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by Phil Yacuboski

Collaborations are nothing new, but business and academia have joined forces in many ways to help both sides achieve results.

“Prior to launching, we got a focus group together at the University of Scranton to get them to look at the concept and to make sure that we were on the right path,” said Kevin Granville, founder of Cracked Innovations.

When college students go away to school, they are thrust into a new environment in many cases with few people they know and sometimes meeting people can be difficult.

The What Now App was launched by Cracked Innovations, a tech company startup with offices in the Scranton Enterprise Center. They used resources from the University of Scranton’s Small Business Development Center to help them grow, gaining critical insight in the early stages.

The app allows students on college campuses to find people with various interests to meet in a city where they may not know anyone. This is the first app they’ve developed in their start-up company since launching in 2015.

“After we launched the product, we then met with several classes to talk with them about where the product was and where it was going,” he said. “We wanted their opinions on whether or not this was something valuable.”

Granville said so far, the information he’s gained working through the university has been helpful.

“It gave us some direction,” he said. “I’ve been out of college for some time along with my co-founder, so we weren’t really sure of what the challenges were. I’m not sure a lot of people know that help like this exists.”

Colleges and universities often work with small businesses to help them get ideas off the ground. The University of Scranton is one of 18 colleges and universities across Pennsylvania with a Small Business Development Center. In the first half of 2017, SBDCs across the state helped more than 3,900 entrepreneurs. It’s estimated they are responsible for increasing global sales by more than $27 million.

“This university invests a lot of money into hosting the SBDC, which serves eight counties throughout our region,” said Lisa Hall-Zielinski, director, The University of Scranton SBDC. “The way we connect businesses and use students and faculty to help them with their businesses plans and growth is really great.”

She said interns with the SBDC work directly with clients on different projects, which can include anything from helping with research to determining feasibility of a product. Hall-Zielinski said the information is gathered on a needs basis.

“We do a lot of research on things that take so much time, especially for a small business,” she said. “We do it up front so as the client is developing the product, they know what road to take.”

“If downtown Wilkes-Barre doesn’t look good, we don’t look good and it’s in our best interest to help the business community around us,” said Dr. Rodney Ridley, director of the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Wilkes University. “If a faculty member has technology that they are working on, we can commercialize that now, which includes students.”

He said they have helped countless businesses through mentorship programs. The Kirby Scholar program at Wilkes takes the best student from each discipline who is at that client’s disposal for whatever they need.

“They are hands on,” he said. “Our legal studies student isn’t a lawyer, but when it comes time for real legal help, they then take those concerns to a lawyer who can then, in turn, help the client.”

Dr. Ridley called it a unique ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem.’

“The client gets what they need and the student gets an experiential learning opportunity from the best in the area,” he said. “And the mentor gets to give back to the community.”

He said they also work with inventors to patent their ideas. Many don’t know they exist.

“I think what you see now is the coming together of things that can help us build a great community,” he said.