Young entrepreneurs benefit from programming through Penn State Wilkes-Barre

Four students sitting at a table during a class

Members of last year's Teen Entrepreneurial Challenge interact during a class. This year's session runs from June 24 to 28.

Credit: Penn State

DALLAS, Pa. — Penn State Wilkes-Barre and its LaunchBox are supporting entrepreneurship beginning at the high school level through programming and partnerships in the region.

The campus has hosted a Teen Entrepreneurial Challenge the last few summers, with high school students attending a one-week accelerated program to learn the basics of entrepreneurship while exploring their ideas. In 2023, the program was an in-person event through Penn State Wilkes-Barre. The prior year, it was held virtually in connection with Penn State Hazleton. This year’s Teen Entrepreneurial Challenge includes five sessions of business mentoring and coaching, led by Penn State entrepreneurship educators and local small-business leaders.

“The focus of the program is to help the students develop the competencies needed in entrepreneurship,” said Stephanie Gresh, assistant teaching professor of business and coordinator of the Penn State Wilkes-Barre LaunchBox. “Following last year's camp, some of the students applied for an internship program developed by tecBRIDGE that further develops the skills they learned. We also had a student who completed the Teen Entrepreneurial Challenge who is taking part in a dual enrollment class offered at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.”

Penn State Wilkes-Barre partners with tecBRIDGE, an organization that focuses on growing information technology industries while fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in northeastern Pennsylvania, to offer programming aimed at assisting entrepreneurs. Don Webster is the executive director of tecBRIDGE and oversees the internship program.

“We have worked with Stephanie and other professors in the business department at Penn State Wilkes-Barre to identify opportunities for both high school and college students,” Webster said. “There are many dimensions to an entrepreneurship program, and high school students make up one dimension we want to help support.”

“We have an array of initiatives that Penn State Wilkes-Barre participates in, including a Youth Entrepreneurship Conference and a business plan competition. I’ve spoken on a number of panels and been a mentor to those participating in the Idea TestLab,” he continued. “There is a lot of energy going on at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. All of these programs and events are a great benefit for the students and community.”

Abby Sokaloski, a junior at Wyoming Area High School, participated in the Teen Entrepreneurial Challenge over the summer and is taking a dual enrollment course this semester at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

“It really helped me develop my skills by teaching me many of the basic aspects of entrepreneurship and giving me hands-on experience applying those new concepts,” Sokaloski said of the Teen Entrepreneurial Challenge. “I learned how to create product ideas, overcome problems related to them, and come up with the best final product possible in the given timeframe. It was also extremely helpful in bettering my communication skills and really brought me out of my comfort zone.”

“Programs like these help me pursue my interest in entrepreneurship by providing me with opportunities to essentially test out whether or not I like entrepreneurship and would want to continue on that path as a career,” she said. “It also helps me get experience in that field early on, which is extremely useful to me, as I have hopes of being a successful entrepreneur one day.”

She is taking the course “College, Work, and Citizenship in the 21st Century,” a new class taught by Gresh that focuses on artificial intelligence, technology and entrepreneurial skill development through soft skills in the humanities and social sciences. The course is designed to help students understand what knowledge and creative economies are and to learn about the career opportunities that they have with the core skills and knowledge developed through a humanities and social science education.

Sokaloski would like to own and operate her own toy company after earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s of business administration.   

“The creative world of toys gave me a ton of joy throughout my life, and I hope to share that with other people,” she said. “I hope that initiatives like these will help me one day turn my ideas into reality, and successfully run my own business.”

Gresh said Penn State Wilkes-Barre has intentionally developed programming to support entrepreneurial-minded students of any age.

“Our goal is to help students develop stronger life skills and we feel entrepreneurship is the perfect foundation for that,” Gresh said. “The soft skills we have identified are growth mindset, emotional intelligence, social influence, creative problem-solving and coaching. The LaunchBox programs are focused on advancing those soft skills, along with developing the practical skills of entrepreneurship.”

The Penn State Wilkes-Barre LaunchBox is part of Invent Penn State, a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success through entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university/community/industry collaboration.

This year’s Teen Entrepreneurial Challenge will be held June 24-28 from 9 a.m. to noon each day. The program is for youth entering grades 10-12 in the fall or recent graduates. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place. Register online here.