Bethlehem Entrepreneurs Bringing Sport of Cricket into Mainstream
Justin Jacobs (left) and Pratheek Palanethra are the co-creators of Freebowler, a portable bowling machine capable of throwing real cricket balls. (courtesy photo)
Pratheek Palanethra has been playing cricket since he was four years old, and growing up in India, he never lacked in opportunities to play or practice.
But after moving to Bethlehem to attend Lehigh University, he found he’d often have to drive to New Jersey and spend upwards of $150 just for one hour of practice, losing half the day on traveling when he could be spending that time playing the game.
That’s why Palanethra, 24, and Justin Jacobs, 28, have teamed up to form the company Freebowler. Their first product, currently in development, is a portable bowling machine capable of throwing real cricket balls at 75 mph. The bowling machine is affordable, accessible, and convenient for everyday practice, and is suitable for teams and individuals alike.
“Cricket isn’t identified as a mainstream sport in the United States – not yet – and that’s part of our long-term vision,” Palanethra said. “We want to bring more awareness to the sport and help people learn about cricket, while also giving everyone access to the tools that can help them train like the pros.”
Freebowler, which started as an idea in Palanethra’s and Jacobs’ technical entrepreneurship course at Lehigh University, was recently awarded a $15,000 from the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ), a designated zone within the city designed to foster entrepreneurial growth. “We are extremely excited about the potential of FreeBowler,” said Asher Schiavone, Bethlehem economic development coordinator. “Their innovative product appears to satisfy a market demand, which hopefully is an indicator of the company’s future growth and success. I have, throughout the process, also learned quite a bit about the sport of cricket.”
Freebowler is unique in that it can be carried into the center of a cricket field and used as a convenient batting training aid. Most bowling machines are for top league professional teams, sports facilities, and recreation centers. They are non-mobile, cost thousands of dollars, and are not as accessible or convenient for individual cricketers and smaller teams.
Palanethra and Jacobs both graduated from Lehigh University’s Technical Entrepreneurship Master’s Program and currently reside at Hatch House, a live-work community for young or early stage entrepreneurs based in Bethlehem’s South Side.