Idea TestLab Virtual Accelerator

Have a Cool Idea for a Business?

Figure out how to turn it into a viable business. Idea TestLab is a virtual accelerator designed to help you better understand the customer problem you're trying to solve and how to provide value in a differentiated way. No affiliation with Penn State is required for participation. Any Pennsylvania-based entrepreneur is welcome to apply to this free program. Hosted by Harrisburg, Mont Alto, and York LaunchBoxes.
  • 4 week virtual startup accelerator
  • 1:1 coaching
  • No affiliation with Penn State required for application
Key Dates:
  • Applications are now open for the 2024 program. Click below to apply.
Discover your direction through testing and learning
The first step in taking an idea from concept to business is figuring out if you have identified a problem worth solving. Idea TestLab helps you get a better handle on what problem your customer really has and what value you can provide that others can’t.

Idea Test Lab Program Dates

Program consists of 4 virtual sessions and coaching sessions between each session.  Participants must attend all sessions to achieve preferred applicant status for the LION Tank pitch competition, hosted by Mont Alto LaunchBox  and may be eligible to apply for additional grant funding upon completion of program.

Week 1 Session Tuesday, February 6, 2024, 6-8 pm
Week 2 Session Tuesday, February 13, 2024, 6-8 pm
Week 3 Session Tuesday, February 20, 2024, 6-8 pm
Week 4 Session – pitch practice Tuesday, February 27, 2024, 6-8 pm

Program Sponsors

Winter 2024 program is hosted by the Harrisburg, Mont Alto, and York LaunchBoxes.


Educational materials for the Idea TestLab have been provided through a grant from Penn State Bookstore.  

Learn from your customer.

Successful startups begin by spending time with potential customers to figure out exactly what the problem is and how much “pain” they are having.

As part of the Idea TestLab, you will:

  • Talk with at least 30 potential customers
  • Validate your customers’ needs/pain
  • Identify key customer characteristics
  • Determine where they hang out (physically and virtually)

Figure out where others fall short.

It’s critical that you understand where other solutions fall short from the perspective of your target customers.

The Idea TestLab helps you:

  • Evaluate current solutions
  • Identify the tangible results you provide
  • Draft a value proposition

We take no equity. We charge no fees.

Our programs are offered at no cost. We take zero equity in your business and charge no rent to use our facilities.

Compete for seed funding.

After completing Idea TestLab, you will be considered a preferred applicant for Mont Alto LaunchBox’s LION Tank pitch competition, held the week of March 18-22, 2024. Participants may be eligible for an additional grant funding through the NSF iCorps Microgrant Program upon completion of the program.

1:1 Coaching

Get weekly 1:1 coaching sessions between classes to help you apply lean startup principles to your business idea.


What’s the Winter 2024 program schedule?

  • Week 1 Session: Tuesday, February 6, 2024, 6-8 pm
  • Week 2 Session:  Tuesday, February 13, 2024, 6-8 pm
  • Week 3 Session: Tuesday, February 20, 2024, 6-8 pm
  • Week 4 Session – pitch practice: Tuesday, February 27, 2024, 6-8 pm

Do I have to attend all 4 training sessions of Idea TestLab?

Yes. At least 1 person on each startup team must attend all 4 sessions to be considered a preferred applicant for the LION Tank pitch competition hosted by the Mont Alto LaunchBox. When you accept the invitation to join the cohort, you are committing to attending all sessions of Idea TestLab and doing all the required program work.

Are the class sessions live or pre-recorded?

The Tuesday evening class sessions are taught live and will be offered through a video conferencing platform.  You will be assigned pre-recorded videos to watch for homework between classes, however.

What is the time commitment?

It is our expectation that all participants are serious about, and will be dedicated to, testing their idea. Participants in the Idea TestLab should be prepared to spend between 7-12 hours a week during the program (2 hours a week in a weekly session, 1 hour 1:1 coaching, 4-9 hours conducting customer discovery).

If I have others working with me, does everyone have to participate?

Not required, but recommended.

If you have others that you are working with, or might want to work with, the program is a great way to get everyone on the same page and see how well you work together.

Are there geographic restrictions on who applies or participates?

As long as you are a Pennsylvania-based entrepreneur or startup, you may apply to the program.

What type of people/teams are the best fit for the Idea TestLab program?

Idea TestLab is best for individuals or teams who have identified a problem (or idea) they want to work on, but have not yet systematically collected data to validate the problem/need and who has it. We look for scalable ideas that have an unclear, or unknown business model.  This program is not a good fit for traditional businesses such as a restaurant or retail store.

We are looking for teams or individuals who…

  • have identified a problem (or idea) they want to explore as a potential business.
  • need help to clearly define their target customer and the value they can provide to them.
  • are willing to learn from others by working through the customer discovery process, which includes holding 10 business interviews (customers, experts, competitors) each week.
  • are looking to build their entrepreneurial skills by participating in a structured program that focuses on moving ideas from concept to potential viable businesses.
  • are struggling with identifying an appropriate business model.

How do I figure out if Idea TestLab is for me?

Questions about the program ?  Watch the Get Started Building Your Business with Lean Startup webinar from 2020 Global Entrepreneurship Week at Penn State.  Learn more about customer discovery and lean startup process and listen to Q&A about Idea TestLab.

Use the “Contact Us” page to reach out with questions.

I want to open a traditional business (i.e. retail, restaurant, as a sole proprietor), is the program right for me?

Our programs are best suited to non-traditional businesses where the business model is unknown or unclear.

If you are looking to open a traditional business, we do offer many resources to help you. You do not need to be affiliated with Penn State to utilize these services:

Do I have to have a team to apply?

  • Nope. We welcome individuals who are looking to better define an idea for their business.

How many entrepreneurs will be selected to participate?

  • Usually 8-10 applications are accepted into the cohort.

What is included in the Idea TestLab?

  • Four virtual classes in which teams learn customer discovery techniques and guidance on how to test the assumptions behind their business ideas.
  • Weekly 1:1 coaching
  • Text and video educational resources (i.e. homework!)
  • Preferred application status for the LION Tank pitch competition hosted by Mont Alto LaunchBox.

Will I have a business by the end of the program?

That’s hard to say. We can tell you, however, that by the end of the program, you will:

  • have verified your assumptions about the problem and who has it,
  • have a clear statement of the problem or job your customer is trying to accomplish and the root cause of that problem/need,
  • know what your customer is doing to try solve the problem today and how that’s working for them,
  • understand what motivates your customer to keep looking for a solution, and
  • be able to pinpoint how you can provide value with your solution.

With all that under your belt, you’ll be ready to start building a minimum viable product and start testing the market.

Do you take equity in my company?

No. We take zero equity and charge no fees.

Will Penn State own any intellectual property I bring to the Bootcamp?

No, you own your own intellectual property (IP), unless you are a faculty member or current graduate student of Penn State who is commercializing your university research. Your IP safely stays with you! What’s more, Penn State can even help you protect your IP. The Penn State Law Intellectual Property Clinic provides free legal services related to intellectual property to Pennsylvania entrepreneurs. No affiliation with Penn State is required to work with the Clinic.

Who is hosting the program?

The winter 2024 Idea TestLab program is a collaboration between the Harrisburg, Mont Alto, and York LaunchBoxes.


Who is teaching the program?

The program will be co-facilitated by Allan Lehman and Helen McGarry.

Allan Lehman: Director of the Graham Center for Innovation and Collaboration at Penn State York and Director of York LaunchBox

Helen McGarry: Director of Continuing Education at Penn State Mont Alto and Director of Mont Alto LaunchBox

Amma Johnson: Manager of the Harrisburg LaunchBox at Penn State Harrisburg

The program also includes 1:1 coaching with a group of experienced startup coaches who are business leaders and entrepreneurs.