and challenges of our community in all of our academic activities. The Langan LaunchBox now offers a home within Reading for all of those initiatives.”
Esqueda said the potential benefits of the Langan LaunchBox are already evident in several of the college’s centers. The Berks Learning Factory has connected engineering students with some 40 local companies. The Flemming Center for Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development has focused on developing an entrepreneurial mindset among the student population, as well as holding workshops on entrepreneurship for Reading School District students. The “Be Bold, Take Charge” initiative is working to better understand the nutrition patterns of city residents and to promote healthy diet and exercise. Finally, the Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research has produced and printed 11 books on local history researched and gathered by students and faculty.
Sharkey said, “While this project has a bricks and mortar component, the vision is grounded in the need to nurture an innovation mindset — one that can drive the Pennsylvania economy by harnessing intellectual property and refining the processes so that we can turn ideas and research into products for the marketplace.
“Some of the most exciting aspects of this project are the public/private partnerships that are sure to grow as a result of ideas formed here. Penn State Berks exemplifies our mission of engagement, and the history of this campus is a perfect expression of Penn State’s commitment to serving the communities of Pennsylvania.”
For more details on the Langan LaunchBox and its initiatives, visit http://sites.psu.edu/langanlaunchbox/.