In its role as CAN DO’s entrepreneurial development arm, CAN BE’s mission has always been to foster entrepreneurship and new venture development in Greater Hazleton.

With entrepreneurship and innovative thinking growing throughout the area, CAN BE continues to expand the ways it serves as a primary business development support system for entrepreneurs.

In addition to working with CAN BE Innovation Center clients and independent business owners, CAN BE also provides mentoring services to individuals entering entrepreneurship competitions.

CAN DO Director of Economic Development Jocelyn Sterenchock said, “Entrepreneurship is really thriving throughout the region. We are seeing some of the best and brightest minds entering these competitions. As part of our business development services, CAN BE, together with a network of partners, have been able to help these entrepreneurs with creating a business plan, documenting their projected financial reports, finalizing pitches, and exploring the technical and operational requirements they’ll need to turn their idea into a viable business.”

CAN BE mentored three startup companies that were selected as finalists in tecBRIDGE’s 19th annual Business Plan Competition.

TecBRIDGE is a regional organization that is focused on growing entrepreneurship, innovation and the knowledge economy across Northeast Pennsylvania, with an emphasis on technology and biotechnology. The Business Plan Competition was created to tap into the region’s technology-driven economy, stimulate innovative thinking and recognize the overall importance entrepreneurship brings to a productive local economy.

Don Webster, tecBRIDGE Executive Director, said, “What the Business Plan Competition reminds us every year is that there is amazing potential and possibility right here in NEPA. The BPC is just one piece of the region’s strategies for entrepreneurship and innovation. BPC interactions lead to better solutions, but they also create inspiration and game-changing relationships. This year we had over 40 community volunteers share their time and expertise helping aspiring entrepreneurs explore, test and grow their ideas, skills and knowledge.”

In the Business Plan Competition, student teams from the region’s colleges and universities compete in the Collegiate Division while early-stage entrepreneurs compete in the Non-Collegiate Division. Winners of each division take home a top cash prize of $10,000 and the teams share in more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind services to launch their businesses.

Teams must submit an executive summary, competitive analysis, financial projections, as well as a pitch deck. After the written submissions for reach team are reviewed, finalists are invited to conduct a live presentation of their pitch deck, which is judged on both presentation content and quality.

Lisman Holdings CEO Jerry Lisman, who participates in the Business Plan Competition as an In-Kind Committee Chair and Help Session advisor, said, “Many entrepreneurs have said that the competition has made them look at their business from a totally different perspective. The mentors ask questions about the businesses that many owners never think of and may have them look at their business a little differently.”

Lisman added, “The ideas and talent we have seen over the years is truly amazing; young adults finding solutions too many, everyday problems. Some of the ideas and companies have grown into sizable companies based in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”

In her role as a mentor to the Greater Hazleton teams, Sterenchock gathered weekly with each team beginning in mid-January to help them determine if their idea was viable, complete a business model canvas, build a business plan and discuss the contest deliverables. Each team also participated in two regional work sessions with industry-specific mentors to further work through their business ideas and competitor analysis. Sterenchock also helped the teams work on creating their pitch decks and practicing their presentations.

Sterenchock said, “The process of building a plan and going through a pitch is an invaluable experience for these entrepreneurs. We are proud to work one-on-one as mentors to help these entrepreneurs take their businesses from an idea to a reality.”

Ranek Technologies LLC, is representing Greater Hazleton in the Business Plan Competition’s Collegiate Division, while area teams Shared Roots and Love, Kaki LLC are in the Non-Collegiate Division.

Ranek Technologies is a new and expanding software development and application development company based out of Hazleton and lead by university students Joe Halcisak, Erin Irey and Cody Reese. The company is about to launch its newest product, Kaydri, which is aiming to become the leading platform for photo and video sharing during live events.

In 2019, Halcisak, along with fellow Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences students Brandon DaGrosa and Logan Buglio, teamed up to win the tecBRIDGE High School Business Plan Competition. Later that year, the trio received the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce’s High School Entrepreneur of the Year award, which CAN BE sponsors. Now, just two years later, Halcisak has started Ranek Technologies and recently signed a rental agreement for space in the CAN BE Innovation Center.

Shared Roots is currently a single member LLC headed by founder and CEO Krista Schneider with support from partner/technical advisor Tom Clark. The company manufactures Garden Squares, a modular, seedable paper mulch made from spent brewery grains and other biodegradables. The product helps gardeners grow a better garden, organically, with less work and less space.

Love, Kaki’s owner, founder, & designer Amber Watts creates women’s intimates, lingerie, sleepwear, loungewear and accessories for both mommy and baby. The company’s vision is to create the best quality products at attainable price points for women and babies with fair trade and transparency in the USA. Its goal is to design timeless, versatile intimates that empower women to feel beautiful, sensual, and confident while clothed in comfortable, well-fitting garments that make them feel beautiful in their own skin.

In addition to the High School Business Plan Competition, tecBRIDGE also hosts the High School Big Idea Essay Competition for young and aspiring entrepreneurs. Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences student Brinn Gammer won the inaugural competition in 2020. This year, there are three students from the Hazleton Area School District who are finalists in the contest. Participants are given a question and must write an essay under 1,000 words on the topic. Five finalists have been invited to present their BIG Idea and discuss with the judges. All finalists will receive a scholarship they can use toward education expenses such as books, tuition and supplies and the winner receives a $1,000 scholarship. 

The Business Plan Competition finalists delivered a live presentation of their business plans on April 7 and the winners, along with winners of the BIG Idea Essay Competition, will be announced during a live award event on April 29 via Zoom.