The Secret Behind the Widespread Success of Local Entrepreneurs
By Cara Aungst on April 16, 2018
When the Happy Valley area started making national news in rankings, many of the listings revolved around lifestyle. The area was named "Least Stressful Town in the U.S." by Psychology Today in 1988. Swift on its heels were praises for the area’s safety, health, walkability, music scene and adventure culture.
More recently, polls have reflected the innovation and research resources that Happy Valley offers. Livability.com named it one of the best cities for entrepreneurs, with statistics on venture capital deals, how much funding business owners received from SBA and 7(a) loans and how much money residents spent within their community. Personal finance company ValuePenguin named State College as a top city for new students to launch. Best College Reviews calls it "one of the smartest towns in America."
Competitive, Low-Cost Ecosystem
Juan Mario Gomez, CEO of Xact Metal, says it’s very difficult to match the innovation of the area. "We have access to the university, students, faculty and outstanding resources — we have a world-class 3-D printer right at our doorstep. It would be difficult to have this same level of success if we were not as close to Penn State."
At times the size and relative remoteness of the Centre County region can be viewed as a detriment, but Gomez says it's actually the other way around. “I have found that people who live in this area of Pennsylvania like living here and want to stay here. There is a huge amount of talented, hard-working people who are committed to making our company succeed. I don’t know if it would have been as easy to start up in a larger city and attract the same amount of talent."
He also points to Central Pennsylvania’s history as a manufacturing mecca. His company works with world-class suppliers and producers within an hour’s drive from State College. The entire area offers a competitive, low-cost ecosystem made of hard-working, adaptable professionals who love what they do.
A few years ago, Gomez was part of a company that closed its Central Pennsylvania branch. "Before starting Xact Metal, I thought about moving, but I quickly found the culture so favorable, I asked myself, 'Why would I move?' Anywhere I would go, I wouldn’t be set up to be this successful." The highways into State College, these great highways, he calls them, are like arteries that pump life into Happy Valley, connecting it with the rest of Pennsylvania and the world. "It’s easy," he says. "It’s so easy to get people here. Not just people, but good people. People that honestly want you to succeed. Combined with the work culture of students and fully-invested faculty, the work culture has an energy and optimism that nurtures success."
Innovation and Support
Communication technology company OGOVO recently graduated from Happy Valley Launch-Box’s startup accelerator, where it got early-stage mentorship for its product, PairSense, a system of networked sensors that collects and analyzes foot traffic in urban communities and hosts software to more cost effectively manage services such as keeping streets clean, repairing sidewalks, collecting waste and optimizing routes for first responders.
"There is so much support for entrepreneurs to get started and get growing," Michael M. McCarthy, co-founder and president of OGOVO, says. The resources go beyond the university — Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Invent Penn State, Happy Valley Launchbox, Innovation Park, Global Entrepreneurship Week Penn State (GEW), New Leaf Initiative, Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Chamber of Business and Industry in Centre County (CBICC) come alongside other local technology partners to create a network that truly helps startups succeed.
McCarthy also enjoys the Centre County location. "We have a strong loyalty to the Centre region. Luckily for me, and so many others, Penn State and State College is one of the most innovative and supportive town and gowns in America — and at the top of the list in the entrepreneurship conversation."
Funding Opportunities and Low Costs
Benjamin Hall, founder of L4IS, a 3-D imaging and tomography technology company, sees Penn State as a huge perk for local entrepreneurs. "The school is a tremendous resource for expertise in a wide breadth of fields, and has a population of bright-eyed and motivated students. The business incubator, in conjunction with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, allowed us to develop a basic skill set and understanding of this new startup world, and provided opportunities for getting initial funding to launch."
Funding and, of course, cost is part of the convenience conversation for startups. Not only do entrepreneurs have resources that are typically available in places like New York City and Silicon Valley, but they are available much more affordably. Everything from rent to marketing and design costs are available at the same caliber as in a big city, but at a fraction of the price.
"The location offers easy access to most vital elements required to start a company — like equipment, people and low costs for leasing space," Hall says.
"I can't imagine a scenario where [launching L4IS] could have been possible without these key resources in place; the support and environment were critical to get my company off the ground," he adds.
It’s not just technology companies that enjoy the resource benefits of the innovation culture, though. Jamie Bestwick started Rothrock Coffee on Atherton Street after living in the area for 18 years. "The local community really embraces business startups in this town; it’s a point of pride for the ‘ever-growing valley’ to become more than just a slogan for a great community but, to nurture new brands that are embraced far and wide of the valley."
For Bestwick, the location and culture work together to create a great combination. "We are very lucky that agriculture in the area is incredibly good. It's a priority for us to have partners with the same high standards for finished products as we do. It’s been a great experience to also provide critical feedback to our partners in order to further enhance our products, which ultimately delivers on our promise to our customers. We also see ourselves as an opportunity to be an outlet for other startups, to showcase their products in our business; building other partnerships through your own success is vital to growth and progression in this area."
"People who live in this area of Pennsylvania like living here and want to stay here," says one local entrepreneur.