UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Shenango student entrepreneurs Ali Izzo and Holly Masters won $15,000 for their startup Purpose Therapy Box in an annual “Shark Tank”-style competition hosted by the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP).
As part of PennTAP’s Inc.U Competition, Izzo and Masters competed against five other student companies from across the Commonwealth for up to $30,000 in funding on WPSU-TV’s “The Investment,” which aired at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 16.
The judges awarded Purpose Therapy Box the top prize, which makes it the first winner from a Penn State Commonwealth Campus.
“Purpose Therapy Box stood out during the video competition phase due to their passion, enthusiasm and commitment to solving a unique problem,” said Tim Kerchinski, PennTAP innovation team lead. “It was a scalable solution, and they were already generating revenue at the time of the competition. Their ideas for expanding their product line and markets were also impressive.”
Izzo and Masters are both graduates of Penn State Shenango’s occupational therapy assistant and human development and family studies programs. Both are certified and licensed practitioners currently working with nursing homes and hospital patients. Through their work with patients, they found that depression and loneliness were common, so they developed Purpose Therapy Box as a solution.
“Our vision is to decrease sadness and loneliness within the older adult population with gift boxes that also contain useful products,” said Izzo. “We want to use our education, clinical experience and resources to help parents, grandparents and any other older loved ones all over the United States, and eventually the world.”
Purpose Therapy Box’s office is located in a suite at Penn State Shenango’s innovation hub, VenturePointe at the eCenter @ Linden Pointe. Izzo and Masters found out about PennTAP’s Inc.U Competition through Georgia Macris, the entrepreneurship initiative coordinator at VenturePointe. They credit the VenturePointe support they received from their local community as a significant contributing factor to their success.
“We received amazing support from our campus,” said Masters. “Claudia Brown, a professor in human development and family studies, was the first person who truly believed in our idea and allowed us to do customer discovery, market research, and business planning within her class. The campus director, Dr. Jo Anne Carrick, drove to University Park to attend the taping at WPSU and cheered us on. Georgia Macris and the PennTAP adviser, Tim Kerschinski, listened to our pitch and helped us refine it. Liz Izenas, coordinator for communications and community relations, helped us figure out how to promote our business. And our entire campus has shown us overwhelming support and has believed in us from the very beginning.”
Izzo and Masters plan to use the prize money to further develop their digital presence and provide a more seamless user experience on their website.
“The funding we received will help us with website design, functionality and marketing,” said Masters. “By adding details like a secured and protected subscriber survey to our website, we will be able to further personalize our product and provide a more personalized experience for the customer.”