Idea TestLab

Have a Cool Idea for a Business?

Figure out how to turn it into a viable business. Idea TestLab is a "customer discovery" deep-dive 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. Applications are welcomed from any Pennsylvania-based entrepreneur. Idea TestLab is free to participants and takes no equity.
  • 6 week startup virtual accelerator
  • 1:1 coaching support
  • Final elevator pitch competition
  • Continued support after program completion
Key Dates:
  • The application period has closed, but Idea TestLab will be back in winter 2022. Check back in fall 2021 for application information.
Accelerator Virtual Bootcamp
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.

Application to Idea TestLab is open to all early-stage, PA-based entrepreneurs – no affiliation with Penn State is required for participation.
Program details
  • 6 virtual learning sessions
  • 1:1 weekly coaching
  • Win up to $2500 in final elevator pitch competition
  • Access up to $3000 in additional grant funding

Idea Test Lab Class Dates

Program consists of 6 virtual sessions.  Participants must attend all sessions to complete in final pitch competition and be eligible to apply for additional $3000 grant funding upon completion of program.

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 40 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 free. We take zero equity in your business and charge no rent to use our facilities.

Compete for seed funding.

After 5 weeks of bootcamp classes, you will present your customer research and value proposition to compete for up to $2500 in seed funding for further customer discovery and validation.  Participants may be eligible for an additional $3000 in 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


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.

Do I have to attend all 6 sessions of Idea TestLab?

Yes. At least 1 person on each startup team must attend all 6 sessions to be able to compete in the elevator pitch competition for seed funding. When you accept the invitation to join the cohort, you are committing to attending all 6 sessions of Idea TestLab and doing all the required homework.

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

The Idea TestLab is best for individuals 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, do this program is not a good fit for individuals wanting to open a traditional business 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?

  • 5 virtual classes in which teams learn customer discovery techniques and guidance on how to test the assumptions behind their business ideas.
  • 1 Final virtual elevator pitch presentation, in which participants compete for up to $2500 in seed funding
  • Weekly 1:1 coaching
  • Text and video educational resources (i.e. homework!)

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 provide funding for Idea TestLab teams?

After 5 weeks of class, entrepreneurs will have a chance to compete for up to $2500 in prize funding for further customer discovery/research and prototyping.

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.

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 group class and 5- 10 hours preparing for and carrying out 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.

Who is teaching the course?

Annie Hughes, Director of Harrisburg LaunchBox, and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Penn State Harrisburg, will be your teacher and innovation-guide. She brings 10 years’ experience in innovation practice and product development within small and corporate business environments. Her dynamic teaching style creates an engaging and energetic class featuring the fundamentals of VentureWell’s Lean Launchpad methodology.