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Centre County Commissioners honor SpringBoard Startup Challenge winners

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Entrepreneurs were honored by the Centre County Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting. From left, Mary Elizabeth McCullough, Nancy McCullough and Dan McKenna. McCullough’s AbleRacers took first place, while McKenna’s Hoop Stars was second.

BELLEFONTE — It was a big day for Centre County entrepreneurs on Tuesday at the Centre County Commissioners meeting.

Three area entrepreneurs were honored as winners of SpringBoard’s Startup Challenge. SpringBoard provides a low-cost co-working solution to startups and entrepreneurs in Bellefonte.

Commissioners Mark Higgins, Michael Pipe and Steve Dershem recognized the winners during a brief ceremony.

The first-place winner was AbleRacers, which works to adapt toys and toy cars so that they are accessible to all children. Simply put, AbleRacers modifies toys with a switch. From Elmo dolls to toy cars, there’s nothing AbleRacers hasn’t tried to adapt.

Mary Elizabeth McCullough talked about how AbleRacers came to be.

“I recruited my brother to help me with some projects with Easter Seals. Easter Seals had a lot toys that were broken and they’re very expensive to fix because they’re adapted toys,” McCullough said. “They’re basically activated by switches … we looked and saw there were toys for like $200 and we thought we could just buy a commercial toy and adapt them.”

She said it started when she and her brother saw a need in the community for access to adapted toy cars and other adapted toys so that every kid can play. The nice things about AbleRacers is that it makes ride-on toy cars that require minimal assembly, so that parents can set them up on their own without having to wait for a workshop to put them together. At AbleRacers, experienced electronics technicians complete all the electrical rework, component installation and testing that adapting a toy car requires.

McCullough said the goal of AbleRacers is to make everything functional – and affordable.

“We have 50 toys that are under $50,” she said.

AbleRacers received $3,000 to execute a marketing plan. It also received a six-month SpringBoard full-desk membership.

There was a tie for second place.

Dan McKenna founded Hoop Stars, which is a relatively new business. McKenna, who stands 6-foot-11, played basketball at Penn State. He’s been involved with playing and coaching basketball for the past 25 years. According to McKenna, he saw a need in the community for a structured environment for children to learn the game.

“We started Hoop Stars back in the fall. It’s designed to be two-fold,” McKenna explained. “It’s a pre-school basketball program. There’s really no other program in Centre County.”

However, there’s a lot more to Hoop Stars than just basketball. For McKenna, it’s personal.

“I have a son with special needs and I decided to leave my job full-time so I could start this business and work around his schedule. I’ve been testing the market. We started with one pre-school class and we’re running five pre-school classes now. Starting next week, we’ll be in the State College after school program, so I’ll be teaching four days a week,” McKenna said.

McKenna was awarded $2,000 to execute a marketing plan for Hoop Stars and a six-month SpringBoard co-working membership. Tying for second place was Dana M. Ray Consulting, which helps businesses take their complex ideas and focus them to clarify their unique value, mission, vision, company culture, values, brand choice and project direction.

Ray was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We wanted to honor our local entrepreneurs,” Higgins said. “They’re going to help create a lot of jobs.”

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