Q&A with Lee Erickson, Chief Amplifier of Happy Valley LaunchBox Q: What’s happening in the current session?
A: This fall, LaunchTeams include: Musical Minds, creating the first wellness-based music recommendation engine that leverages brainwave-sensing headphones to identify songs that help you focus, relax, get motivated, and reduce stress; Rain Reality, developing holographic exhibits for museums that inspire and educate while cutting the costs associated with providing hands-on and collaborative learning to diverse audiences; Stockd, a full-service grocery delivery service that is changing the way busy people plan and shop for meals; What’sPoppin, an online centralized platform allowing students to search for and discover unique events to fully immerse themselves in all their colleges have to offer; and, Visionese, a virtual tour company combining 360 panoramic and aerial drone photography to deliver next-generation experiences for remote users.

Q: Are there any changes to the format you’re using this session?
A: In addition to a focus on lean startup principles and creating a sustainable business model, we are now integrating Design Thinking “sprints” into the program. Design Thinking is a process for innovation that matches people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and viable as a business model. It helps our LaunchTeams learn from their customers, find patterns, and iterate their solutions quickly.

Q: When does the session wrap up?
A: Graduation will be held just before the end of the semester in early December. We invite the community to hear about the progress that LaunchTeams have made and to celebrate their wins. The graduation date will be announced as we near the end of the bootcamp.

Q: What would you like to share that you think people don’t know about LaunchBox?
A: Many people don’t realize that our facility, bootcamp, and no-cost clinics are open to everyone, Monday through Friday from 8:30 – 4:30 – they are not exclusive to Penn State students or faculty. Also, Jason Huber, our Entrepreneurial Cog Connector, is also a talented artist and he’s been hard at work painting various mottos and art on the walls to create an energized and welcoming environment. We encourage everyone to come check it out and to build a race car to launch off our LaunchDerby track.

Q: Is there any additional info you can share about the Spring 2017 accelerator session or upcoming events at LaunchBox?
A: Applications for our Spring Accelerator Bootcamp are open. We encourage interested startups to drop by to check out the facilities and take advantage of our no cost professional clinics–details on the Advice and Help section of our site.

Q: Are there any upcoming events you’d like to promote?
A: Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is an annual international celebration of entrepreneurship. Penn State has participated for the last three years, and this year we’re excited that many of the events will take place at LaunchBox. Throughout the week of November 14th through the 18th, students, faculty, staff, and community members can attend talks by experts, participate in hands-on workshops, and network at evening events. Events are free of charge and will take place on campus and in the community. You can get more info at http://gew.psu.edu/.

About Lee

Q: Tell us about your experience and how you landed at LaunchBox.
A: Working at the LaunchBox is the perfect combination of my 25 years of entrepreneurial and teaching experience. Prior to coming to Penn State, I was an instructional designer for GE Information Service as well as the co-founder of multiple businesses including Erickson Barnett, a full-service marketing agency specializing in B2B technology marketing, and Erickson & Associates, an independent consulting firm that developed computer-based instruction and online help systems for large corporations. I’ve worked with established companies, startups, and associations including AT&T, GE Information Services, the FDIC, the FAA, the Kauffman Foundation, New Enterprise Associates, Columbia Capital, Oak Investment Partners, and VeriSign. I came to Penn State in 2008 to pursue my Ph.D. from the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) with the objective of getting back into the classroom. After graduation in 2012, I took a job teaching in the College of IST and building their entrepreneurship curriculum and events. With the arrival and support of President Barron, the entrepreneurial ecosystem took off and Happy Valley LaunchBox was a direct result of his leadership and vision. It was a great fit with my background and the opportunity to play a key role in building it from the ground floor up was just too good to pass up.

Q: How long have you been in this position, and what have the highlights been so far?
A: While I was on the Steering Committee that helped to define the services provided, I officially started as the Chief Amplifier on August 1, 2016. Highlights to date include meeting the wide variety of students, faculty, and community members who are working to build and grow their businesses, participating in an economic development panel with Congressman G.T. Thompson, President Barron, Neil Sharkey, and Hunter Swisher (a recent LaunchBox graduate), and hosting Project Vive’s poetry event “My Voice, My Power” with Arlyn Edelstein. Every day the energy is building, people are volunteering to share their expertise, and all and all it’s amazing to be around this kind of energy.

Q: What are you most excited about accomplishing in the next year?
A: I’m most excited about building a network of experts, advisors, and mentors who can help local startups to learn fast, de-risk their businesses, and increase their chances of success. If we can build that kind of network, we will give both new startups and existing businesses an advantage and increase their chances of success. In short, making connections that add value is the high for me.

Q: How do you feel like your unique background has prepared you for this role?
A: As a serial entrepreneur who has started, managed, and grown a number of small businesses, I have experienced first-hand the emotional (and financial) ups and downs entrepreneurship brings.

Additionally, having personally worked with hundreds of technology-focused and early stage businesses as the co-founder and CEO of a full-service marketing agency, I understand how to build a brand, generate awareness, and engage customers with limited resources and funding. Furthermore, my work with some of the nation’s largest venture capital firms and the Kauffman Foundation has broadened my understanding of the entrepreneurial ecosystem with regard to sources of support and funding for startup and growth-stage companies. Teaching and mentoring have been a consistent thread throughout my career so I am able to bring that experience to developing new programs. Finally, I have been working with individuals in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem for over five years so I have been able to build relationships with many individuals who will be key to our success.

Q: What are your favorite things to do when you’re not at the LaunchBox?
A: Talk about LaunchBox. Seriously, I love traveling the world, especially places that the average person doesn’t go.

Q: Is there anything else you want to share?
A: I’m particularly impressed with how much the Invent Penn State team has accomplished in less than two years. Thirteen innovation hubs have been set up across the Commonwealth, Happy Valley LaunchBox has graduated 15 LaunchTeams, and earlier this month there were over 500 investors, inventors, and startups who attended the Venture & IP Conference. It is a testament to President Barron’s vision, the amazing people who work long hours to make his vision a reality, and how ready this region is to work together for the common good. I’m happy to now be a part of this group and am looking forward to watching the energy continue to build and seeing the impact firsthand.