By Eileen Godin, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
Wilkes University opened an entrepreneur incubator Tuesday.
The Wilkes Enterprise Center, located on the sixth floor of the Luzerne National Bank building off Public Square, opened its doors during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday. The facility is designed to foster student, faculty and staff businesses.
“What Wilkes University is doing here today is creating a Petri dish for entrepreneurship,” Wico van Genderen, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, said.
Rodney Ridley Sr., director of the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Wilkes University, said the center will provide business mentoring and space to help entrepreneurs to put business plans into action.
The result: Nine student and faculty business endeavors, so far.
One such business, Kraken Boardsports, is only two months away from launching a marketing campaign for their product, a winch snowboarders and wake boarders can use to pull themselves through snow or over a lake.
The brains behind the product are four seniors: Mike Grobinski and Alex Planar, mechanical engineering majors; Dan Lykens, an electrical and mechanical dual engineering and integrative media major; and Brandon Carey, a business marketing major.
“The idea came out of an engineering class,” Grobinski said. “The Enterprise Center has been indispensable giving us access to business people and resources.”
Grobinski said Kraken Boardsports will call the Wilkes Enterprise Center home with office space within the multi-room suite until the fledgling business takes off. Even then, Grobinski said the goal is to keep the business in the Wilkes-Barre area.
The center also provides a learning opportunity for younger students. Taillon Staudenmeier of Wilkes-Barre, a sophomore with an integrated media major, is one of several “Kirby Scholars” who work along side a mentor to help businesses in the incubator.
Staudenmeier said he attends meetings with Ridley and compiles marketing information for projects.
The marrying of the Wilkes Enterprise Center to the downtown was a key ingredient to its placement. The business incubator will continue to draw college students into the city.
Van Genderen said the center’s presence on Public Square will strengthen the bond between the city and university.
“What Wilkes is doing is foundational, and it will take on a life of its own,” van Genderen said.
Wilkes-Barre City Mayor Thomas Leighton added the business incubator will be a great addition to the City of Wilkes-Barre by fostering local business endeavors and increasing foot traffic.
Patrick F. Leahy, president of Wilkes University, said the lab is more than just space for students, it will provide economical and social development for the city.
“The best days of this university, the best days of this city, and the best days of this community lie ahead of us,” Leahy said.