UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When a business starts growing rapidly, sometimes the biggest need is just a space to conduct business from. For Penn State alumni-founded Paint Ninjas Inc., Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank was that space.
State College residents Oakes Fletcher and Jim Kassab started their painting careers in Centre County doing building rejuvenation and residential renovations. In 2015, they got a sense that State College and the surrounding area was about to start booming with new buildings, which would create a substantial number of new opportunities for commercial painting.
On Jan. 1, 2016, they incorporated as Paint Ninjas Inc. and started building up both their team and their project reach.
“We grew extremely fast once we jumped into the commercial world,” said Fletcher, Paint Ninjas CEO and project manager. “We secured very large contracts very quickly and realized that we did not have administrative staff, so we started looking for a satellite office.”
In 2018, the Paint Ninjas team moved into Happy Valley LaunchBox, a no-cost co-working space with accelerator programs available to the State College and Penn State communities. They were able to use LaunchBox as a home base to build their administrative roots, hiring an assistant project manager, a full-time senior estimator, a full-time administrative support team, and more.
“Just having things like a conference table, a white board, and a kitchen was a huge advantage while hiring,” said Kassab Paint Ninjas president and project manager. “We were able to sell the dream of where we were headed. And what makes LaunchBox unique is that the staff there is focused on presenting information that you may not know otherwise and giving you access to local resources. This really made the space a true launching spot for us.”
The Paint Ninjas’ journey has now come full circle, as their latest project was painting the state-of-the-art designed commercial building of the new Penn State Innovation Hub on South Burrowes Street. The second floor of the Innovation Hub is now the new home of Happy Valley LaunchBox, complete with state-of-the-art technology and workspaces.
“When we got the project, we didn’t even realize it was the new LaunchBox location, but as soon as we saw the paint colors, that bright orange and blue, we knew it had to be,” Fletcher said. “That was a neat realization for both of us.”
While working out of the LaunchBox in 2018, Paint Ninjas was awarded an existing high-rise exterior re-paint project at the Legacy apartment complex on East Calder Way, a milestone project for the team.
“We were downtown working at the LaunchBox to grow our team, and we were also downtown doing this huge exterior building,” said Kassab. “We were, and still are, right in the thick of State College growing.”
The Paint Ninjas team eventually outgrew their LaunchBox space and temporarily moved into the New Leaf Initiative co-working area in the middle of 2018. The company then officially moved to its current location on West College Avenue at the beginning of 2019.
In addition to taking advantage of the resources at LaunchBox during their growth phase, Paint Ninjas also worked with consultants at the Penn State Small Business Development Center, who specifically helped them build their administrative foundation.
“The relationships that we have built over the years have been so integral in helping us grow,” Fletcher said. “It’s very hard to conceptualize at certain points, the impact of that network. We’ve gotten a lot of guidance from really great people.”
Fletcher and Kassab are proud to have their work so strongly tied to the State College and Penn State communities, as the Paint Ninjas team has enjoyed completing many major projects around the area. Their portfolio includes the Hyatt Hotel and Hyatt Place lobby, Yards at Old State, Jefe’s Taqueria, and Alexander Court, among many others.
Kassab and Fletcher both said they especially enjoy working on Penn State projects like the Innovation Hub or the new West Campus buildings, as they are always on the cutting edge of architecture and design.
Kassab, who graduated from Penn State with a degree in energy engineering in 2013, said his professors are the ones who really put him on a path toward all he is accomplishing now with Paint Ninjas.
“I wouldn’t have even thought about doing this if I hadn’t studied energy engineering at Penn State,” Kassab said. “Those courses really got me thinking about things in a large-scale project-based way and put me on a path to being a real professional.”
Excited by what the future holds for paint sustainability and design, and inspired by his energy engineering background, Kassab said Paint Ninjas is now moving toward exploring the research and development side of the paint industry.
“We’re excited to look into creating new things that tie into this more modern sustainability and design movement,” Kassab said. “It could end up going full circle for me again — my energy engineering degree was all about a push for a sustainable future, so it would be great if we end up going that route.”