Bellefonte SpringBoard business incubator has seen its first company graduate from the facility into its own space, as other startups and entrepreneurs continue to use the low-cost co-working facility to get their businesses going.
And it is working, said Dan McKenna, the founder of Hoop Stars, a program that works with children, from preschool to school-age, and teaches them basketball fundamentals.
A former Penn State basketball player, McKenna started the business after feeling there was a need for a basketball program for young kids in the area. And, with his love of hoops and children, who was better to get the ball rolling than him? The problem was that he had never operated a business before and needed a little guidance.
A common problem for people with small business dreams, said McKenna, is having a great idea, but not having any idea where to start. Luckily for McKenna and other entrepreneurs in the area, business incubators like SpringBoard and Happy Valley LaunchBox in State College, help provide the space for businesses to get a start, as well as any support they may need to thrive.
Early this year, Hoop Stars won $2,000 in funding from SpringBoard’s StartUp Challenge, which provided money to build a program website, among other things. The space and start-up money has allowed him to be successful, and he said the support of people at SpringBoard has made him feel confident that he can continue to maintain and grow his business.
“Entrepreneurs supporting other entrepreneurs, it has really been a fun ride so far. I really want to thank Ellen (Matis) and the people at SpringBoard for recognizing what I might bring value-wise,” said McKenna.
Ellen Matis manages Bellefonte SpringBoard and is also the entrepreneur who started Hello Social Co., which just graduated from SpringBoard. Hello Social now shares space with 3twenty9 Design at The Lofts on the corner of High and Water streets.
“I couldn’t rent every desk at SpringBoard, as much as I would have liked to,” said Matis. “Now I have a little more room to grow.”
Hello Social Co. grew while at SpringBoard for a little more than a year and Matis added another employee to her team last February. As the successful social media company looks to expand into advertising, Matis said she hopes to add even more employees to her team in the coming year. And, like for McKenna, SpringBoard has been big part of Hello Social’s success.
“It helped in a million ways. When you are first starting out it is hard to work from home … at least it was for me. I like to talk to people. I like to get out of the house. I felt like I wasn’t getting any momentum from working at home. So it gave me a place to work. And then the exposure was huge,” Matis said. “Because I was a SpringBoard member I met the other members. I met a lot of key people in the community that helped my business grow. It was a huge help.”
She added that there are still a few full-time desks available at SpringBoard and that co-working memberships that allow entrepreneurs to share space with others are always available.
Matis said she would encourage people to “give it a shot” if they are thinking about SpringBoard because there is no commitment and the rates are manageable.
“We don’t have any kind of timed contract, and you can start or stop your membership anytime you want. And I think that a lot of time as a new business owner you are worried about the cost of things like that, so if you don’t gain that momentum that you want you can always leave,” said Matis. “But I have a feeling that if someone were to start a membership, they would find that it would really help them grow.”
Ellen Matis’s startup, Hello Social Co., was the first business to take hold at Bellefonte SpringBoard and recently graduated by moving into its own space.
SpringBoard wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Centre County commissioners, particularly commissioner Mark Higgins. He said that business incubators in Centre County are strong and businesses like Hello Social, which he said has added five jobs to the region in its short existence, are proof.
“Our incubators are actually outperforming national standards right now. I know that is pretty common for Centre County, but it is great to see in our entrepreneurial business startup arena. But normally about 75 percent of start-up businesses fail, and businesses that do succeed don’t generally create five jobs in a year and half,” said Higgins. “In entrepreneurship it is a numbers game … 75 percent fail, 15 to 20 percent do OK and one percent or two, called gazelles, grow so rapidly that they can create over 50 employees within a decade of founding. We now have a number of gazelle firms in Centre County.”
He said it takes 50 to 100 startups to end up with one job-creating gazelle company.
“Thanks again to everyone in the expanding Centre County job entrepreneurial ecosystem for the jobs you created,” said Higgins.