Lion Launch Pad awards grants to spur students' innovations

Stefanie Tomlinson
April 21, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Three Penn State engineering students -- Mridul Bhandari, Nick Pisciotta and Richard Zang -- now have a little more money to help enhance their startups, thanks to Lion Launch Pad.

The students pitched their ideas for the companies -- Kromos, Odyssey Innovations and Southern Staple -- and each will receive a $500 grant after winning a competition held April 13.

The students explained their product ideas, in 7 minutes or less, to a panel of judges that included Linda Feltman, senior business consultant at the Penn State Small Business Development Center; Travis Lesser, experiential learning entrepreneurship coordinator at Smeal College of Business; and Jared Yarnall-Schane (’14 M E), co-founder of GreenTowers.

According to Liz Kisenwether, co-director of Lion Launch Pad, pitches were assessed in six categories: the target problem or need, proposed solution, target market, revenue model, competitive advantage, market research and proposed use of the grant funds.

Mridul Bhandari, a Schreyer Scholar and fifth-year senior in chemical engineering, explained the concept for Kromos, a modular furniture company. “It’s basically Legos for furniture. You can rearrange pieces to make a table, chair, bookshelf, desk or essentially any kind of furniture. It’s lightweight, requires no tools and is easy to do!”

She added that the product allows people to furnish their space the way they want with limited resources and makes it simple for people to cater to changing circumstances.

Odyssey Innovations is developing a closed-loop system that recycles water within a greenhouse.

Team leader and aerospace engineering senior Richard Zang said, “This system could save water, energy and electricity consumed by a greenhouse, producing the same crop yield with fewer resources.”

Nick Pisciotta founded the apparel company Southern Staple in July 2013.

The mechanical engineering junior and ROTC member said, “Southern Staple’s products are inspired from cultural elements I experienced while growing up near a lake in Virginia.”

According to Pisciotta, the clothing is 100 percent American made.

All three aspiring engineers agreed that it was difficult to boil down their business ideas into a 7-minute presentation.

Pisciotta said, “There is a lot to explain about the business, including multidimensional marketing, product development, company history, a revenue model and market opportunities.”

Bhandari added, “It’s always difficult to be objective about something you’re so passionate about. Trying to give an accurate representation of how far your business has come while showing the judges where it could go is challenging.”

Adding a philanthropic component to her endeavor, Bhandari plans to sell sets of furniture pieces using a BOGO (buy one, give one) scheme. “For every one person who buys a set, a desk set will be given to a child in a developing country to help with their education.”

Based at the University Park campus, Lion Launch Pad is a business accelerator program that helps student entrepreneurs turn innovative product and service concepts into viable startup companies. 

The contest was co-hosted by Innoblue, an organization that connects Penn State students who have innovative ideas to faculty, staff, administrators and local businesspeople who can offer advice and support to help bring those ideas to fruition.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 21, 2015