[email protected] Branches Out

HERMITAGE, Pa. – A decade after it opened, the [email protected] in Hermitage, Pa., not only serves as an incubator for startup businesses that need a physical presence but also has branched out to train and support tomorrow’s businesses in two areas – cybersecurity and entrepreneurship.

Jeff Meier, executive director of the LindenPointe Development Corp., a 501c3, says six of the eight suites there are full and negotiations are occurring for another business.

The incubator provides a low-cost, quality office location. It was built with state and federal funds.  

It currently houses Penn-Northwest Development Corp., the lead economic development agency in Mercer County; Earthen Crystals LLC, a seller of high-quality crystals from mines worldwide; OLT OhanaLink Technologies, a private platform for health-related connectivity; Seniors Helping Seniors, offering in-home care services; and staffing agency Express Employment Professionals.

Additionally, co-workers at the site are American Education Pathways, which helps international students find schools and universities in America; ForceNow, a cybersecurity provider; Smarty Pixels, an online marketing and software firm; and CUPOD, which provides greener food-service work environments.

Meier says the [email protected] recently provided seed funding for the first time, investing in ForceNow. One of the aims of the incubator program early on, Meier says, his organization hopes to provide similar seed-funding opportunities to other startups.

With its partnership with ForceNow, the eCenter has been able to help provide cybersecurity support and search engine optimization services, in addition to the fax, printing, postal services, WiFi, podcast center and server access businesses and co-workers receive.

The incubator is hoping to partner with other incubators and public entities to provide more widespread business support and training services, Meier says.

Cybersecurity Training

The president of ForceNow Cybersecurity, Jonathan Steenland, is working with the eCenter to create the Pennsylvania Cybersecurity Center announced earlier this year.

This 16-week course trains the next generation of cybersecurity experts, assisting small and medium businesses that cannot afford to hire someone full-time. The students are prepared for flexible careers, ones where they can live and work locally while providing cybersecurity services to companies, both here and nationwide.

Steenland says there are 600,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs across the United States, including 20,000 in Pennsylvania and 14,000 in Ohio. The average entry-level income is $72,000.

Currently, the program is partnered with four high schools and four colleges: Penn State, Thiel, Westminster and Slippery Rock. Steenland says his company goes to the schools to expose students to possibilities in cybersecurity careers, then trains them, gets them CompTIA certified and assists them in finding jobs.

“Cybersecurity is a discipline you can do anywhere in the world,” Meier says, adding many cybersecurity specialists were working remotely long before the pandemic.

Already, Steenland says there are numerous employers expressing interest in hiring those coming through the program.

The eCenter’s Meier says a cyber range will be built for the program. Designed to give the students studying cybersecurity experience in identifying and responding to cyberattacks, a cyber range lab simulates various threats to computer systems.

“Matthew DeMaria, the interim instructor for the program, has done a fantastic job with this program,” Meier says.

DeMaria is affiliated with the Penn State Shenango campus in Sharon, Pa., and has far-reaching responsibilities throughout the Penn State campuses.

eAcademy

In its eighth year, the eAcademy has 25 senior students from Mercer and Lawrence counties ready to start the year-long immersive program.

First, students learn about the entrepreneurial mindset, career paths and turning their passions into careers. In the second half of the year, students concentrate on the 24 steps for a successful startup, including creating a business plan, says Katie Kelly Parr, eAcademy director. They break into smaller groups to create a business.

Students completing the program can receive up to three college credits per semester and participate in Demo Day at Buhl Park, where they can earn prize money.

Parr says they can use the money to continue working on their business at the eCenter or to continue their education elsewhere.

Meier credits Parr with getting the program back on track after the pandemic jeopardized so many educational opportunities.

With a decade behind it, the [email protected] continues to evolve in what it offers for businesses and the community.

Steenland credits Jewel Monington with tying everything together. She supports all of the tenants at the eCenter, and also works with the eAcademy and the PCC program.

“We’re hoping to add new programs in the future,” Meier says.

Pictured at top: The eCenter staff includes Will Miller, an intern; Katie Parr, director of the eAcademy; Jeff Meier, LindenPointe executive director; and Jewel Monington, office administrator.