Startups

Lehigh University is bringing its first accelerator for early-stage companies to campus

Lehigh Ventures Lab will connect recent university graduates and other area entrepreneurs with resources, capital and mentorship for their ventures. It's hiring for a director now.

A Baker Institute design sprint in April 2022.

(Photo by Christa Neu via Lehigh University)

For years, leaders at Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation have been looking for ways to support their student entrepreneurs once their businesses are up, running and looking to grow.

Lisa Getzler, the Institute’s executive director who’s been with the university for 20 years and the Institute for a decade, will lead the Lehigh’s newest venture to support startups. This year, the university and the Institute will launch Lehigh Ventures Lab, an accelerator for early-stage companies.

“We have helped them learn what they need to learn, and prototype, but not have been able to help them if they launch a company,” Getzler said. “Once they graduate, we’ve had to hand them off to other accelerators and incubators. The lab represents a whole new part of the ecosystem that we have not participated in.”

The lab will be vertical agnostic, but catered to pre-seed, proof-of-concept-stage companies that have some traction with product market fit and are ready to hit their next milestone. A big part of the accelerator will be helping companies identify what that next step is and execute it, whether that be building mentor relationships, finding funding or sharpening specific skill sets. Getzler imagines companies will be with the program for about six months and they’ll be able to serve about a dozen companies at a time. The companies won’t exactly be in a cohort; instead, the lab will operate with a rolling acceptance since each company will have different needs and timelines.

The university has a partnership with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco, which will guide the Lehigh Ventures Lab’s programming. Getzler said she’s been talking about a program of this kind for a decade, but it began to take shape about four years ago. The pandemic put off plans a bit, but they’re launching the first steps — hiring a director — now.

That director will report to Getzler at the Baker Institute, and might get a second employee down the line if the program proves itself, she said. They hope to have someone in place mid-summer, to begin accepting applicants to officially launch the program in January 2023. Then, it will operate out of the university’s Experiential Business Building. And while the program was imagined as a next step to graduating or alumni founders, it won’t be exclusive to the university community.

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The Lehigh Valley does have some other resources and programs for entrepreneurs, Getzler noted, such as Ben Franklin Technology Partners‘ Northeastern Pennsylvania branch. Lafayette University also has its Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Penn State University’s Lehigh Valley LaunchBox business accelerator is also nearby.

“They’re in our backyard, but there’s a fairly significant gap between startups in the student population and what’s ready to be a Ben Franklin company,” Getzler said. “So we’re thinking about how some this could be a stepping stone. There are several resources that will feed us and we’ll feed them.”

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