Winners of the recent BIG Idea Competition at North Central PA LaunchBox in Dubois are, left to right, second-place winners the Conklin family with Wilds Sonshine Factory, of Kane, Pennsylvania, Tosha, Serrena, Sienna and David; and first-place winners the Lanich Family with Laughing Owl Press, also of Kane, Pennsylvania, Joe and Andrea. IMAGE: STEVE HARMIC

Ask a local tech startup how they got from their big idea to a full fledged company with a business plan, employees, customers and revenue, and chances are good that TechCelerator’s name will come up within minutes.

There’s a good reason for that. The 10-week ‘business boot camp’ works with emerging tech-entrepreneurs from the university and the surrounding community who are thinking about turning a tech-business idea into a tech startup and helps them grow their concept into a successful company. And best of all, it’s available at no cost.

Eric Kennahan, CEO of Magnitude Instruments, which makes high-sensitivity, low-noise transient absorption spectrometer, credits TechCelerator for helping him launch from an innovation created in a Penn State lab into a startup based in Innovation Park. 

“Before TechCelerator, we didn’t even know where to begin or what questions to ask,” he says. “After the 10 weeks, we at least knew what we didn’t know, but we had made the contacts, and a plan for moving forward."

"Without Techcelerator, we would not have started Magnitude Instruments.”

At the end of the ten weeks covering topics like Business Models, Customer Development, Basic Financials and Funding Options, successful participants make a graduation pitch presentation to a panel of local professionals and potential investors with the opportunity to win up to $10,000 to help get their business started. They come away from the experience with a viable business model, networking contacts, and the confidence that comes from knowing if it’s the right time to move forward with their business concept.

Other regional LaunchBox offices are teaching and equipping innovators all over the state. On November 21,  BIG Idea Competition at the North Central PA LaunchBox in Dubois awarded $30,000 to Joe Lanich with Laughing Owl Press from Kane to develop software that will bring digital convenience to high-end letterpress printed products. The second prize of $20,000 went to David Conklin with Wilds Sonshine Factory, also in Kane, who is distilling a new spirit derived from a sunflower plant grown solely in the Pennsylvania Wilds region.

“The BIG contest has been a huge benefit to the region as it has helped entrepreneurs take their ideas to the next level,” said North Central PA LaunchBox Director Brad Lashinsky. “I’m truly looking forward to seeing these finalists operating their businesses here in the north central region. By having this competition, it has allowed the region at large to start thinking in terms of entrepreneurship. It sparks ideas, and I think we’ll see more entrepreneurs coming out of the region.”

Jill Edwards, executive director of the Ben Franklin Venture Investment Forum and Innovation Transfer Network, agrees. “The Big Idea Contests capture the attention of fledgling entrepreneurs at the moment when they need it and can make best use of a wide array of resources to help them move their big ideas forward,” she says. “Small business has long been the backbone of our nation’s economy and in any region, companies that get formed to solve local needs, using local resources, have a better chance of survival and growth and add to the long-term economic condition of their communities.”

TechCelerator at State College is currently wrapping up their fall session and will soon be announcing the winner of their fall pitch competition. To find out more about TechCelerator, or to register for their next session of classes, you can go to their website here.