Economic Development

eCenter Links Entrepreneurs with Startup Resources

HERMITAGE, Pa. — Lack of innovation doesn’t afflict the Shenango Valley, but too many entrepreneurs are unaware of the resources available to support them. That’s a situation the new executive director of the eCenter@LindenPointe in Hermitage, Pa. wants to change.

“The great thing is there is a lot of innovation,” says Ketaki Desai, who became executive director of the eCenter in mid-December. People in the area have great ideas and there are several colleges nearby, she says, but many individuals remain unaware that the eCenter exists.

“We need to let them know there are resources and guide them to whatever assistance they may need. I don’t think there’s a dearth of innovation at all,” she says. “One of the things that we’re doing is raising awareness.”

Desai, who has a doctorate in biomedical sciences – with a specialty in cardiovascular physiology – from Texas A&M University, received a degree in public management from Carnegie Mellon University. She subsequently launched her first startup and later went into consulting.

Desai continued to be involved with startups, either as a founder or part of the executive team before the chairman of the eCentre board approached her about the opening for executive director.

“They say in the startup world that after about 10 or 11 startups you get your big startup, and I’d already been a part of five or six,” she says. So she had to decide whether to “wait for six more startups” or try something different and share what she had learned along her own entrepreneurial journey.

Openings for such management positions are rare at the relatively few incubators that exist, and this gave her the opportunity to be part of not just one company but have “so many different babies, so to speak,” she says.

In addition, she was interested in “doing something in an area” where there was little startup activity and where she thought she could make a difference.

Among the changes made since Desai joined the eCenter are bringing the Entrepreneurship Academy, a program targeted at high school students, under the eCenter umbrella; creating a co-working space that allows individuals to rent a desk for $100 per month “so they can sit here instead of sitting at a Starbucks and work”; and setting up technology workshops targeted at seniors.

The incubator is at near-full occupancy, with just one large suite and one small suite unoccupied, and prospective tenants for both, she reports.

One of the means the eCenter will use to promote entrepreneurship is “Startup Weekend Hermitage,” a new event the incubator will host next week. Presented Sept. 16, 17 and 18 by tech giant Google and startup accelerator Techstars, Startup Weekend participants will collaborate to brainstorm and launch startups.

“It’s 54 hours of being an entrepreneur on steroids,” Desai says. Not limited to entrepreneurs, the event is intended to foster creative thinking in the community, she adds.

“The power of Startup Weekend is building your local ecosystem while being exposed to a global network,” says Lisa Evans, program director for the eCenter and one of the lead organizers of Startup Weekend.

Evans is among the eCenter representatives who attended a Startup Weekend in Pittsburgh and wanted to bring the event to the Shenango Valley.

“We loved the collaborative atmosphere,” she says. “We loved the energy and we wanted to bring it to our community.”

Pictured: Ketaki Desai, executive director of the eCenter at LindenPointe, and Lisa Evans, program director.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.