Making Makers of the Future

CAMBRIA COUNTY—Did you ever think about creating or inventing something? Or do you have an idea for a new business? If you do, then PittLIVE is the place where you can put your imagination to the test and the sky is the limit. This event is a rather new concept to showcase the talents of those in the area. Now in its third year, PittLIVE is supported in part through a grant from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to Entrepreneurial Alchemy.

“The idea is to showcase entrepreneurial talent and projects in our region, connect people who share interests in innovative, entrepreneurial, and artistic endeavors, and to host a competition that leads to investment in entrepreneurial ideas,” said Dr. Ray Wrabley, Chair, Division of Business and Enterprise at UPJ. “This is part of a broader effort to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem across our region.”

Wrabley is a part of the team that started the program in 2014. It coincides with the annual Showcase for Commerce, which is held in Johnstown each June.

“In 2014, the idea for a “Pitch Fest” to be held at the Showcase for Commerce came from some brainstorming sessions that included Skip Glenn (Marketing and Entrepreneurship at Pitt-Johnstown) and Donald Bonk (Entrepreneurial Alchemy), and that led to a collaboration supported by Linda Thomson (JARI), Mike Kane (Community Foundation), and the Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, Pitt-Johnstown President Dr. Jem Spectar had the idea for a campus-based event that would include the shark tank-style pitch competition embedded in a broader “expo” for makers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. That idea turned in to last year’s “Makers Premier and PITTchFest” under the leadership of Tammy Barbin, who had been brought on to coordinate a $500,000 grant we had received from PA’s Department of Community and Economic Development to partner with Penn State  and Bucknell to support undergraduate entrepreneurship education. Tammy’s team included Diana Shark and Rosemary Pawlowski from the local arts community. The Makers Premier and PITTch Fest event was on campus but also tied to the Showcase for Commerce at the War Memorial,” said Wrabley.

“Showcase for Commerce highlights the region’s defense companies, and by adding PittLIVE we are showcasing what else this region has,” said Donald Bonk, Director of Entrepreneurial Alchemy. “We are showing what future businesses we can have with the right people looking.”

Previous winners have proven they have the drive and success to make their dreams a reality. The winner in 2014 was a small start-up called Dimples, which has been successful thus far. JuicyBox, a customized electronic cigarette vending machine also placed in the competition. It has subsequently gotten a patent and is manufacturing a vending machine that will be in stores. Last year AbiliLife also placed and has recently launched.

“If you do nothing, nothing happens. But if you do something, you can change the world,” said Bonk. “We are finding talent in our region to help encourage business. Trying is worth the effort and we are creating an opportunity for people to get connected,” said Bonk.

 “This event has turned into an incredible regional collaboration with so many organizations and individuals committed to helping it grow because they want to support economic revitalization,” said Angie Berzonski, Program & Communications Officer for the Community Foundation. “The Foundation is a partner in this effort and helps to fund the prize awards for the entrepreneurs who take part in the competition.”

“Pitt Johnstown LIVE offers a unique blend of innovative art and artisanship, high tech inventions, competition for investment in bright new ideas, and music and food,” said Wrabley. “I like the fact that it offers an array of displays, demonstrations, and activities that will be of interest to young children, high school and college students, and anyone interested in what is being produced by the creative talent often hidden in our region.”

Funding has been provided by Pitt-Johnstown, a Department of Community and Economic Development grant, and the Community Foundation. Entrepreneurs and investors from the Pittsburgh area will be volunteering their time to be “sharks” on June 3 and 4 during the event.

As Bonk says, PittLIVE is ‘making makers of the future.’

“We are evolving, expanding, and growing a platform for talented people to attract potential business,” said Bonk. “We have talent here; it’s giving them the opportunity to shine and make something.”

 

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