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New Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Manager Sees Big Potential for Region

By George Lewis on November 22, 2021

Justin Kresge has been appointed Director for Lehigh Valley LaunchBox at Penn State Lehigh Valley. (photo courtesy Justin Kresge)

Justin Kresge, recently appointed Director for Lehigh Valley LaunchBox at Penn State Lehigh Valley, started a business before he attended college and has lived in innovation hotbeds such as Austin, Silicon Valley, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Now, back in the Lehigh Valley, he sees similar potential for this region to become an entrepreneurial hub.

“I understand the landscape for entrepreneurship,” Kresge said. “We have the same resources for entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley that exist in places like Austin and other well-known innovation hubs. It’s exciting to help companies thrive in our own backyard.”

Kresge grew up in nearby Upper Hanover Township on the border of Montgomery counties. Before starting college at Penn State, he created a business building websites and consulting for small businesses. While in college, he participated in the Penn State Entrepreneur Network and Innoblue, the university’s community for entrepreneurs and change-makers. He also served as a student director for 3-Day Startup at Penn State.

He and his wife returned to the region to be closer to family and friends when his wife’s employer accepted a request to transfer to the New York City area.

“This is where we want to be,” he said. “People have opportunity today to thrive where they want to thrive. The Lehigh Valley has everything you need to be successful.”

With his strong background in business startups, he joined the LaunchBox Advisory Board two years ago. When the previous LaunchBox Director accepted a similar role with a business startup program at a university in upstate New York, Kresge was excited by the opportunity to expand his volunteer commitment to LaunchBox by applying for the full-time position.

He credits the commitment of Dr. Tina Richardson, Penn State Lehigh Valley’s Chancellor, to LaunchBox and to the community for inspiring him to take the role. Dr. Richardson also is an LVEDC Board member.

“There are so many great individuals who help LaunchBox thrive, like Michelle Landis, our new Advisory Board chair, and Janel Hanna, our Business Development Assistant. It’s an honor to work alongside them,” he said.

Lehigh Valley LaunchBox, part of the statewide Invent Penn State initiative, is an early-stage business accelerator program that connects local entrepreneurs with support, resources, and facilities they need to build a sustainable business at no cost to them.

Through LaunchBox, entrepreneurs have access to microgrants, co-working space at Velocity in Allentown, free legal services, and continuing education.

Only three weeks in the position, Kresge already has met with a dozen startup companies. He said that an email comment from one of those companies shows the true impact of LaunchBox: “I was totally energized by our discussion,” the entrepreneur wrote. “The other advisors I had spoken with didn’t encourage a small batch testing for salability, and I am so very grateful you mentioned this. It’s an obvious step that I somehow overlooked… Thank you so very much for the conversation.”

Lehigh Valley LaunchBox partnered with Factory LLC in the recent StartUp Lehigh Valley entrepreneur pitch competition. It also runs an Idea TestLab that provides one-on-one coaching support to develop business ideas, a Teen Entrepreneur Challenge Program to help area high school students become successful business owners, and the LaunchBox Ladies program that focuses on the unique challenges faced by women entrepreneurs.

Kresge said he has been encouraged by the progress made by LaunchBox programs. His priorities are to help the business accelerator evolve into a lean startup program, and to provide an additional bootcamp program specific to the needs of small-business startups, which are different than those of “high-growth” startups that are looking to seek venture capital investment or develop franchises.

He also intends to emphasize sparking ideas and promoting curiosity among high school students across the Lehigh Valley.

“Too often, we ask students, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Kresge said. “The way to encourage entrepreneurs is to ask, ‘What problems do you want to solve when you grow up?’”

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