HAZLETON, Pa. — Anchoring the first floor of the recently renovated bingo hall on West Broad Street in downtown Hazleton, the new Hazleton LaunchBox supported by Pasco L. Schiavo Esq. demonstrates how collaborative economic development and public-private partnerships can revive Pennsylvania communities.
Opened in September 2019, the 4,000-square-foot Hazleton LaunchBox offers a myriad of services to its clients, including coworking space, startup educational programs and consulting, legal and intellectual property clinics, and even website design — all for little or no cost. Hazleton LaunchBox has already hosted more than 200 community members and provided a range of services and support for more than 30 businesses.
Unique to this LaunchBox is its bilingual startup resources. Located in a 54% Latinx community, the Hazleton LaunchBox offers bilingual programs to help local entrepreneurs make their business ideas a reality, regardless of their language. The programming has included multiple startup educational sessions, with topics ranging from idea design and test labs to business skill improvement, and have extended to cover ways to help entrepreneurs deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 160 attendees have participated in these sessions, taught both in English and Spanish — a testament to the value the facility is providing to the region’s diverse community. The Hazleton LaunchBox has also referred 38 clients to the Wilkes Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and another 11 clients to the Penn State Intellectual Property Law Clinic, the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP), and Penn State Extension to further their entrepreneurship efforts.
The Hazleton LaunchBox is also fostering workforce development through high school student programs, such as the eight-week Youth Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition program for students in the area’s eight high schools. The LaunchBox has completed three sessions of this program — two in person over the summer and fall of 2019, and one virtual in summer 2020. Recruitment is underway for this fall’s cohort.
Students have pitched such ideas as an insulated cake-delivery box that maintains an internal box temperature to within two degrees, preventing fragile buttercream frosting from degrading in transit. Another young entrepreneur developed a sports cleat with an interchangeable sole for athletes who compete on multiple playing surfaces — an innovation with the potential to become a sustainable business, according to the pitch competition’s judges.
According to William Andahazy, entrepreneurship education coordinator at the Hazleton LaunchBox, the program helps students understand how their ideas can help the world around them, and to answer the question, “What’s your passion?”
“If we can help foster passion in new entrepreneurs, high school students or Penn State students, we’re accomplishing our goal,” said Andahazy.
Hazleton LaunchBox was the result of extensive cooperation amongst area organizations, including the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, CAN DO – the industrial and economic development entity for Greater Hazleton, the Community Association for New Business Entrepreneurship (CAN BE) Innovation Center, and the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce’s Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress.
The Hazleton LaunchBox was made possible, in part, by a gift from former local attorney Pasco Schiavo who bequeathed $1 million to Penn State Hazleton to help accelerate entrepreneurship. Penn State matched Schiavo’s gift. Additional support has been received from the state grants, local businesses, and banking institutions.
“The Hazleton LaunchBox is a tremendous example of the progress that can be made when organizations collaborate. Our partners, donors and sponsors eagerly anticipate the impact our LaunchBox will have on the Hazleton area business community and economic development,” said Gary Lawler, chancellor of Penn State Hazleton.