Allan P. Kirby Center Spotlight

The Allan P. Kirby Enterprise Center (APKEC) is an initiative of the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (APKCFEE). Previously, the Allan P. Kirby Enterprise Center was located in the Luzerne Bank Building on Public Square. The center now has a new home on the corner of Main Street and Northampton Street, upstairs from the Wilkes University Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

The enterprise center includes a meeting room, a classroom and six office spaces.

Each spacious office has two desk areas allowing for two companies to be housed in the same area. The incubator provides office spaces for internal and external clients of the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, including student-owned businesses.

One of the office spaces is currently occupied by Xenoil, LLC, a manufacturing company focused on reducing plastic waste by creating post-consumer products.

“I’m an environmental engineering student (Wilkes University) and I always had a passion for the environment, and in high school I got an interest in plastics and I wanted to figure out a way to reduce plastic waste,” said Rachel Hodgins, environmental manager of Xenoil, LLC.

Mechanical engineering student at Wilkes University, Anthony Prato has always enjoyed building things. Growing up with a father who is a business owner, Prato decided he wanted to follow in his footsteps. As full-time students who are building a business of their own, Prato and Hodgins said they are grateful for the opportunity to have an office space in the incubator.

“It’s been really beneficial to us. We finally have a place to settle and do our work and put things where they need to be. It helps us be more organized,” Hodgins said.

Before the incubator office space, Prato said they were working out of two folders and having to unpack everything and repack all of their materials. Now, business partners Prato and Hodgins, have a designated work area where they can spread out and allow their ideas to flow in a thriving environment.

“Since it’s a stage one incubator, it gives us a feeling that we’re an actual entity and helps us feel that we have a purpose as a company now that we have our own place to go to,” Hodgins said.

Another office space is occupied by Michelle Lehman, a business marketing major at Wilkes University. She founded her company, RAE sleeves in March of 2017. The mission of RAE sleeves is to design clothing for powerful women. RAE sleeves designs and manufactures sheer fashion accessory sleeves that can be worn under sleeveless tops and dresses. The uniqueness of the product comes from the flexible and versatile design that allows women to confidently layer clothing.

“The incubator has been beneficial for my business because it has given me a creative space to think and implement ideas that I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to do just in a classroom or another space on campus,” Lehman said.

As a 21-year-old, full-time student, Lehman said her office space has boosted her credibility as a business owner and allows others to visit her in an area where they can actively observe the work she is doing. Having a collaborative space where she can interact with incubator tenants and bounce ideas off of other entrepreneurs has been very helpful for her.

“There is a vast amount of innovation happening in our community. Within the last ten years, downtown Wilkes-Barre has had extreme growth, and I want to be part of this thriving atmosphere in the future,” Lehman said.

Lehman said the proximity of the incubator to the heart of Wilkes-Barre is expanding her network and enabling her to grow both professionally and personally.

Another office is marked as the Kirby Scholar Suite. The suite houses four Kirby Scholars. The scholars will take turns working at the incubator. This presence allows clients to have access to the scholars for any projects or questions they can offer their expertise in.

With Kirby Scholars, the Small Business Development Center and other mentors in the Allan P. Kirby Enterprise Center mentor network, the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship hopes to help their incubator clients grow and become more successful. Instead of starting a long email chain and hoping to set up a meeting in coming weeks, clients can now simply walk down the hall or downstairs to receive assistance and mentoring.

The center is a reflection of Wilkes University’s commitment to support the community by attracting new businesses to the downtown area and retaining individuals to work locally. The Allan P. Kirby Enterprise Center will continue to provide many opportunities for Wilkes students, faculty and staff to create new businesses, work with the center to operational assistance and develop a strategy for commercializing their ideas to establish independent businesses.

Michelle Lehman, owner of RAE Sleeves, works at her desk at the Allan P. Kirby Enterprise Center.
Rachel Hodgins, co-owner of Xenoil, is one of several students utilizing the new incubator space.