SHARING A MOMENT—Representatives from Penn State Greater Allegheny and McKeesport cut the ribbon at the Mon Valley Launchbox. State Representative Austin Davis, center, is surrounded by Penn State Greater Allegheny and McKeesport officials. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)
by Diane I. Daniels, For New Pittsburgh Courier
More than 130 people were on hand on Sept. 4 to witness the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Mon Valley Launchbox at the Common Ground Building in McKeesport.
“The Mon Valley LaunchBox is about vision, commitment, and resilience,” said Penn State Greater Allegheny Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer Jacqueline Edmondson. “It is about making a difference in the lives of people who have been left behind by a post-industrial economy that ravaged this region over three decades ago. This space is about realizing social and economic change, and most importantly, it is about hope.”
The Mon Valley Launchbox is a part of the university’s statewide Invent Penn State program and signifies a focused partnership between the Greater Allegheny campus and the city of McKeesport to bring innovation and economic development to the Mon Valley.
Other participants in the ceremony included Penn State President Eric J. Barron, state legislator Austin Davis (who served as event moderator), McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, Manager of Strategic Initiatives Aaron Whigham, and Director of Continuing Education Eric Ewell. Ewell and Whigham are co-facilitators of The Mon Valley Launchbox.
Invent Penn State is designed to blend entrepreneurship, focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university-community collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services that can benefit Pennsylvanians and humankind. The Mon Valley Launchbox is a component of Invent Penn State.
Barron indicated that there are 21 Launchboxes, or innovation hubs across Pennsylvania. “Each is unique, shaped by the distinctive needs of the campus and surrounding community. Some are on or adjacent to the Penn State campus; others are centrally located in the town. All reflect a strong relationship and are sharing a common mission: to inspire and advance innovation and entrepreneurship, and to help transform great ideas into viable products and business opportunities.” Barron said during the first two reporting years, 2016 through 2018, more than 5,000 faculty, staff and students engaged in entrepreneurial activity. Two thousand community entrepreneurs were supported, and 325 new products and startups were developed.
“Notably our innovation hubs have led to the creation of 45 companies, nearly 500 new internships and jobs,” he said.
Local entrepreneurs include Vicky’s Soul Food Grill, Granny’s Kitchen, the Unique Boutique, Simplicity Event Planning, KL Experience, Cobbler World and Diversity Movers.
“While building momentum through partnerships and matching gifts through our campaign, A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence, since 2015 we have raised nearly $6 million in external matched and leveraged funds,” Barron said.
He noted that Penn State Greater Allegheny was selected to receive a $50,000 Seed Grant based on a commitment to developing entrepreneurship and potential for future success.
“This space represents the vision of a mayor who works tirelessly to advance his city,” said Dr. Edmondson, who said that Mayor Cherepko is a Penn State alum. “Mayor Cherepko’s vision of McKeesport Rising is inspirational, and some may say against the odds, but I know he will never give up on his city, its great people, and the potential that is here—and neither will we. Mayor Cherepko knows the power of Penn State and how linking arms with our great university as he advances his vision will effect real change. Mayor Cherepko and his city manager, Tom Magglico, have been incredible partners as we work through challenges for which there is no script and sometimes no clear path forward. I want to thank them for providing this space to us and for their support, collaboration, and belief that Penn State is a partner who can make a difference.”
“Working Together For A Better McKeesport” is the slogan of the city. But Mayor Cherepko said it’s more than just a slogan—“it’s an invitation to be a part of McKeesport Rising.”
Edmondson also acknowledged that co-facilitators Whigham and Ewell, along with the street team consisting of various Penn State faculty and staff, played a significant role in the development of the Launchbox. “This space represents their vision and hard work.”
The Mon Valley LaunchBox aims to be a catalyst for entrepreneurs and community members to transform the Mon Valley through economic development, social change and innovation. Its aim is to uplift and serve the Mon Valley through change; connecting communities, harnessing ingenuity, accessing resources, networking, generating opportunity and engineering success.
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