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Out of the Office, into the Kitchen: Allentown's Sarbari provides restaurant-purchasing software

Restaurants and food service providers, from small family-owned eateries to large restaurant groups, all devote significant resources to purchasing food and supplies. 

Sarbari, based in Allentown, aims to get restaurant personnel out of the office and into the kitchen, with a software solution that organizes supplier data, streamlines the ordering process, boosts productivity, and saves money on food and labor costs.

Founder and CEO Sebastian Serra started his career as a produce supplier in the North End of Boston, eventually starting his own company.

"After selling that company to a larger competitor, I saw a need for restaurant owners to have the ability to organize the pricing and product information from all the suppliers they were using," he recalls. "By starting with an Excel spreadsheet and creating formulas that helped them shop more intelligently, the restaurants saw savings in both time and money immediately."

That spreadsheet eventually led Serra to Allentown's Trifecta Technologies, which developed Sarbari’s web-based software program, and, most recently, to a new headquarters in downtown Allentown.

"We're excited to be part the amazing revitalization going on here," he says. "With our new space we now have plenty of room to operate. We're currently working to add new members to our operations team, and the sales team will expand into New York and Boston in the coming months. We expect to add five to 10 new jobs in the next six months."

Working with its clients, Sarbari has identified several new features for the next software update, scheduled for this summer. 

Source: Sebastian Serra, Sarbari  
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Genomics research collaboration launches; statewide network eases big data transmission

Penn State and Geisinger Research are collaborating on a massive effort to connect the genome data of 100,000 anonymous patients with their medical histories, in order to identify the genetic and environmental roots of human disease.

According to Marylyn Ritchie, director of the Center for Systems Genomics in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State, "this collaboration with Geisinger provides an enormous opportunity for faculty, graduate students and post docs across Penn State to engage in discovery that seeks to improve human health."

The new program was developed to harness the data resources being generated through a large-scale DNA-sequencing project at Geisinger in collaboration with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals; at least 100,000 Geisinger patients will be sequenced over the next five years.

"Geisinger has a unique and robust resource for big-data analysis and Penn State has phenomenal data-science researchers. It is a perfect combination," said Ritchie, who was named founding director of the new Biomedical and Translational Informatics Program of Geisinger Research. Ritchie was recruited to Penn State in 2011 as part of a genomics and computational biology cluster hire that brought more than 30 faculty members to multiple colleges at Penn State.

In an unrelated announcement, Geisinger Health System said it has become the first health care organization to be connected to the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN), a public network exchange built and managed by the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER) to provide broadband connectivity, foster collaboration and promote innovative use of digital technologies. 

"Geisinger is a PennREN pioneer in the health care arena, and its connection to our high performance network will enable opportunities for innovation, such as transmission of big data for genomic research, telemedicine, video consultation, remote patient monitoring and access to specialist care," said KINBER Executive Director Wendy Huntoon. 

"With [Geisinger] massively using genomics in its research and clinics, a dedicated, high-speed, data-transfer system like KINBER makes very large data-intensive collaborations easier," added Raghu Metpally, a bioinformatics scientist at Geisinger’s Sigfried and Janet Weis Center for Research.

Besides Geisinger, KINBER's membership includes Bucknell, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh.

Source: Penn State and Geisinger Health System
Writer: Elise Vider

'Philadelphia Liberty Trail' raises Philly's national profile

Writer and world traveler Larissa Milne conjures a troubling statistic, based on the years she and her husband Michael have spent in cities across the globe, writing for the Inquirer and their own award-winning "Changes in Longitude" blog.

Outside of Philadelphia, Larissa estimates, "85 percent of people don’t know what a cheesesteak really is."

So their new book, Philadelphia Liberty Trail, published by Globe Pequot Press last month, includes a sidebar on "cheesesteak etiquette," while recommending some favorite local spots for tourists ready to venture beyond the neon lights of Pat’s and Geno’s.

"It’s a little bit different than the average guidebook that’s out there," explains Larissa. "The publisher wanted us to produce a creative book that was similar to…a book they’ve had out for many years on the Boston Freedom Trail."

Despite having more Revolutionary historic sites than Boston, Philadelphia lacks the equivalent of Boston’s famous Freedom Trail route. The couple set out to write the book that might create one.

While Liberty Trail includes advice on visiting slightly more far-flung sites such as Valley Forge, Fort Mifflin, Bartram’s Garden, and historic houses in Germantown, it focuses on the Revolutionary War history of Old City and Society Hill, and invites tourists beyond the usual stops at Independence National Historic Park. Some of the highlights in their book are the Physick HouseChrist Church and Washington Square. There's also advice on where to stay and where to park, how to go on foot or take SEPTA, and info on restaurants that might not otherwise be on the radar for visitors.
 
Michael, a New York native, and Larissa, who grew up in the Philly suburbs, lived at 11th and Pine Streets before making an unusual decision in 2011. They sold their house, quit their jobs, gave away their stuff, and began traveling the world and writing along the way. They still don’t have a permanent address, but talked with Flying Kite about their new book from their current perch in Arizona.
  
Larissa, who’s also a consultant with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, loves to fill visitors in on the real story of Pennsylvania Hospital, America’s oldest hospital, which many pass on bus tours, but few actually visit.
 
"Benjamin Franklin was very instrumental in getting funding for that hospital in the early 1750s," she says, after the local governing bodies declined to support it. Franklin spearheaded an effort to draw contributions for the project from local citizens: "It was like a Kickstarter campaign in 1750."
 
The Milnes hope their book can help make Philadelphia a worldwide tourist destination, not just for tri-state day-trips, but for visitors who will stay, eat and shop in the city for days.
 
"I grew up in New York, and the image of Philadelphia back in the old days was, well, it’s kind of a drive-by tourist destination," recalls Michael. "You didn’t stay overnight, you drive down, you see the Liberty Bell, you see Independence Hall, you get back in the car, you leave."
  
But with major publications like Fast Company magazine and The New York Times recognizing Philadelphia as a top global destination, the Milnes believe it’s a perfect time for a new kind of Philly guidebook. And after seeing the world for the last several years, they still insist there’s nowhere they’d rather settle.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Larissa and Michael Milne,
 Philadelphia Liberty Trail 

Wash Cycle Laundry forges a new path for socially conscious investing

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia startup Wash Cycle Laundry (WCL) closed on a major new loan from the Distinguished Social Ventures Foundation (DSVF) which may help the company create hundreds of new jobs and nab new contracts on the way to major expansion.

According to founder and CEO Gabriel Mandujano, the $450,000 loan isn’t just important for what it will help WCL achieve, but also in the new model it will help forge for foundations who want to invest in mission-based businesses.

WCL, now operating in Austin and Washington, D.C., as well as Philly, was founded here in 2010. The company provides laundry and linen rental services for institutions, businesses and residents, with environmentally-friendly high-efficiency machines and powerful bike trailers for hauling. The company also focuses on hiring its employees from vulnerable populations such as formerly incarcerated people and longtime welfare recipients. The company currently employs almost 50 people, with a retention rate topping 80 percent in workers' first six months.

"What [this] capital allows us to do is come to the table as a ready partner," explains Mandujano. When WCL negotiates with potential clients like a hospital system or university, whether or not the company has the capacity to handle the contract in terms of staffing and inventory has always been a big question. "What this investment has allowed us to do is…go out and close more of these institutional contracts."

The terms of the loan are unique, and give WCL a powerful incentive to expand its socially conscious mission. The current interest rate on the loan is 5 percent, but WCL has five years to reduce that interest rate drastically.

"We’re talking about the net number of jobs that we create," says Mandujano of the loan’s "five-year time clock" from its January 21 closing date. If WCL can create 200 jobs with the help of the new capital, interest on the loan will drop to three percent, and if it can create 500 new jobs within five years, the interest rate will go down to just one percent.

"I’m really excited that this financing aligns our financial interests with our mission interests," he enthuses. "If we’re better at achieving our mission, we’re also financially rewarded for that."

And for both WCL and DSVF, a bigger goal is creating a model that will work for other "purpose-driven businesses" and the foundations who might be interested in similar "impact investing," but do not know how to select the right company, set the right goals, and hammer out the paperwork.

According to Mandujano, "we wanted to create an instrument that that we thought could be copied both by other foundations that want to invest in Wash Cycle, but also just by foundations interested in this type of investing in general."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gabriel Mandujano, Wash Cycle Laundry

Eleven Southeast PA companies share $1.9 million in new funding

Eleven early-stage companies -- everything from a bagel bakery to a company that prints living tissue -- are recipients of $1.9 million in new investments from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Philadelphia's BioBots expects that within 20 years its 3-D bioprinters will allow patients with organ failure to receive custom replacement organs built by and constructed out of their own cells.

Another Philadelphia company, EnviroKure Inc., uses proprietary technology to produce liquid organic fertilizers. Their unique product upcycles chicken manure in a fully sustainable, highly efficient process to meet the needs of the fastest growing fertilizer markets in the United States: large-scale organic farming and natural turf management.

In Chester County, Essential Medical is developing X-SealTM and MANTATM, two innovative vascular closure devices for both small bore and large bore femoral closure. Vascular closure devices (VCDs) are used to close incisions in the leg artery after cardiac catheterizations.

Philadelphia's Fitly is a Digital Health Accelerator company. Fitly’s mission is to empower anyone who needs to eat healthy by making cooking easy, delicious and affordable. 

LifeVest, a Philadelphia company, sits at the intersection of physical and financial health. Using evidence-based science and behavioral economics, LifeVest motivates users to invest in their own wellbeing by rewarding them for learning about, tracking and improving their health.

Livegenic in Philadelphia delivers technology to enhance the customer service environment. It provides an easy way to gain a real-time video from the customer’s point of view through something most customers already have: a smartphone. Livegenic helps organizations reduce support costs, improve customer and employee satisfaction, and minimize business-related risks.

Mitochon Pharmaceuticals is a Delaware County biotech startup that focuses on developing drugs targeting the mitochondria for a host of serious diseases. The company’s development programs are primarily focused on neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases including Huntington’s, Batten Disease, Stroke, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson Disease and severe burns, and secondarily on metabolic disorders due to over-nutrition (diabetes, obesity and NASH). Ongoing research has linked these diseases to various malfunctions of the mitochondria. By correcting them, Mitochon aims to open the way for a broad range of disease modifying therapies.

Montgomery County’s NETMINDER produces a unique protective coating, offering an environmentally acceptable way to protect aquatic gear such as salmon, cobia, and bluefin tuna nets; oyster cages; trays and bags; crab pots and other gear from the high costs of fouling.

Also based in Montgomery County, PAST offers its Software as a Service (SaaS) to help doctors efficiently distinguish patients who can safely use controlled substance prescription medication from those who require more complex care or additional safety considerations.
 
Locating in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood, Sweet Note Bakery is a gluten-free and allergen-free bagel manufacturer.

Montgomery County’s Zuppler is a global Internet commerce solution for restaurants and caterers. Zuppler powers millions of mobile and web food-ordering transactions using their proprietary SaaS platform. This enables consumers to order food from their preferred restaurants and caterers using any device via the restaurant’s branded website or mobile app.

Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania 
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh's Idea Foundry adds advanced materials to its mission

Idea Foundry, a nonprofit Pittsburgh acceleration and commercialization organization, is adding a new arm focused on advanced materials. Expected to launch its first round in May, the program joins other Idea Foundry accelerators in healthcare and life sciences, social enterprise, entertainment and education technology, and water. Participants will be eligible for financial support, hands-on business development services and market collaboration opportunities with industry players.
 
"The new accelerator’s focus is fairly broad," says Director of Innovation Nehal Bhojak. "We will consider innovations in all areas of material science."

Initially those will include bioengineered materials, advanced materials such as synthetic engineered materials or super alloys, coatings and polymers. As the accelerator becomes established, Bhojak envisions an even more expanded focus.

Concurrent with the launch announcement comes the dissolution of the PA NanoMaterials Commercialization Center.

"The PA Nano Board agreed that nanotechnology ventures were more accurately defined as part of the large advanced materials field, which led to the new program to be administered by Idea Foundry," explains Robert Kumpf, a former PA Nano board member. The organization ceased to exist as of January 1.

Bhojak says Idea Foundry will "carry forward the original mission of the PA Nano Center through our tried and tested accelerator model." Besides managing the dissolution, Idea Foundry will use its own financial and team resources towards the new accelerator.

"Idea Foundry has always supported material science innovations and we have quite a few advanced materials companies in our portfolio," she adds. "The new accelerator will enable us to continue that support with more sector-specific focus."
 
Source: Nehal Bhojak, Idea Foundry
Writer: Elise Vider
 

With a big NSF grant and new accelerator, UPenn takes technology from lab to market

The University of Pennsylvania's new Penn Center for Innovation, described as "a dedicated, one-stop shop for commercial partnering with Penn," has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to foster entrepreneurship and commercialization.

Under the three-year grant, Penn is launching the Penn I-Corps Site, a new business accelerator, in collaboration with Wharton's Mack Institute for Innovation Management, Penn Medicine’s Center for Healthcare InnovationBen Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) and the City of Philadelphia.

In its grant announcement, Penn said the Penn I-Corps Site will "support translation of research areas into the marketplace by providing educational programming, financial advice and strategic guidance."

The accelerator gets underway this summer with 30 faculty-student interdisciplinary teams creating commercialization plans for their early-stage technology. The goal is to help the teams launch new ventures by the end of 2015 with well-developed business models that position them to apply for further NSF funding.

The Summer Accelerator Program is open to Penn faculty and students as well as local entrepreneurs. An organizational meeting is set for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 24 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia).

A committee comprised of investors, experienced entrepreneurs and industry experts will select the participants; the program will launch in May. The teams will have access to lectures and hands-on activities, guidance on developing and testing their business models, up to $2,500 in NSF funding for prototyping and other expenses, and connections to an extensive entrepreneurial network.

"We’re excited to work together to build a network of mentors and advisors to help the teams gain real-world experience in bringing technology from the lab to the market," explains RoseAnn Rosenthal, president and CEO of BFTP/SEP, "and to build a pipeline of investable enterprises that can creative economic value in our region."

Source: The Penn Center for Innovation
Writer: Elise Vider

 

Philadelphia Macaroni to the Rescue: Harrisburg acquisition saves 43 jobs

Philadelphia Macaroni Company, a more than 100-year-old, family-owned company, is operating a new pasta-making plant in Harrisburg, saving 43 jobs in the process.

The company makes dried pasta and noodles at the plant, which was previously operated by Unilever. The Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC recently reported that Unilever had been contemplating vacating the facility. 

"Philadelphia Macaroni Company’s purchase agreement and business plan to operate from this facility effectively saved 43 full-time jobs in the city of Harrisburg," explained the Chamber.

"The Harrisburg plant was recently updated with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment," said Philadelphia Macaroni President Luke Marano, Jr. when announcing the plans last year. "This facility, complemented by its dedicated and professional workforce, is a valuable asset critical to the future development, growth and success of Philadelphia Macaroni Company."

Philadelphia Macaroni Company was founded in 1914 in Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Today, a fifth generation of the founding family runs the company, headquartered in Philadelphia. In addition to the new Harrisburg plant, the company operates factories in Warminster, North Dakota and Washington State, and mills durum and hard red spring wheat at its Minot Milling division in North Dakota. Besides being one of the country’s oldest pasta makers, the company is one of the largest industrial pasta manufacturers in the U.S.

Company spokeswoman Linda Schalles declined to reveal terms of the sales agreement in Harrisburg, but according to the Capital Region Economic Development Corporation, the chamber’s economic development arm, the company recently closed on a $450,000 Enterprise Zone Loan towards the purchase of machinery and equipment at the facility.

More hiring is expected at the plant, Schalles adds.

Source: Linda Schalles, Philadelphia Macaroni Company; Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC
Writer: Elise Vider

Seven BIG IDEAS compete for $200,000 in prizes from Ben Franklin Technology Parnters

Seven startups in Northwestern Pennsylvania are gearing up to pitch their innovations at the annual BIG IDEA competition sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania (BFTP/CNP).  

"Many people don’t realize that Ben Franklin makes investments in small manufacturers," said BFTP/CNP in announcing the competition. "This year, in order to remind companies to think about Ben Franklin as a resource when planning to introduce new or improved products to the market, our BIG IDEA Contest will focus on helping small manufacturers and entrepreneurs turn their ideas into real business opportunities."

The finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of independent judges in April, with the winner announced in May. The winner’s prize package is valued at $200,000 and includes $50,000 in cash, an Innovation Adoption Grant up to $25,000 to work with a PA-based research university, priority access to a low-interest $100,000 loan from BFTP, 60 hours of Innovation Engineering project time from the NW Industrial Resource Center as well as access to an Advanced Manufacturing Apprentice to assist in prototype development or pre-commercialization services, a one-year pass to seminars offered by BFTP's eMarketing Learning Center  and a free consult (and proposal prep) on how to access federal R&D grant money from the Innovation Partnership.

BFTP/CNP President and CEO Stephen Brawley says the response to the 2015 BIG IDEA competition was overwhelming.

"There’s a lot of entrepreneurial energy in this area," he enthuses. "We had so many great applications, it was difficult to choose just a few finalists. It takes guts to put your ideas out there to be judged by strangers, and we applaud all who did. Those who did not make it into the finals, should feel free to contact Ben Franklin's Erie office if they want to pursue other options."

This year’s finalists are:Source: Liz Wilson, BFTP/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider
 

New report quantifies advanced manufacturing in the Commonwealth

A new report by the Brookings Institution offers a detailed look at how high-technology industries are faring in Pennsylvania, and how the Commonwealth compares to the rest of the nation.

The 50 industries, which Brookings defines as those that spend substantially on R&D and employ at least 20 percent of their workforce in STEM-intensive occupations, include the manufacturing, energy and services sectors. This so-called advanced industries super-sector is "crucial to future prosperity in the United States, but face[s] substantial competitiveness challenges," said the report.

As a whole, Pennsylvania had nearly 478,000 full-time workers (or 8.1 percent of all jobs) employed in advanced industries in 2013, ranking 23rd among the states. These direct jobs, with an average annual salary of more than $80,000, supported another nearly 382,000 jobs in other industries. Among the fastest growing statewide industries between 2010 and 2013 were oil and gas extraction (up 41.8 percent), foundries (up 13.9 percent), railroad rolling stock manufacturing (up 12.4 percent), and iron and steel products (up 12.3 percent).

Both Philadelphia at 43rd and Pittsburgh at 45th ranked high among larger metros in advanced industries employment.

"Nobody has deeper roots in industrial innovation than the Pittsburgh region," says Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its affiliates. "Advanced industries are in our DNA, and we believe they are critical to our future."

Brookings singled out Pittsburgh’s Aquion Energy, a Carnegie Mellon spinoff and maker of sodium ion batteries and energy storage systems, in a video.

Pittsburgh’s "sophisticated technology assets and experienced workforces…epitomize the kind of synergies a city can provide to a new company," explains Mark Muro of Brookings.

Among small metro areas, Chambersburg ranked 43rd, with advanced industries accounting for 10.5 percent of its jobs.

Source: Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, Allegheny Conference on Community Development
Writer: Elise Vider

 

Dynamic marketing campaign pushes innovation on the I-99 corridor

Economic development officials in Centre, Blair and Bedford counties are at work on a fresh marketing campaign touting the I-99 corridor as a prime location for business growth.

"With the largest concentration of Keystone Innovation Zones and Penn State University’s leadership status in materials science, life sciences and information technologies, the I-99 corridor region is poised to take its marketing efforts to the next level to support local companies and attract new investment," says Lesley Kistner of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County.

The campaign is aimed at site selectors, corporate decision makers and economic development officials; it includes an annual print publication scheduled to launch this summer and a revamped website. Besides CBICC, the partners are the Altoona-Blair County Development Corporation and the Bedford County Development Association.

The three counties began collaborating in 2001 on economic growth along I-99, which runs north-south, linking I-76 and I-80. From the outset, a key objective was to leverage the strengths of Penn State.

“So while work to promote the economic development assets of the corridor is not new, the effort has been re-energized at a time when its most recognizable asset -- Penn State University -- has made economic development a focal point," explains Kistner. "Under President Barron, [the school] has made dramatic improvements in its intellectual property policy -- all strong selling points that make the region attractive to business."

Adding to its appeal, the I-99 corridor has 10 Keystone Innovation Zone locations designed to link technology-based companies with university faculty and research support, and numerous Keystone Opportunity Zones, which feature a greatly reduced tax burden.

The corridor also offers easy access to "Penn State University and its world-class research across many fields of study, including a leadership in metallic materials additive manufacturing," adds Kistner. "Low-cost energy, a skilled workforce, a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, a strategic location to Marcellus and Utica natural gas shale plays, and an efficient transportation system all combine to make the corridor and this region of central Pennsylvania attractive to business and industry."

Source: Lesley Kistner, Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County
Writer: Elise Vider

 

Uber and Carnegie Mellon head down the road towards driver-less cars with new research lab

As it continues its efforts towards world domination, Uber, the popular tech-based car-ride service, is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) on the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.

"The center will focus on the development of key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere," the partners said in making the announcement.

The partnership will provide a forum for Uber technology leaders to work closely with CMU faculty, staff and students -- both on campus and at the National Robotics Engineering Center  -- to do research and development, primarily in the areas of mapping, vehicle safety and autonomy technology.

Uber apps connect drivers to riders who can summon and pay for rides via their mobile phones. Founded in 2009, Uber now operates in more than 200 cities in 54 countries worldwide.

"Uber is a rapidly growing company known for its innovative technology that is radically improving access to transportation for millions of global citizens," says Andrew Moore, dean of CMU’s School of Computer Science. "CMU is renowned for innovations that transform lives. We look forward to partnering with Uber as they build out the Advanced Technologies Center and to working together on real-world applications, which offer very interesting new challenges at the intersections of technology, mobility and human interactions."

The agreement also includes funding from Uber for faculty chairs and graduate fellowships.

"We are excited to join the community of Pittsburgh and partner with the experts at CMU, whose breadth and depth of technical expertise, particularly in robotics, are unmatched," says Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer. "As a global leader in urban transportation, we have the unique opportunity to invest in leading edge technologies to enable the safe and efficient movement of people and things at giant scale. This collaboration and the creation of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center represent an important investment in building for the long term of Uber."

Source: Uber and Carnegie Mellon University
Writer: Elise Vider

 

Second Time Around: LightLab International Allentown reunites two veteran entrepreneurs

Two of the entrepreneurs behind the first client at Allentown’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center are back a quarter-century later with a new venture, LightLab International Allentown.

Mike Grather and Tracy Silvert managed Luminaire Testing Labs (LTL) when it launched in 1989. Grather joined LTL as one of its first employees and purchased the company from its founder three years later. By the time LTL was sold 12 years later it had grown to $2 million in annual revenue with nine employees. Along the way, Grather hired Silvert to manage operations. 

Now the two are back together with an eye towards the expanding market for LED lighting.

"As we were growing LTL, we were able to fuel it by taking advantage of the expanding use of compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and the subsequent introduction of LED lamps," says Grather. "Because of their energy efficiency, we are seeing that LED bulbs are proliferating in the market much like CFL bulbs did. It’s a market that we know well and are very excited to re-enter."

LightLab International Allentown, which plans to be operational by April, will be an ISO-accredited photometric testing laboratory providing testing services for the lighting industry (primarily the North American market). Typical products for testing would include bulbs (replacement lamps) and lighting fixtures (luminaires) for use in interior, outdoor, parking-area, roadway and floodlighting applications.

"There is an industry-wide need for technical customer support to help lighting manufacturers navigate the many new standards, specifications and regulations that have arisen in the past five to 10 years," explains Grather. "We also have the experience needed to work with manufacturers’ engineering departments to help customize testing to fit their research and development needs."
 
LightLab International is based in Australia, where they manufacture testing equipment, and perform testing and calibration services. LightLab opened a testing laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011. The Allentown operation will operate under the LightLab name, but will be its own entity with its own management.

"Like any other startup, we raised our own funding, operate on our own finances, and will proceed with business without any managerial or financial involvement from the other labs," insists Grather.

Hence the location in a business incubator.

"This is the story every business incubator looks for," says Anthony Durante, program manager for Allentown Economic Development Corporation. "We are bringing back an entrepreneur who had successfully grown and exited a company that originated in our program. The team is back because they know firsthand the benefits of being part of a program like ours."

Sources: AEDC and Mike Grather, LightLab International Allentown
Writer: Elise Vider

 

Girl Power: DreamIt Athena announces its first class of female entrepreneurs

Philadelphia’s DreamIt Athena, a new accelerator track aimed at female entrepreneurs, has announced its first cohort. The selected companies will take up residence at DreamIt Ventures HQ, housed at the Innovation Center @3401, through May. They will each receive $25,000 in seed money, along with female-centric guidance on raising capital, developing mentors and networks, and self-promoting.

"Female entrepreneurs face a level of scrutiny that places them at a disadvantage from the start," says Karen Griffith Gryga, DreamIt’s managing partner. "For all the talk about the unique challenges female founders face, there's been little action in how to solve such issues. DreamIt took the lead by being the first top-tier accelerator to solve the problem. We’re going beyond typical platforms of discussion and networking [and hope to] change the dynamic of what’s been the startup norm for far too long. 

"DreamIt Athena aims to make a significant difference by providing specific, dedicated resources that help remove the all-too-common barriers," she continues. "[That way] female founders can develop the required skill sets to build sustainable, competitive businesses. Without a doubt, we expect to see significant personal development and company milestones throughout the cycle."

The Athena companies are:

Captain Planner (Boston) streamlines the process of trip-planning by aggregating information on attractions, restaurants and events, while providing reviews and map-centric itineraries. 

Forecastr (Detroit) provides ready-made analytics and predictive recommendations specifically tailored for television executives available via the cloud. 

LIA Diagnostics (Philadelphia) is developing a flushable pregnancy test, helping women address the challenges surrounding privacy, usability and sustainability in current at-home diagnostics. 

Ohneka Farms (Mount Laurel, N.J.) is a social enterprise focusing on urban farming products and services. They are developing ROOT, a smart countertop planter that enables users to grow organic edible plants at home with minimal maintenance.
 
Roar For Good (Philadelphia) is a social impact company with the mission of reducing assaults against women through wearable technology, empowerment and education. The initial product line combines fashionable self-defense jewelry and mobile technology to reduce the incidences of assault against women. 

The Athena companies will work alongside these other startups at DreamIt:

Bungalow Insurance (San Diego) is building the first online, independent, renters’ insurance platform to improve insurance experiences for millennials. 
  
Commit Analytics (King of Prussia) optimizes human performance using machine learning algorithms to design data-driven solutions for athletes and health-conscious consumers. 
 
IglooHome (Singapore) is developing smart home technologies that offer Airbnb hosts a novel way to welcome guests; they focus on convenience, safety and cost savings. 
 
LocoRobo (Philadelphia) is a non-profit robotics company whose mission is to provide educational and scientific training using high-quality robotics platforms, promoting STEM education and workforce development. 
 
Whose Your Landlord (Elliott City, Maryland) is a website and mobile app enabling renters to rate their landlords and housing complexes, and giving them the ability to find their next home. 

Source: Karen Griffith Gryga, DreamIt Ventures
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Ultra energy-efficient Scranton Passive House nears completion

Construction is nearly complete on the Scranton Passive House, which promises to use 80 percent less energy that its more conventional downtown neighbors.

Milford architect Richard Pedranti designed the structure after completing training on passive architecture in 2013.

"Passive house offers an elegant solution to reducing the consumption of nonrenewable resources in our buildings," he explains. "But equally important, passive house is about building comfortable, healthy and durable buildings with excellent indoor air quality."

Passive houses conserve energy by creating a virtually airtight, super-insulated, compact building envelope. Using detailed and specific weather data, high-performance windows are oriented to control solar gain and shading. A heat (or energy) recovery ventilator serves as the lungs of a passive house by providing a constant supply of filtered fresh air.

According to Pedranti, there are about 30,000 to 50,000 passive houses in Europe; North America has fewer than 300 such structures and the Scranton House is the first in northeastern Pennsylvania. 

(Passive architecture is applicable to all building types, from a single-family house to a skyscraper, and can be designed according to any aesthetic, according to the Passive House Institute U.S.) 

Christie Karpiak and Declan Mulhall, both professors at the University of Scranton, commissioned the Scranton Passive House and plan to move in in April. Construction costs for the 2,100 square foot house were $165 per square foot, not including land and fees.

Pedranti is now at work on four more single-family passive houses in the area.

Source: Richard Pedranti, Richard Pedranti Architect
Writer: Elise Vider
 
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