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In Williamsport, college students learn to restore vintage cars

Pennsylvania College of Technology, the Penn State affiliate in Williamsport, has retooled its automotive technology offerings, providing the only college-level vintage vehicle restoration degree on the East Coast. 

Working on vintage cars requires specialized skill sets "and often requires expertise from the era the vehicle was originally produced in," explains Brett Reasner, dean of PCT’s School of Transportation and Natural Resources Technologies. “Vintage vehicles can be challenging in that there are no parts available. Parts for these vehicles often have to be reproduced by hand."

The Automotive Restoration Technology major grew out of an elective class that restored a 1965 Mustang convertible owned by the AACA Museum in Hershey and with help from members of the local chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA), Susquehannock Region. That restoration won an AACA award and prompted the introduction of the restoration major for the 2013-14 academic year. (This spring, PCT students restored a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport, winning honors at the AACA Charlotte Auto Fair in North Carolina.)

So far, 18 students have completed the program, with some going on to jobs at restoration facilities, museums and automotive action houses. 
The curriculum starts with basic painting and structural repairs common to all cars, but goes on to include woodworking, upholstery, automotive research, custom machining/fabrication/welding, and antique mechanical and electrical systems. 

Students work on cars built between 1900 and 1975 at Penn College labs, which feature a frame straightening area, mechanical repair, nonstructural repair, metal working and three down-draft spray booths for refinishing.  

PCT partners with the AACA Museum and other automotive museums to provide student projects. 

Source: Brett Reasner, Pennsylvania College of Technology
Writer: Elise Vider

Software to snowboard innovations win BFTP/NEP investments

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) is investing in everything from software to snowboards in its latest funding round.
These early-stage companies will receive loans:   
CDC Software, Bloomsburg Regional Technology Center, Bloomsburg, is receiving $100,000 to expand commercialization of its DTK software that greatly reduces the time and cost of integrating telephony systems with customer relationship management and business systems. The software provides complete customer data immediately to a representative answering a customer’s call.
Gilson Boards, New Berlin, is receiving $50,000 to expand marketing efforts, leading to a full-scale launch of Gilson’s innovative snowboards that apply aeronautical engineering concepts for more speed, strength and flexibility.
Map Decisions, LLC, Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, is receiving $100,000 to provide sales, marketing and technical development support. Map Decisions produces infrastructure asset and work management software, and provides field mapping and data management services for state and local governments, utilities and the oil and gas, transportation and construction industries.
Medicine in Practice, Inc., Bloomsburg Regional Technology Center, Bloomsburg, is receiving $25,000 to add learning content and build out the WEBFlex training platform, which combines the ease and affordability of webinars with the sophistication of eLearning.
Medtrics Lab, LLC, Lewisburg, is receiving $50,000 to continue development of their modern, enterprise-level clinical education platform that helps hospitals and universities maintain accreditation and manage the training of physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers. 
MindMe, Inc., Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, is receiving $50,000 to complete beta development and testing of their suite of software solutions designed for small and independent businesses to better enable them to capture, convert, organize and engage their leads and customers.
TSG Software, Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, is receiving $50,000 to support a focused sales and marketing effort in commercializing software for the building maintenance industry, property and facility managers and building management contractors.
WellSeal Corporation, Selinsgrove, is receiving $20,000 to accelerate the commercial launch of WellSeal, a new patent-pending, tamper-evident device for wellheads that helps maintain well integrity.
In addition, four collaborations between established manufacturers and college or university partners will receive matching funds to pursue technology-based manufacturing innovations.
Benton Foundry, Inc., Benton and Northampton Community College’s Emerging Technology Applications Center will receive $22,400 to implement energy saving processes as this producer of gray and ductile iron castings expands operations.
East Penn Manufacturing Company, Lyon Station and Northampton Community College’s Emerging Technology Applications Center, will receive $25,000 to develop a complete analysis of recycling considerations at East Penn, especially as it relates to the growing need for new battery technology due to the growth in the hybrid electric vehicle market and other alternative energy uses.
Giorgio Foods, Inc., Blandon and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, will receive $25,000 to develop a facility planning scenario to help Giorgio optimize current and future facility utilization. Giorgio is a manufacturer of retail and food service products such as pizza, mini- and full-size crescents, pierogies, quiche, frozen mushrooms and artisan bakery products.
Orbel Corporation, Bethlehem and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, will receive $25,000 to implement a new enterprise resource planning system at this manufacturer of customized electronic components such as precision metal parts and stampings for the medical, electronics and aerospace markets. 

Source: BFTP/NEP
Writer: Elise Vider

BFTP/SEP invests $2.8M in 14 early-stage tech firms

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) closed fiscal year 2015 with $2.8 million in investments in 14 early-stage companies in sectors ranging from information technology to digital health to advanced manufacturing.

American Aerospace in Montgomery County provides endurance, beyond-line-of-sight, unmanned aircraft system products and services to oil and gas, electric transmission and emergency management customers.

BioBots in Philadelphia builds 3D bioprinters and bioinks, producing 3D living tissues out of human cells.

Montgomery County's Core Solutions is a progressive leader in transforming the behavioral, medical and social services experience for behavioral health providers, consumers and state agencies.
Philadelphia’s DECNUT provides healthcare organizations with dynamic point-of-care solutions designed to improve clinical decision-making. 

Defend Your Head in Chester County has developed an innovative protective helmet cover that reduces head trauma for all contact sports.

Philadelphia's Gencore offers a revolutionary cloud application analytics solution that provides high-fidelity performance analytics and monitoring. 

Grand Round Table in Philadelphia provides innovative clinical decision support solutions integrated into electronic health records.

Montgomery County’s KickUp aims to end the intellectual, physical and geographic isolation that educators face by providing access to quality coaching, collaboration and mentorship opportunities. 

MeetBall in Bucks County offers a location-sharing platform that helps fans navigate the crowd and improve their experience at large events such as NASCAR races, football games, concerts and festivals. 

Philadelphia's Optofluidics is enhancing particle analysis with state-of-the art, nanotechnology-enabled instrumentation. 

ROAR in Philadelphia is developing fashionable jewelry that doubles as an alarm and alert system to protect women from attack. 

Rocker Tools in Bucks County is an innovative designer, manufacturer and distributor of specialty construction tools. 

Philadelphia's Yorn is a real-time data platform that links patient-generated feedback with associated health data. 

Philadelphia’s ZSX Medical is a medical device company whose Zip-Stitch offers a rapid surgical closure platform. 

Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

In Lawrence County, a startup prepares to grow legal medical marijuana

One hundred feet below pure limestone in Lawrence County, Thomas Perko and Russ Cersosimo Jr. are preparing to grow medical marijuana for the Pennsylvania market. 

The site is highly secure, pest-free and can be scaled to the equivalent of more than 22 acres.

Now the co-founders of Keystone Organic Farms just have to wait for Pennsylvania to legalize medical cannabis -- which Perko says is more likely than ever.

"We started reaching out to various stakeholders in the Commonwealth of PA when language of a bill had a chance of both bipartisan and bicameral support," he says. "Our politicians have done some serious research since…2014. Education is powerful and we believe that the tipping point has been reached. The past year has given them time to educate themselves and it has really paid off. They are now fully aware that this is something that heals people and that there is now proven research behind it, not just anecdotal evidence."

Once enacted, Pennsylvania can learn from the experience of 23 states and the District of Columbia in fast and efficient implementation. The subterranean farm can be operational within 90 days of licensure.

For now, Keystone is actively gearing up. The company is working with other Pennsylvania companies to perfect the necessary LED lighting technology and custom compound sustainable soil solutions.

"Our initial feasibility analysis included architects and engineers for space-program requirement planning, as well as a sharp focus on all of the integrated systems and design to take into consideration when planning for mid- and long-term scalability,” adds Perko.

A lot will depend on the specifics of any final bill, but Perko anticipates that Keystone can raise somewhere between $10 and $15 million in capital; create 25 to 45 jobs in growing, processing and dispensing; and serve as many as 12,500 customers by 2017.

Source: Tom Perko, Keystone Organic Farms
Writer: Elise Vider

Allentown's MindBridge Innovations develops high-tech therapy bikes

"Entrepreneurship is all about redefinition and flexibility,” says Dan Vassilaros of Allentown’s MindBridge Innovations

When several years of development and market testing failed to yield sufficient results on the company’s MindBike, a dual-action vehicle aimed at helping neurologically impaired children gain/regain functional and cognitive autonomy, MindBridge modified the product for adult recumbent riding and renamed it "OrthoBike."

Several prototypes culminated with the third-generation OrthoBike designed by MTS Ventures, a resident company at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center operated by the Allentown Economic Development Corporation

"We have accumulated about five years of experience in orthopedic clinics and almost two years in the homes of knee replacement and repair surgery patients who were struggling with their rehab…[to] wonderful reviews," reports Vassilaros. 

Now MindBridge is moving ahead, developing a business model in order to begin manufacturing.

"Most parts are sourced from Lehigh Valley manufacturers, with some from Ohio and Taiwan," explains Vassilaros. "We plan to retain assembly and control over the final product here."
MindBridge received a $35,000 loan from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, in part to complete development of its CoachAL interface, which uses pedal cadence data to motivate riders and to provide remote monitoring of progress and compliance of home use of the OrthoBike and any other stationary exercise bike.

The company is also still at work on the children's MindBike and has modified an existing adult fitness dual-action bike for children in elementary schools in Pennsylvania. 

"Our long-term goals are huge," enthuses Vassilaros. "We need to develop the evidence that will permit the MindBike to be used in pediatric neurological therapy. We feel that the greatest good we can do is to help neurologically impaired children gain greater functional and cognitive autonomy."

"Seniors who want to exercise body and mind need a safe way to move their whole body and engage their minds with challenging content," he adds. "The OrthoBike is perfect because the pedal crank arm is adjustable for folks with limited range of motion (caused by arthritis or injury), both the arms and legs move in a pattern that appears to be therapeutic to injured brains as well as whole body exercise, and CoachAL can guide and encourage them to move. "

Source: Dan Vassilaros, MindBridge Innovations
Writer: Elise Vider

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA invests in promising technologies

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) is investing nearly $400,000 in seven early-stage tech companies and three established manufacturers in its latest funding round.

The following investments were made in the form of loans,

ChannelApe of Jessup, a provider of a software platform for e-commerce storeowners, will receive a $35,000 loan to revise its business plan, create corporate documentation and refine its product. 

Scranton's JUJAMA, Inc. earned $100,000 to continue the development and commercialization of a suite of customizable, fully supported technologies for meetings and conferences that make events more productive. 

MindBridge Innovations, LLC of Allentown will receive $35,000 to finalize a new sales strategy, revise financial models and complete software development for its interface between at-home patients and physicians and therapists for the company’s therapy system, providing range-of-motion, strength and gait rehabilitation to patients after total hip and knee replacement and other lower extremity surgeries.

OPTiMO Information Technology, LLC in Bloomsburg earned $35,000 to expand its Legal Technology Division. 

Orbweaver Sourcing, LLC, based at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem, will receive $30,000 to complete development of a real-time supplier pricing infrastructure as a module in a cloud-based software solution for electronic circuit board manufacturers. 

Precision POS, LLC of Jessup will get a $70,000 loan to support marketing and sales efforts for the company’s tablet point-of-sale and online ordering technology, designed for the restaurant industry and related food and beverage businesses.  

Also based at TechVentures, TSG Software has earned $25,000 to significantly increase marketing and sales lead generation in commercializing software for business cleaning services, property and facility managers, and building management contractors. 

Three established manufacturers were approved for one-to-one matching funding for work with a college or university partner on technology-based innovation. All are partnering with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center.

Bayard Printing Group in Plymouth received $15,600 to optimize the manufacturing process between operator and machine, and identify a solution to consolidate accounting systems at this digital, web and sheet-fed offset printing and fulfillment company.

Bethlehem-based Jesse James & Co., Inc., designer and manufacturer of bead and button embellishments for craft stores, mega-stores and online distribution, earned $25,000 to reduce manufacturing and fulfillment costs, and improve speed, productivity and quality.

A leading supplier of light control products for individual and corporate customers, Lutron Electronics Company, Inc. in Coopersburg will receive $25,000 to complete design and implementation of an improved, streamlined service scheduling system.

In other news, BFTP/NEP reports that that 1,189 northeastern Pennsylvania jobs were created or retained as a result of its work in 2014, leading to a cumulative total of 39,558 job creations or retentions since the program’s inception in 1983. 

Source: BFTP/NEP
Writer: Elise Vider

In Philadelphia, a new partnership promotes healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship

Independence Blue Cross (IBX) and Thomas Jefferson University have embarked on a new collaboration "designed to boost innovation in healthcare across the region and help both organizations improve the quality and value of healthcare," said the partners in a statement.

The new Independence Blue Cross – Jefferson Health Innovation Collaboration will be jointly and equally funded up to $2 million by IBX and Jefferson. The program will be run through the Independence Blue Cross Center for Health Care Innovation and Jefferson's Innovation Pillar

According to Jefferson's Donna Gentile O’Donnell, details are still being worked out, but the effort will include an entrepreneur-in-residence program for clinicians and researcher who have promising discoveries that need more dedicated time and proof-of-concept support, including prototyping. 

The entrepreneurs-in-residence will also participate in education curriculum in entrepreneurship and an innovation engagement speaker series.The collaboration also plans to host health hackathons with participants working intensely to "hack" usable solutions to important healthcare issues such as reducing hospital readmissions, designing wearable devices that improve healthcare delivery and other cutting-edge technology applications.

"We anticipate that the entrepreneur-in-residence program will be a pivot point for moving new ideas forward and changing what we do and how we do it in multiple aspects of healthcare," enthused Stephen K. Klasko, president and CEO of Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.

Gentile O’Donnell says that specifics of the selection process are being worked out, but that for year one "we are looking for areas of practice research and clinical applications that may need proof of concept, but [whose hypotheses] point in the direction of improving care, decreasing care risk and decreasing hospital readmission."

Established in February 2014, IBX's Center for Health Care Innovation houses a wide range of initiatives and champions healthcare entrepreneurism in the region. Jefferson's Innovation Pillar is an initiative designed to elevate and encourage innovation as a mission for the university and the health system.

Source: Donna Gentile O’Donnell, TJU and Independence Blue Cross
Writer: Elise Vider

Harrisburg's growing JEM Group brings women to the construction industry

In 1996, when Jessica Meyers entered the construction industry, "it was a rarity to see a woman sitting around the table at pre-bid," she recalls. 

Today, architecture, engineering and construction are still male-dominated industries, but less so. And Meyers is part of that change -- she is the founder and president of JEM Group, a fast-growing construction firm in Harrisburg. 

She established the firm in 2003 after, in her words, "recognizing the need in the Central PA market for qualified diverse construction firms." Women comprise one-quarter of her workforce of 21. The Small Business Administration recently named JEM Eastern Pennsylvania’s Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year.

The firm offers design/build, general construction and construction management services to the corporate office, healthcare, higher education, retail, government and light industrial markets.  

Recent projects include the renovation of the world headquarters for Harsco Corporation in Camp Hill, completed in March. The $2.5 million project included the renovation of 60,000 square feet of class A office space, completed in 16 weeks. A second phase is currently in the planning phase.  

In January 2015, JEM completed the construction of the Susquehanna Art Museum, an adaptive reuse of a historic bank building in Harrisburg. The $6 million project included renovation of the historic bank structure and the construction of a 15,000-square-foot, two-story addition. 

Last year JEM had 40 percent growth in revenue, driven primary by larger projects. 

"Over the past three years, we’ve focused on hiring individuals that have expertise in our key markets and that fit the JEM culture," says Meyers. "That has resulted in winning more work, satisfied customers and growth across all markets. We are one-and-a-half years into a three-year strategic plan and a major part of this plan is smart growth. We are currently considering acquisition, joint venture opportunities and expanding our geographical reach [currently within a two-hour radius of Harrisburg] to fuel that growth plan."

The firm has an interesting mix of projects on the horizon including two office/laboratory projects, a new restaurant and an urban adaptive reuse space in midtown Harrisburg.  

Source: Jessica Meyers, JEM Group
Writer: Elise Vider

State College's RE Farm Cafe will take farm-to-table dining to the next level

Taking the farm-to-table movement a step further, State College restaurateurs Duke and Monica Gastiger are planning RE Farm Café, where, among other innovations, cooks will work in nearby fields, growing the restaurant’s seasonal produce.

The Gastigers are partnering with John LeClaire, owner of the 31-acre J.L. Farms, for the groundbreaking eatery.

"RE Farm Cafe will be more than a farm cafe sourcing local foods on a seasonal basis," explains Monica. "The open kitchen design allows diners to experience a cooking lesson as they dine, understanding how to incorporate the local ingredients using induction cooking. Induction cooking is cooler, safer and cleaner than gas cooking. Our cooks will also be the servers and they will work in the fields two days a week so they have intimate knowledge of food sourcing. It will be a no-tip restaurant, meaning our employees will be paid a living wage."

The Gastigers already own two popular State College eateries, Spats Café and the Rathskeller, and this project grew from their commitment to sustainability and local agriculture.

"We have a personal commitment to live responsibly and want to bring this idea to life through a café," says Monica. "We love the rural nature of central PA. Supporting small farmers and promoting agricultural diversity is important to maintaining a healthy community and environment."
The 58-seat restaurant is being designed to standards set by the Living Building Challenge, which include operating with net-zero energy and water ("A pretty ambitious challenge for a kitchen!" notes Gastiger), beauty and social justice.

"The building itself will serve as an educational model of repurposing materials, smart energy use and an emphasis on ecologically responsible ways to live everyday," she adds. "Carpooling, biking and hiking in will all be encouraged. Outside the building, native plants will be used and explained so customers can take home knowledge of what to plant and why."

The team, which also includes Kutztown environmental consultants 7 Group, builder Envinity in State College, Penn Terra Engineering of State College and Lancaster, architect Mike Heluga and PBCI-Allen Mechanical and Electrical in State College, is aiming for a summer 2016 opening. The project advanced significantly in June when the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors gave zoning approval to farm cafes in rural agricultural zones.

Source: Monica Gastiger, RE Farm Café
Writer: Elise Vider

In rural Wayne County, a new business incubator boosts high-tech startups

Rural Wayne County has had challenges attracting new industry. Now its economic development pros have decided to promote growth from within. The newly opened Stourbridge Project in downtown Honesdale is a business incubator and co-working space targeting startups in web development technologies, app development, e-commerce, engineering, technology services and digital media.  

“For the last few years, we have noticed a number of small technology companies, software app developers, e-commerce and other technology businesses operating in the county out of homes and garages with little or no interaction with other technology professionals," says Troy Bystrom of Wayne Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO). "The Stourbridge Project is a catalyst where these startup businesses can interact, spin off new ideas and access expertise or equipment that may not be readily available to them.”

Another challenge is that broadband is expensive in Wayne County -- prices for bandwidth are in some cases triple the cost of neighboring areas. The Stourbridge Project offers high-speed Internet and data storage, along with media equipment, 3-D printers, specialty software packages and more.

The 1,800-square-foot incubator is located in an old and mostly vacant school building. The county commissioners leased the building to WEDCO for $1 per year for seven years.  
Another key partner is the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance, which will offer business development training, seminars and support systems. An onsite digital media lab will help companies utilize marketing tools such as images, video and distance learning.  

According to Bystrom, several companies have expressed interested in locating at the incubator, where renovations are still underway.

"The co-working space is currently open and is being utilized by several companies as we begin to ramp up operations," he explains. 

A community open house is scheduled for July 9. 

Source: Troy Bystrom, WEDCO
Writer: Elise Vider

Carnegie Mellon receives $31 million to establish entrepreneurship center

Carnegie Mellon University is establishing the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, which will serve as a hub for university-wide entrepreneurial activities. James R. Swartz, a 1966 alum and founding partner of the global venture capital firm Accel Partners, donated $31 million to support the school's efforts.

"As one of the most successful venture capitalists in the world, [Swartz] understands the importance of nurturing innovators and creative thinkers," said CMU President Subra Suresh. "This gift will bring together cross-university initiatives in ways that will have a far-reaching impact on future generations of young entrepreneurs."

According to the university, the gift includes $13 million in permanent university endowment, which in combination with other resources will support Presidential Scholarships and Fellowships for students, a faculty chair, entrepreneurs-in-residence, and an executive director and staff for the center. An additional $18 million will be directed to a number of programmatic and infrastructure projects over the next four years. This includes $10 million committed last year for the creation of space for entrepreneurship activities in the David A. Tepper Quadrangle, the university's major new academic hub. The remaining $8 million, leveraged with additional support, will fund infrastructure projects at several other locations across campus, new campus-wide curriculum development, a new fund to seed ideas across CMU's colleges and schools, and community outreach to engage local secondary schools in entrepreneurship learning opportunities. 

Startup activity among CMU faculty, students and alumni has been robust, with more than 138 companies created since 2009, said the university. And with work beginning on the David A. Tepper Quadrangle, CMU is poised to create a new innovation corridor with global impact in research, invention and commercialization. 

"Carnegie Mellon is one of the world's leading centers for learning and discovery," enthused Swartz. "From its founding, entrepreneurship has been ingrained throughout the university's culture. With its strengths in technology, science and the arts, CMU is an ideal location to cultivate the ideas, technologies and solutions that will make a true difference in the world."

Source: Carnegie Mellon University
Writer: Elise Vider

AWE Ventures—Powered by Ben Franklin aims to raise capital for women-led businesses

In 1995, a small group of Philadelphia-region women entrepreneurs got together for mutual support and access to capital. Now, 20 years later, the group -- renamed the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) -- is the Mid-Atlantic's largest organization dedicated to fostering high-growth businesses founded or led by women. 

Still, according to Executive Director Victoria Burkhart, "there is a sense…that now is the time to 'move the needle' on women and entrepreneurship, and for AWE to take a more active role in connecting women to capital. AWE approached Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP), a longtime partner, to brainstorm strategies for aligning efforts in support of funding for entrepreneurial enterprises founded by women."

The resulting AWE Ventures—Powered by Ben Franklin is a crowdfunded, donation-driven initiative to raise $250,000 -- to be matched dollar-for-dollar by BFTP/SEP -- for seed-stage investments in women-led enterprises in the Philadelphia region. The new program will also provide hands-on support for entrepreneurs from both partners’ shared networks of capital, counsel and connections, and events, workshops and published content to empower entrepreneurs and celebrate successes.

“As much as it is our goal to help support the growth of female entrepreneurs, AWE Ventures will also provide an opportunity to mentor future women investors," explains Burkhart. "Programming offered by both AWE and Ben Franklin will be as much about ‘how to invest’ as it will be about entrepreneurship. Fostering increased participation of women in early-stage or angel investment is equally important to increasing the diversity of our technology ecosystem here in the Greater Philadelphia region; really, in the nation at large."

"AWE and Ben Franklin will identify potential entrepreneurs for investment, with full management of the due diligence and investment processes to be handled by Ben Franklin," explains RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, BFTP/SEP’s president and CEO. "Like all other Ben Franklin investments, companies will commit to being located in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware or Chester counties for at least five years, or until repayment/exit. The number of companies to be funded remains flexible and will depend upon the amount of funds raised."

"AWE does a great job in creating events and programs to connect and advance women entrepreneurs, providing opportunities to share experiences, insights, best practices and lessons learned," she adds. "Ben Franklin does as well, actively working to bring insights from its investors, portfolio companies and regional partners into the mix. There's really no end date or fixed total hours for what AWE Ventures—Powered by Ben Franklin can provide. That's what so great about our two organizations working together on this initiative."

Source: RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, BFTP/SEP and Victoria Burkhart, AWE
Writer: Elise Vider

In Wayne, Unilog grows with e-commerce

Sixteen years ago, Unilog was established in Bangalore, India as a provider of content for product catalogs, creating, organizing and managing massive amounts of product content or SKUs (the product information that displays on websites and e-catalogs).

But as the market for outsourced IT services became more of a commodity, growth stalled and a new business model was required.

"By this point we had really created a niche for ourselves in wholesale distribution," says Suchit Bachalli, president of U.S. Unilog. "But I realized what would sustain us in the long run was to venture away from data services and get into the product/software side of the business. So, we took what we knew about master data management and product catalog services to turn it into a robust e-commerce product called CIMM2. Essentially, we found a way to replicate the Amazon e-commerce experience for suppliers, wholesalers and end-users."

The pivot ultimately led Unilog to Wayne, where it established its U.S. headquarters in 2011.

"One of our big customers, supplyFORCE, was there [in King of Prussia] and we had discovered that there were a number of very beneficial resources and economic incentives that Pennsylvania and the Greater Philadelphia region could offer to young, foreign-owned businesses like us," recalls Bachalli.

Sales, marketing, business development, tech support and technology innovation for CIMM2, Unilog’s flagship product, are based in Wayne. Since moving there, the company has grown its U.S. customer base to about 100.

Most recently, as a member of the Chester County Economic Development Council’s Ideas X Innovation Network (i2n), Unilog received a large tax credit through the Keystone Innovation Zone program. The credit will allow the company to accelerate its technology development and support overall expansion, including creating new jobs. Currently Unilog employs 20 in Wayne. 

Source: Suchit Bachalli, Unilog
Writer: Elise Vider

State College's Homeland Manufacturing Services brings electronics manufacturing home

Three years ago, Army National Guard veteran John Bonislawski launched Homeland Manufacturing Services in his 300-square-foot basement. 

Sixteen months ago, the young company moved into 2,000 square feet, and then in late May, Bonislawski cut the ribbon on a 5,000-square-foot facility with another 5,000 square feet available for immediate expansion.

HMS is a full-service electronics manufacturing company serving the defense, medical, satellite communications, sensor, agricultural and other markets. The company assembles electronic circuit cards, cable assemblies and box-build assemblies for original equipment manufacturers, defense contractors and research organizations in the U.S. and Canada. 

The new facility was purpose-built for electronics manufacturing, including the environmental controls and high-output lighting necessary to assemble extremely small electronic components.

"Our new high-speed production line is capable of placing the smallest electronic components on circuit boards at a rate of 22,000 parts per hour," explains Bonislawski. "Our new placement machine also includes electrical verification of many electronic components, further strengthening our core philosophy of defect prevention vs. defect detection. We are equipped to assemble even the most complex circuit cards."
Bonislawski reports that HMS's sales have more than doubled each year and will double again this year even without new business.

"With 100 percent of the profits reinvested back into the company we now have the same manufacturing capabilities of companies many times larger,” he adds. 

An underlying goal is to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and specifically to Centre County.

"For more than 20 years I have worked in industry and watched U.S. manufacturing jobs being shipped off-shore to save a few pennies," says Bonislawski. "After two decades of outsourcing electronics manufacturing off-shore, I believe that U.S. companies are finally figuring out that when considering the cost of poor quality, late deliveries, rising global transportation costs, uncertainty protecting their intellectual property, poor customer service and many bad experiences…manufacturing electronics in the U.S. is more attractive than ever and a better overall value for the customer."

Source: John Bonislawski, Homeland Manufacturing Services
Writer: Elise Vider

In Allentown, fast-growing Netizen provides cyber security to government and commercial clients

After meeting at a Lehigh Valley Hackathon, Max Harris and Mike Hawkins -- both U.S. Army veterans with backgrounds in law enforcement, military intelligence, cyber security and software development -- founded Allentown’s Netizen

A year-and-a-half later, the company counts federal agencies (including the Departments of Justice and Defense and the Veteran's Administration) among its clients and is in final negotiations with Defense and the VA on new contracts. One pending project is a software security pilot designed to protect veterans’ data.

Private companies are also turning to Netizen to provide cyber and software security expertise in markets such as healthcare, public safety, finance, manufacturing and e-commerce.

As a veteran-owned company, Netizen benefits from "preferred vendor" status for government contracts. But according to Harris, the young company has also "built a solid brand among the ‘beltway crowd’ in Washington, D.C. and routinely gets called on for our particular areas of expertise in web/mobile software development and cyber security." 

Netizen recently moved into the Allentown Economic Development Corp.'s (AEDC) Bridgeworks Enterprise Center to serve its commercial clients and is working to expand into a second Allentown location which will be security-cleared for defense work. The company is also planning to expand into Virginia to serve its D.C.-based clients and to open satellite offices in Seattle, California and possibly Texas. 

"We are [also] working to build out a suite of products for cyber threat intelligence," adds Harris. "And we have been corresponding regularly with Lehigh University researchers to potentially leverage an academic-private partnership of sorts to drive innovation in cyber security, especially for data and software."

Source: Max Harris, Netizen and AEDC
Writer: Elise Vider
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