Launching Big Ideas

Happy Valley LaunchBox, Powered by PNC Bank, helps entrepreneurs make their dreams a reality.

Mary Elizabeth McCulloch was a Penn State biomedical engineering student with a dream. She wanted to help people with nonverbal cerebral palsy and related disabilities communicate, using a low-cost speech-generating device called Voz Box.

Now she’s the owner of Project Vive, a startup made possible by Happy Valley LaunchBox, Powered by PNC Bank.

McCulloch speaking in front of a Happy Valley LaunchBox Powered by PNC sign
Mary Elizabeth McCulloch talks about her startup, Project Vive, which helps nonverbal people communicate through a low-cost speech-generating device. (Photo by Patrick Mansell, Penn State staff photographer.)

“I came up with the idea when I was an exchange student in Ecuador and volunteered at orphanages for special needs kids,” McCulloch said. “I noticed kids who, even though they were cognitively sound, weren’t able to speak or express their thoughts or ideas, and their caregivers would have to guess what they were saying through yes or no questions.”

I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless, but I lacked the money, experience and materials to pursue it.

But the people and resources at the LaunchBox helped her turn her idea into reality. Project Vive is one of 31 startups that have graduated through the Happy Valley LaunchBox innovation hub since it opened in downtown State College, Pa., nearly two years ago.

And, with help from a $1 million sponsorship from PNC there will be many more opportunities for others, like McCulloch, to bring their ideas to life.

Corporate Contribution

“We’re very excited to help take Happy Valley LaunchBox to the next level,” said Jim Hoehn, PNC regional president of Central Pennsylvania. “We are so proud and happy to partner with this initiative that’s going to help State College, Centre County and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Frankly, it should help the world.”

jim hoehn and eric barron with the new launchbox powered by pnc sign
Jim Hoehn, PNC regional president for Central Pennsylvania, and Eric Barron, Penn State University president, unveil the new Happy Valley LaunchBox Powered by PNC Bank logo.

The LaunchBox is part of a larger initiative called Invent Penn State, which helps entrepreneurs transform their great ideas into sustainable products and businesses. It includes 17 innovation hubs across Pennsylvania, where entrepreneurs can take advantage of no-cost working space, business and legal advice, and accelerator programs to help them test ideas and go to market faster.

Penn State will match PNC’s $1 million sponsorship dollar for dollar. The funding will help the innovation hub operate each year which, in turn, will drive economic development across the commonwealth.

Sharing Knowledge

In addition to funding, PNC also will offer its industry expertise as company representatives participate in the hub’s speaker series, mentorship program and more. The year-round calendar of activities will include senior executives through front-line employees like local branch managers, business bankers and relationship managers. PNC’s help will be just a call away, where a nearby employee can drop by to help answer an entrepreneur’s banking questions.

“PNC’s relationship with Penn State – both business and philanthropic – has spanned decades,” said Eric Barron, Penn State president. 

Nearly 600 Penn State alumni work at PNC, and PNC’s philanthropy has been part of some of the most important initiatives in our history. What’s more, they’ve often stepped forward in the early stages of a project, when Penn State most needed a partner who believed in our vision.

For people like Mary Elizabeth McCulloch, the impact is already tangible.

“The next step for Project Vive is to take what we have learned from our Voz Box users and release a beta product in the U.S. and Ecuador this year,” she said. “I am deeply grateful to Invent Penn State for making these resources available – and to PNC for investing in the innovation hub model.”

More than 30 entrepreneurial teams have graduated through the Happy Valley LaunchBox accelerator program since its opening in March 2016.