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Lehigh Valley Native New Leader of Lehigh Valley LaunchBox

By Colin McEvoy on January 20, 2023

Jill Crane, Penn State Lehigh Valley’s new Director of Business Development & Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Innovation Hub, speaking at the Upper Saucon Township campus. (photo courtesy Penn State Lehigh Valley)

As both a Lehigh Valley native and a Penn State University alumna, Jill Crane feels like she’s come full circle stepping into her new position as Director of Business Development & Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Innovation Hub at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

“They say you never really leave Penn State; you stay there in your heart,” Crane said. “And as a member of the Lehigh Valley community, you want to spur economic growth to any degree you can, so I hope with this position I can help truly make a visible impact on the region, which would be gratifying.”

Crane will be leading Lehigh Valley LaunchBox, an organization that connects aspiring entrepreneurs with microgrants, co-working space, legal and intellectual property services, business advice, mentorship opportunities, and other support services.

The Lehigh Valley program is part of the larger LaunchBox network across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which has supported more than 5,000 entrepreneurs, helping them launch more than 200 new companies and create 300 new jobs. More than 500 student internships have also been introduced through these initiatives.

“I think what sets LaunchBox apart is our students and faculty,” Crane said. “The ideas I’ve heard from our students already are tremendous. These young people are quite remarkably mature, and no dream is too big. Their passion for unfiltered and unfettered dreaming is inspiring.”

Crane, who began in the director position in September, spent the previous two years as Senior Product Manager, Exclusive Brands at ArtSkills, Inc., and before that worked for more than 12 years at Crayola, where she was a Product Manager for Coloring and Activity Kits.

Managing a retail product portfolio for Crayola will help Crane in her Lehigh Valley LaunchBox position, where aspiring entrepreneurs develop business ideas on every level, from inventing a new product to developing a scalable product line that can be commercialized in the mass market.

“As director of Lehigh Valley LaunchBox, Jill will have countless opportunities to help students and the greater community broaden their innovative and entrepreneurial thinking with the support of Penn State resources,” said Penn State Lehigh Valley Chancellor Tina Q.Richardson. “I know she is excited to reach everyone who wants to transform ideas into innovative opportunities.”

Lehigh Valley LaunchBox offers a wide variety of entrepreneurial programs and resources that are available free to all Pennsylvania residents and businesses. Located at the Penn State Lehigh Valley campus in Upper Saucon Township, the program helps provide entrepreneurs the support needed to build a sustainable and scalable business with a viable plan for growth.

Among the initiatives offered by Lehigh Valley LaunchBox is the Idea TestLab, a six-week program designed to help develop a better understanding of the customer problem an entrepreneur is trying to solve and how to provide value in a differentiated way.

Other programs include the Teen Entrepreneur Challenge, a summer camp for high school students; Masterminds, which provides peer-to-peer monthly support for business owners; and Brainstorm with LaunchBox, which provides immediate help with your idea or business.

LaunchBox also hosts frequent community events, particularly through its LaunchBox Ladies series, which is specifically focused on women in business. Neeli Bendapudi, the new President of Penn State University, spoke at a Lehigh Valley LaunchBox event in November.

“It’s appropriate to talk about entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit right here in the Lehigh Valley,” Bendapudi said. “Here is an entire region that has revitalized itself only through entrepreneurship. The Lehigh Valley is a beacon of what growth can look like. You really are an exemplar.”

Crane has a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from DeSales University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing, Communication, Advertising at Penn State University. Prior to work at Crayola, she was an Advertising Director at Posner Advertising in New York City.

Crane loved working and living in New York City, but when she was offered the opportunity at Crayola, she found herself excited to return to the Lehigh Valley where she was born and raised. Likewise, in taking on the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox job, her conversations with Richardson made her enthusiastic about giving back to the community that raised her.

“There are so many successful volunteers, board members, and people here who care and have such a great desire to see this area grow and its people succeed,” Crane said. “It’s about seeing those ribbons get cut, seeing those businesses open. That’s the pure joy.”

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