Mary McDermott poses for a photo outside of the Scranton Launchbox

The Scranton LaunchBox's new fellowship program is a win-win for recent alumna and local entrepreneurs

Willary Foundation grant helps fund new fellowship program at the Scranton LaunchBox.
By: Amy Gruzesky

DUNMORE, Pa. -- Mary McDermott graduated from Penn State Scranton this spring with her bachelor’s degree in business and is now using the knowledge and skills she gained earning her degree, and during an internship with the Scranton LaunchBox, to help budding entrepreneurs and local businesses in a newly created fellowship program there.

The LaunchBox, opened its doors in South Scranton in 2018 and is a pre-incubator/accelerator service that helps advance local entrepreneurial concepts to business plan development using the resources of Penn State. Services are provided to the community by Penn State Scranton faculty, staff and students free of charge.

As an undergraduate, McDermott’s internship included manning the LaunchBox office – answering phones, greeting visitors, assisting anyone who came in looking for help with their potential start-up business ideas, and helping with special events. Now as a LaunchBox fellow, she will spend the next year working in tandem with Penn State faculty and area business leaders in northeast Pennsylvania to promote a variety of entrepreneurial activities in the region.

The newly established Scranton LaunchBox fellowship program was established in part through a $50,000 grant from the Willary Foundation, which will help fund the program for three years. It is the second part of a two-stage program currently being offered through Penn State Scranton’s LaunchBox. Eligible candidates must have completed a senior-year internship at the Scranton LaunchBox and be a graduate of Penn State Scranton.

The 45-week position consists of 24 hours per week over the course of one year, with the fellow overseeing the operational activities of the Scranton LaunchBox and reporting to the director of Penn State Scranton’s Center for Business Development and Community Outreach (CBDCO) and a business program faculty member charged with helping to oversee the LaunchBox operations.

The position is geared toward students with an interest in economic and small business development, entrepreneurship and community involvement.

In addition to working with University faculty and staff, the fellow also will interact with area business leaders, as well as local and state government officials, non-profit executives and other regional community development principals – gaining exposure to economic development efforts in both the local community and the surrounding region.

"The fellowship program allows us to develop a student intern from just assisting entrepreneurs to a role that understands, and is active in, the larger operation -- helping us to make a greater impact for our community,” said John Drake, director of CBDCO. “We are grateful for the Willary Foundation for the opportunity to better serve entrepreneurs, but also to give students an avenue to further engage in economic development."

McDermott is the first campus business graduate to become a fellow with the LaunchBox, having completed her senior-year internship before graduating this past May. Now working in a more advanced role there, she is also an intern with the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce’s IGNITE Program, an entrepreneurship and business incubation affiliate that helps new businesses grow in Lackawanna County, further expanding her exposure to, and experience in, economic development initiatives in northeast Pennsylvania.

“Working at the LaunchBox is a great opportunity and it has exposed me to many different experiences and learning opportunities,” she said. “This experience is allowing me to apply the knowledge I have gained in my [college] courses and is an excellent place to help me further my professional development.”

The Willary Foundation is a family foundation dedicated to developing ideas and projects that are interesting, creative and imaginative, and which benefit communities in northeast Pennsylvania. Willary seeks to foster groups with unique, innovative, or unusual ideas and efforts.

LaunchBox is a signature program of the Invent Penn State Initiative, a commonwealth-wide system to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. It is a $30 million initiative to generate economic development, create jobs and drive student career success. The initiative, started in 2015 by Penn State President Eric J. Barron, redefines the University's land-grant mission to include entrepreneurship and innovation programs, including the development of "Innovation Hubs" in campus communities across the Commonwealth.

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.