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Penn State Altoona dedicates LaunchBox hub (Altoona Mirror)


Mirror photo by Russ O’Reilly / Penn State President Eric Barron talks with Nicholas Unis (center) and Steven Dudo (left) about Unis Brands’ 3D-printed footwear startup.

It was just an empty space in the old Gables Building at 1331 12th Ave. until Penn State Altoona Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry received a grant to transform it into a hub for entrepreneurial ventures.

The Penn State Altoona LaunchBox was dedicated Thursday, with Bechtel-Wherry and Penn State President Eric Barron there to cut the ribbon.

Barron said the university selected Penn State Altoona to receive one of six grants to build a LaunchBox designed to provide early-stage startup companies with the support and resources needed to build a sustainable business and a plan for


In June 2016, Penn State Altoona was awarded a $50,000 seed grant from the Invent Penn State Initiative to develop Altoona LaunchBox, and in October 2016, six business startups began a partnership with the program.

As Altoona LaunchBox grows, it will have the capacity to facilitate 20 startups per year.

The Altoona LaunchBox is one of 13 innovation hubs located in Penn State campus communities across Pennsylvania.

Barron said he and the university leaders chose Altoona because they saw that there are community partnerships here that provided resources including the Devorris Downtown Center, the Aaron building and the Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

LaunchBox is an addition to the downtown campus that Barron hopes will make Altoona a hub for innovation.

“To our students, you can go out the door, go to Silicon Valley, live in an awful, expensive place and eat ramen noodles, or you can live in Altoona, have a great community to support you and get a great MTO Sheetz hot dog,” Barron said Thursday.

Nicholas J. Unis, CEO of Unis Brands, was present at the LaunchBox dedication with a 3-D printer and wearing a pair of shoes from his brand. He is the kind of entrepreneur

that Penn State Altoona wants to serve with its LaunchBox.

Tennis shoes made by 3-D printer not only have a style that’s unique, Unis said, but they fit better because the manufacturing method achieves custom sizes.

Founded in February 2016, LaunchBox is a signature program of the Invent Penn State Initiative, a statewide system to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. Invent Penn State blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university-community collaborations to facilitate the process of turning ideas into viable products and services.

“This is a wonderful place to create jobs,” Barron said of Altoona.

Barron’s speech was followed by Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. President and CEO Stephen McKnight. The Altoona LaunchBox was made possible by a partnership of ABCD Corp.’s First Frontier Network and Penn State Altoona.

“We dreamt of a day when economic development and the university would come together,”McKnight said. “And here it is, you can touch it, feel it. Today is a day to celebrate.”