Student startup 'Keyper' phone wallet wins grand prize in Inc.U Competition

August 06, 2020

Penn State University Park student entrepreneurs Ezra Gershanok and Isaac Goodman won $25,000 for their startup, Keyper, in the annual “Shark Tank”-style competition hosted by the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP). 

As part of PennTAP’s Inc.U Competition, Gershanok and Goodman 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 10 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5. It was also released as a web episode and is accessible here.

“There are a range of indicators for viable business, including the overall potential, whether the effort is actually doable, whether the product or solution is truly desirable by the intended customer, et cetera,” Scott Johnson, a Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA entrepreneur in residence and lead judge for the Inc.U Competition, said. “We felt that, among the teams, Keyper had the best mixture of those attributes and was a good example of a clever, simple product with proven traction that had unique potential to succeed.” 

 Keyper is a phone wallet that combines and secures a college student’s essentials: phone, ID card, and room key. 

“The whole goal of creating Keyper was to learn,” Gershanok said. “First, how to create a product and work with manufacturers in China. Then how to patent the product. And most recently, how to sell the product. Raising funds is like selling the product, but more so selling your team as entrepreneurs.” 

Gershanok and his team first applied to Inc.U last year, but they didn’t make it past the first round. The team had also applied to a startup accelerator program right before applying to Inc.U a second time and didn’t get into the program.  

“I literally got the email that we were not accepted to the accelerator minutes before I filmed the initial application video for Inc.U,” Gershanok said. “Without the earlier failures … we would not have been equipped with the experience and research to win the $25,000.” 

He added that the advice the PennTAP staff provided on their pitch video as well as the opportunity to discuss their business goals with Lou Childs, a previous Shark Tank contestant, was invaluable. 

“We also spoke to each of the other judges after the show, and it was just amazing to be recognized by such accomplished people,” Gershanok said. “‘The Investment’ has completely changed the game for our business. The $25,000 will allow us to explore opportunities to expand that we did not think were possible three weeks ago.” 

Keyper plans to use the funding to market a big back-to-school initiative to students and parents this August, as well as hire sales ambassadors across the Big Ten and Ivy League schools. They are also exploring other products such as a mask holder that would help keep disposable masks clean. 

‘The Investment’ judges also awarded $5,000 to Unis Brands, a startup that creates fully sustainable 3D printed footwear.  

The footwear company was founded by brothers and Penn State University Park students Nick and Jake Unis, who plan to use the funding to expand their marketing efforts. 

“Unis was a great example of applying technology to disrupt existing manufacturing strategies and, in the process, their supply chains,” Johnson said. “While their objective to penetrate the consumer fashion product space is not an easy one, they seem to have been nurturing a few unique audiences that may prove to be demand-drivers for their product in large part because of how it’s made.” 

The other four student startups that competed in the 2020 Inc.U Competition were: 

  • JERPA Jeans, which makes sherpa-lined jeans for all your outdoor needs when you want to look fancy but feel comfortable. 

  • LoanCrunch, a mobile app that helps students manage their student loans by providing them one platform to easily understand, manage, and repay their student debt. 

  • D’Vote, a community focused app where people can donate money through rounding up their purchases. 

  • Aerial Prospex, a commercial drone service company authorized by the FAA that specializes in progress reports, inspections, and photogrammetry. 

“The Investment” television show is the culmination of the Inc.U Competition managed by PennTAP in partnership with Invent Penn State, Penn State Outreach, and the Penn State Commonwealth Campuses. The initiative is funded by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.  

The pivot to the virtual taping of this event was made possible thanks to the following WPSU sponsors: 

The sponsors for the competition prize money are as follows: 

Invent Penn State, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Penn State College of Engineering, and the Robert & Tammy Morgan Entrepreneurship Fund. 

Visit the WPSU Penn State website to watch the show online. 

To view more Penn State affiliated startups, visit the Invent Penn State Startup Navigator.


Last Updated August 06, 2020