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State College's Green Towers creates aquaponics-inspired home decor

Green Towers of State College is sprouting with a suite of designs intended to "reconnect people to nature and to their food."

The startup grew from a Penn State undergraduate project -- the plan was to convert old shipping containers into vertical aquaponic greenhouses (a sustainable method for raising plants and fish) that could be shipped internationally and fit tight urban locations. Unfortunately, after building a prototype, the team determined that the market demand just wasn’t there.

Instead, Mike Zaengle, who is finishing a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree at Penn State, and partners Dustin Betz, Jared Yarnall-Schane and Jon Gumble, "pivoted by shrinking the science of aquaponics to a scale consumers could manage and afford," explains Zaengle.

Today Green Towers offers "Living Furniture" comprised of self-contained ecosystems of plants and aquarium life. The Living Table, available at the company’s website and on Houzz.com, is handcrafted from Pennsylvania cherry hardwood and arrives fully assembled. Just add water, fish and seeds.

Green Towers also offers "Living Interiors," customized, aquaponic-focused interior design services, and "Rotating Living Walls," a space-saving system for greenhouses that promises to double per-square-foot yields.

According to Zaengle, the company already has several commercial interior design customers, has built a large-scale aquaponic greenhouse for private use, and sold several Living Tables.

"We see a huge value in our custom interior design work," he adds. "Businesses and retirement homes have shown great interest in our work and reached out... Interior designers and architects bring us on as design consultants and have us do a custom piece around their initial design."

Green Towers expects to hire an engineer in the next six months and another designer if its custom interiors work continues to grow. And the company is developing two new products: a "Living Wall" and an urban beehive. 

Source: Mike Zaengle, Green Towers
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Your table is always ready thanks to Pittsburgh's booming NoWait

Several years ago, Robb Myer went from restaurant to restaurant in San Francisco, trying to be seated for brunch without waiting 45 minutes for a table. 

Popular apps like OpenTable make it easy to book at restaurants that take reservations, but "why, with the ubiquity of mobile phones and the power of modern cloud computing, was there not a solution to eliminate waiting at your favorite casual-dining restaurants?" asks Luke Panza. Now there is. 

Panza and Myer founded NoWait in 2010 as an AlphaLab startup. In 2011, NoWait launched its Host App for restaurants, a wait-listing tool that optimizes seat management and communicates with diners through texts when their table is ready. 

In February, NoWait launched its Guest App, which allows diners to get in line remotely at their favorite casual eatery. The app enables users to check wait times and remotely add their name to the wait list without even leaving the house.

The company's growth has been fast. In 2013, NoWait served 700,000 diners a month. That number grew to seven million with the launch of the consumer app this year. To date, NoWait has served more than 90 million guests and thousands of restaurant partners in all 50 states. In May, the company announced $10 million in venture funding.

NoWait recently doubled its engineering team, growing to more than 30 full-time employees with another half-dozen openings available. The company is planning a move to larger offices in Pittsburgh's Oakland section and has opened a fast-expanding office in New York. 

And NoWait is looking at new markets for its technology.

"We remain steadfast in our goal to eliminate waiting in daily life," explains Panza. "The opportunities are limitless. For example, you wait for your room to be ready at hotel check-in, you wait at a busy golf course, you wait for your car at the garage, the hospital, at the doctor’s office. Why should you have to do that? NoWait is starting with eliminating wait times at restaurants and has the potential to truly improve the quality of life for American consumers."

Source: Luke Panza, NoWait
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh's PieceMaker brings Santa's (3D printing) workshop to big-box retail

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, a Pittsburgh startup has brought Santa's workshop to two regional Toys “R” Us locations, installing 3D printing kiosks that create custom gifts on the spot.

PieceMaker Technologies has placed its PieceMaker Factory™ 3D printing system at Toys “R” Us stores in Cranberry Township and Totowa, N.J.

"The pilot program with Toys "R" Us marks a progression for 3D printing into big box retailing," says CEO and co-founder Arden Rosenblatt. "For the first time, a national retailer will offer custom 3D printing, on demand, in store."

The kiosks allow shoppers to design and fabricate customized items, including jewelry, key chains and toys, in mere minutes. Rosenblatt says it’s too early to report on how the pilot is performing, but the thrill of seeing the prototypes in action is undeniable.

"Seeing young kids, some under 10, creating their own designs and products, and then staring wide-eyed into the printer as it’s created [is] exactly the reaction we set out to create when we started all this," he adds. "Simply put, the families that make a piece love it, and that never ceases to bring us joy."

An AlphaLab Gear graduate, Piecemaker moved into shared office space in East Liberty earlier this year and hired its first two full-time employees, with four more hires contracted for early next year. The company has continued to tweak the printers, which are built and assembled in-house, so that they are fully automated and easy for shoppers and retail staff to operate. 

In addition, PieceMaker continues to build its product library, which now offers over 100 items that can be personalized in a variety of ways from color, to adding a personal message to including built-in symbols and emojis. 

Looking ahead, Rosenblatt says, "We will incorporate new technologies, new materials and new personalization tools to expand into various industries and increase the degree of freedom that consumers have in creating their world."

Source: Arden Rosenblatt, PieceMaker Technologies
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Call for Ideas: 4th Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest accepting entries

Are you a researcher, entrepreneur or small business in Pennsylvania (or West Virginia) focused on developing a new product or service for the shale energy space? If so, the Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center has an offer you can't refuse.

Entries are now being accepted for the 4th Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest. Once again, the four best shale energy-oriented innovations, new product ideas or service concepts will win $25,000 cash and other support.

The organizers are looking for innovations that are either in the development stage or recently launched. Any idea or already commercialized product or service related to the shale energy space is eligible. Examples include natural gas or NGL utilization products and services; novel materials or chemicals to enhance performance, prevent corrosion or improve product yield; remote site monitoring technologies; well pad EH&S products or services; natural gas or NGL conversion technologies; and water management or remediation technologies.

"We continue to be amazed by the rapid pace of innovation adoption across the shale energy play," says SGICC Director Bill Hall. "Entrepreneurs along with many small businesses are playing a significant role, developing new technologies or offering existing products or services already in use in other areas. Through the contest, SGICC shines a light on the best new innovations being developed in our region."

Hall reports that last year's Pennsylvania winners are thriving.

"Optimum Pumping is continuing with mid-stream trial demonstrations and early indications are that they are going very well," he says. "KCF Technologies has had a rather significant penetration in the shale gas industry and made at least one large project sale to a field services company. TM Industrial Supply, as a result of the contest, made manufacturing changes to reduce the time required to produce their filtration product and has at least one major sale, and anticipates more."
 
The contest attracted 70 entries last year. Expecting even more this year, Hall urges applicants to submit ahead of the February 1 deadline. A panel of industry experts will choose the finalists. 

Source: Bill Hall, Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center
Writer: Elise Vider

Bethlehem's Weather Trends 360 uses technology to peer ahead one year

In the mid-1970s, a seven-year-old Bill Kirk watched a weeklong "Kona Low" bring 100 inches of rain and non-stop 50 mph winds to Hawaii, nearly destroying his mother's furniture business.

An ensuing lifelong fascination with meteorology led Kirk, along with Jack Grum, to found Weather Trends 360 in 2002. The Bethlehem-based company uses proprietary technology and global data going back 120 years to forecast temperature, rainfall and snowfall anywhere in the world nearly a full year ahead with an impressive accuracy score of 84 percent.

The company serves industry sectors such as agriculture, retail, financial services and manufacturing. Clients include Microsoft, Target, Unilever, J.P. Morgan, Walmart, Coca-Cola and many other giants.

Unlike most weather forecasts, which are short-term and change frequently, Weather Trends delivers a stable, 11-month forecast that enables clients to plan proactively.

Retailers, for example, "use our year-ahead predictive analytics to better plan inventory levels up to nine to 11 months in advance [and to plan] advertising buys to make sure they time their ads with the right weather," explains Kirk.

Farmers and growers are also inextricably bound to weather. Weather Trends provides actionable information, informing them which seed varieties to use, when to plant, what sort of yield to expect and offering pricing predictions. 

"Clients also use the information to better plan short term replenishment strategies, store displays, spot advertising, marketing campaigns, short-term social media advertising optimization and labor scheduling," adds Kirk.

Weather Trends sells its services via a syndicated subscription model tailored to individual customers' planning geographies and categories. The company has also launched on a new service that allows small businesses and farmers to access their forecast for under $300 a year (compared to the $150,000 or more charged to other clients). 

Weather Trends nailed the brutal winter last year. Wondering what's ahead?

"This year we’re going more conservative and do not think it will be anywhere near as bad as last year," insists Kirk. "But, we are cooler than the very warm NASA and [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] forecasts." 
 
Source: Bill Kirk, Weather Trends 360
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Wilkes-Barre's EthosGen is the 2015 BFTP Venture Idol winner!

Wilkes-Barre's EthosGen, maker of an innovative power generator that produces electricity from sustainable and renewable sources, is the 2015 Ben Franklin Venture Idol champion.

Sponsor Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania describes Venture Idol as "a cross between Shark Tank and American Idol, but with entrepreneurs and investors instead of vocalists and celebrities."

Jim Abrams of EthosGen took the top prize with this pitch: "Our product, the CraftEngine, can convert waste heat into renewable electricity on-site. This presents a huge market as the largest waste heat producers are also the largest electricity consumers -- such as manufacturing and industrial facilities, hospitals, database centers and other energy systems like solar thermal and geothermal.

"Our win," he adds, "really comes from having a great group of strategic partners including BE Aerospace, Viking Development Group and AVL Schrick."

"EthosGen has developed and commercialized a renewable energy technology that leverages one of the most abundant resources available: waste heat," explains Kenneth G. Okrepkie, regional manager of the Pocono Northeast Region for BFTP-NEP. "EthosGen’s prestigious industrial partners…strategically position the company to ramp up production and sales."

About 250 guests attended the November 20 event, which started with eight finalists (all profiled in Keystone Edge in recent weeks). Besides EthosGen, JUJAMA of Scranton, which provides technology tools for events, and TSG Software of Bethlehem, a maker of software for commercial cleaning concerns, advanced to the final round to pitch their ventures to the audience.

In addition to a cash investment based on audience votes, EthosGen will receive a start-up package from Altitude Marketing of Emmaus that includes a revamped website, and a branding and messaging upgrade. (BFTP-NEP has already invested a total of $314,500 in EthosGen.)

Abrams reports that EthosGen recently won another honor, making the top 25 out of 2,500 companies worldwide in the Extreme Tech Challenge; judging will happen in January.

Source: Jim Abrams, EthosGen; Kenneth G. Okrepkie, BFTP-NEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 

HiJinx Brewing Company rolls out the barrel in Allentown

Allentown's HiJinx Brewing Company isn’t quite so micro anymore thanks to the opening of its newly expanded brewery at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center

The new facility features a 10-barrel (310 gallon) brewing system -- boosting HiJinx's capacity tenfold -- and a tasting room where customers can sample the brewery's beers and purchase 64-ounce growlers of their favorites.
 
Brewer Curt Keck started as a self-taught homebrewer in 1995 "to satisfy my passion for great beer" and then worked at local producers to learn the business. He met Chris Becker, another accomplished brewer, through the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers Club and the pair launched HiJinx in Keck's garage. 

It was another fortuitous meeting, this time at a local brew festival with Anthony Durante, program manager for the Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), that brought HiJinx to Bridgeworks.

"After a few sips of their beers and talking to the guys, my gut told me this was something special," recalls Durante. A couple of months later, while working with the founders of The Colony Meadery, another AEDC business incubator client, Durante crossed paths with Keck and Becker again.
 
"It turns out that everyone knows everyone else in the craft beverage industries," says Durante. "Through Colony Meadery, we were able to reconnect with the HiJinx team and began working through the process of bringing them into the business incubation program."

Accommodating a brewery at Bridgeworks required the installation of floor drains, bringing utility services into the space, building a bar for the tasting area and, of course, installing the brewing system.
 
The new HiJinx has space for a total of fifteen fermenters; the company aims to have its beers offered throughout Pennsylvania and additional northeastern states in the next several months.

For now, HiJinx products are available at Shangy's: The Beer Authority in Emmaus, and on tap at a number of bars in Pennsylvania. The tasting room is open most Fridays from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. and most Saturdays from noon - 4 p.m.

Source: Curt Keck, HiJinx Brewing Company; Anthony Durante, AEDC
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Phoenix Contact expands its manufacturing and R&D capacity near Harrisburg

In 2005, Phoenix Contact, a German maker of industrial electrical and electronic technology products, established a development and manufacturing (D&M) subsidiary in Swatara Township near Harrisburg. The facility was intended to meet the needs of customers in North and South America by designing new products based on American standards and customer needs.

Now Phoenix Contact has significantly expanded its plant to accommodate a growing workforce and increase its manufacturing capacity. 

The company recently dedicated a three-story 125,000-square-foot addition, bringing its total space to 360,000 square feet.

"Our growth over the past five years in particular had our development and production teams located in different areas of our current facility as well as rented space across the street from our campus," explains Vice President David Skelton. "This new facility allows all of the teams that work together to be located together."

The addition includes 50,000 square feet of production and support space designed to improve material flow throughout the facility and expand overall production capacity. New open offices facilitate collaboration and allow for easy re-configuration. New engineering laboratories support research and development, primarily of products used in the connection, collection, protection and automation of field signals in industry, says Skelton. The expansion is also energy efficient and includes a green roof.

Phoenix Contact's D&M workforce in Swatara Township has grown to 220, primarily in professional positions such as production logistics, manufacturing, electrical, mechanical, computer engineering and project management. (The company employs 521 total at the location, including sales and other personnel.)

Among the products developed there in recent years are standard function Ethernet switches, 900 MHz wireless products, and customer-specific connection and signal conditioning products for Enphase, a leading global manufacturer of micro inverters for the solar industry. 

Source: David Skelton, Phoenix Contact
Writer: Elise Vider

Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Bethlehem's TSG Software

Keystone Edge is profiling contestants in the upcoming Ben Franklin Venture Idol competition (Nov. 20 at Ben Franklin TechVentures). After earning their way through the afternoon selection process, entrepreneurs pitch their startups to investors and attendees. Ben Franklin will invest $15,000 based on the "crowd-funded" audience vote.

In 2008, Bob Brown founded TSG Software to provide complex quote management software for the equipment leasing industry.  It didn’t take long for the startup to attract inquiries from commercial cleaning companies looking for a bidding and estimating solution for their industry. 
 
Growth in that sector was so strong that in early 2013, TSG decided to discontinue all other business and focus solely on developing its cloud and mobile applications for building service contractor and facility maintenance teams.
 
Today, the company has created and commercialized an array of cloud-based and mobile tools that allow cleaning and janitorial service providers, and property and facility managers, to manage contracts, bids, operations, sales, staff, inspections and quality control.
 
The company’s technology is geared to a peripatetic and diverse workforce.

"Our mobile tools allow field workers to inspect service quality and auto-route any service corrections," explains Brown. "Because we deal with a labor pool speaking many languages, we translate and include photos with service correction requirements. We recently introduced CC Kiosk, a tablet that works as a kiosk and captures time punches with photos, and displays task assignments and work orders, again, translated for that employee. The tasks and assignments are easily closed out on the Kiosk and updates are made in real time to our cloud environment, so management can see who’s doing what and when it’s getting done in real time."
 
TSG is growing fast, with four new customers signed in this quarter alone and $100,000 in annual contracts. Brown projects hitting $500,000 by the end of 2015 and $1 million in 2016.
 
Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania has made several rounds of investment in TSG, most recently $50,000 in October.
 
The company is a finalist in BFTP/NEP’s Venture Idol contest on November 20. Check back with Keystone Edge for news on the winner.
 
Source: Bob Brown, TSG Software
Writer: Elise Vider
 

New opportunities for military vets in Philly and Pittsburgh

Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh marked Veterans Day last week with new initiatives aimed at boosting opportunities for military veterans.

Philadelphia is the latest outpost for Chicago’s The Bunker, the country’s first incubator for veteran-owned businesses in the tech sector. Mike Maher, a 2005 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and co-founder of Benjamin’s Desk  a co-working community, is executive director of The Bunker’s new Philly affiliate. 

"We have a special obligation to provide opportunities for our veterans to achieve success once they return home," explains Maher. "With this program, we are making it a priority to promote and recruit veterans to be leaders in our startup and business communities. Veterans make exceptional entrepreneurs and our region is poised to benefit from their leadership."

The Bunker -- which is temporarily located at Benjamin’s Desk in Center City while Maher looks for permanent space -- will initially assist five startups beginning early next year. Technology startups are the focus, but any veteran-led and operated business is eligible. 

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development launched Service to Opportunity, a new program that places veterans with energy and manufacturing employers who need to fill in-demand jobs. Among its features, Service to Opportunity features a database to help match skills and interests to available jobs, and a toolkit for employers featuring best practices and techniques for interviewing and hiring veterans. 

"Veterans are a good fit for many of the critical workforce needs of energy and advanced manufacturing companies here," said Laura Fisher of the Allegheny Conference in a statement. "They bring technical skills, teamwork and leadership experience, and a strong work ethic."

Source: Mike Maher, Benjamin’s Desk; Allegheny Conference on Community Development
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Groundbreaking Philadelphia research project will comb data to boost health and lower costs

Independence Blue Cross, through its Center for Health Care Innovation, and Drexel University are embarking on a new research collaboration aimed at improving the delivery of health care and controlling costs. 

Researchers are currently evaluating a number of areas for study including:
  • Identifying Independence members at risk for hospitalization and re-hospitalization, as well as identifying members who would benefit from Independence’s chronic disease outreach programs.
  • Applying machine learning techniques to unstructured data, such as notes from members’ interactions with doctors and other health professionals, to predict future health problems or customer service issues.
  • Evaluating health interventions that can reduce the number of avoidable emergency department visits.
  • Improving the detection of fraudulent claims, predicting when fraud is likely to occur and developing strategies to help members protect their medical identity.
Though the specific research projects won’t be identified for a few months, they will "involve new ways to use data to improve health and lower costs," explains Independence spokeswoman Ruth Stoolman. 

"Each project will have a principal investigator designated from Drexel and a corresponding lead investigator from Independence," she adds. "The analyses will take place at Independence and at Drexel (all appropriate HIPAA [patient privacy] protections are in place). Some projects may also involve outreach and intervention with members and/or providers. Those interventions may be done by Drexel or Independence depending on the nature of the project and the outreach."
 
"We're already seeing some impressive early results from informatics projects we’ve designed, as well other research partnerships we’ve initiated, to improve our members’ health," said Somesh Nigam, Independence’s senior vice president and chief informatics officer, in a statement. "We’re going to see tremendous growth in machine learning and predictive analytics over the next few years, and it’s very exciting for Independence to be at the center of that work."  

Independence and Drexel also teamed up in 2012 to create a business analytics certificate program for Independence associates through the Krall Center for Corporate and Executive Education in the university's LeBow College of Business. Now in its third year, the program focuses on developing a deeper understanding of how to make databased decisions and teaches analytic techniques for identifying opportunities to enhance health care quality and services.

Source: Ruth Stoolman, Independence Blue Cross
Writer: Elise Vider
 

DreamIt Athena to provide female entrepreneurs with the tools for success

In the grueling startup culture, female entrepreneurs face particular and well-documented challenges, from limited access to early-stage capital, mentors and networks, to disinclination for self-promotion.

Now DreamIt Ventures has launched DreamIt Athena, a new Philadelphia-based accelerator track focused on providing women with the tools necessary to grow viable companies.

"DreamIt Athena aims to make a significant difference…by providing specific, dedicated resources to meet [female founders’] needs," says Karen Griffith Gryga, DreamIt managing partner.

The accelerator's female-focused curriculum will address the challenges head on.

"The lack of role models is one of the primary differences," she explains. "Women are relatively new to the entrepreneurial scene; we were only granted the right to business credit in our own names in 1974. Like any successful entrepreneurial ecosystem, the presence of role models is critical. 
 
"The lack of access to capital is another challenge faced more acutely by female entrepreneurs," continues Griffith Gryga, noting that most angel investors and venture capitalists are males and often not interested in women entrepreneurs’ ideas. "Female founders also face challenges that are more trait based. Women’s qualifications and decision-making skills are often scrutinized more deeply and critically than their male counterparts. Additionally, women have a tendency not to self-promote, and research indicates that women downplay their accomplishments in comparison to men even though they are actually over-performing."
 
Named for the Greek goddess of wisdom, DreamIt Athena will offer $25,000 in seed money, plus coaching, mentorship and workspace at the Innovation Center @3401, DreamIt Ventures’ Philadelphia headquarters. DreamIt Athena will also partner with the women’s angel network Golden Seeds and women entrepreneur/top-level exec network Springboard to further ensure access to resources, guidance and seed money.

DreamIt received nearly $500,000 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development  to launch Athena, and is looking to accept, at minimum, four women-led startups for the program, which runs February through May 2015.

The application deadline is Monday, December 8.

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

Philly's AlphaPoint, a financial tech startup, rides the Bitcoin wave

The next wave of Bitcoin growth just got closer to shore with the announcement that AlphaPoint, a financial tech platform provider, has been selected by Bitfinex, a major digital currency exchange, to enhance its backend technology.

AlphaPoint, with offices in Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco, also recently announced $1.35 million in funding, including $250,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Bitcoin, the most widely used digital currency with an estimated market value of $5 billion, experiences about 80,000 transactions a day. Bitfinex claims to be the largest U.S. dollar/Bitcoin exchange.

AlphaPoint's Exchange Platform is capable of processing nearly a million transactions a second.

"By offloading some of the backend functionality to the AlphaPoint Exchange Platform, Bitfinex can focus on strategic goals and its most important asset: customers," says Vadim Telyatnikov, a Philadelphia-based serial entrepreneur who joined AlphaPoint as CEO this summer. "As the digital currency market matures, our solutions allow organizations -- from powerhouse players like Bitfinex to startups looking to launch an exchange -- to remain one step ahead of the market."

The $1.35 million in funding will enable AlphaPoint to "significantly increase our development team and assist with our international growth; a large portion of those hires will be made in our Philly office," says spokesperson Natalie Telyatnikov. 

"The applications for digital currencies are just starting to take shape and we're at a key turning point," adds Vadim. "AlphaPoint will continue to help accelerate the growth of this industry by empowering businesses with the ability to provide every person in the world easy access to buy and sell digital currency.”

Source: Natalie Telyatnikov, AlphaPoint
Writer: Elise Vider
 

$1 million social innovation challenge aims to help SWPA nonprofits innovate

Innovation is just as essential to nonprofits as it is to private companies, but all too often, mission-driven organizations lack access to cutting-edge technological solutions.

Now, BNY Mellon and the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania have partnered with The Forbes Funds to link regional nonprofits with private-sector innovators to create breakthroughs that advance critical social missions.

"Too often our nonprofit partners don’t have access to the same innovation that drives improved outcomes in nearly every other industry," explains James McDonald, president of the BNY Mellon Foundation. "Through this program, we want to level the playing field and build a new platform for private sector innovation that can have measurable social impact."

The $1 million program gets underway by working with regional nonprofits, university researchers and other stakeholders to define common challenges that could benefit from technological innovation.  

"Such needs may include issues of logistics, data-use, mobile communication, automation, access to services, remote monitoring, decentralized and distributed customer bases, and plenty more," says Rebecca Young from The Forbes Funds. 
 
Once those challenge areas are announced in January, the program will put out a call to entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists, students and startups, and start creating the solutions.

"Anyone, from a current student to a well-established firm, is eligible to participate," explains Young.

Top submissions will be pitched to a panel of judges and, by mid-year, winning concepts will be advanced through a process incorporating funding, product development and business incubation partnerships for design, prototyping and deployment to nonprofits in Pittsburgh and beyond.

"Entrepreneurs in our community are already solving these challenges and designing a new future for every industry imaginable," adds Young. "We believe that we can help them see the nonprofit sector…as a market that is ripe for that same level of disruptive innovation."

Source: Rebecca Young, The Forbes Funds
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Bethlehemís Ed startup Skaffl subs iPads for paper and pencil

Keystone Edge is profiling contestants in the upcoming Ben Franklin Venture Idol competition (Nov. 20 at Ben Franklin TechVentures). After earning their way through the afternoon selection process, entrepreneurs pitch their startups to investors and attendees. Ben Franklin will invest $15,000 based on the "crowd-funded" audience vote.

"No paper, no problems" is the mantra at Skaffl, a Bethlehem-based ed tech startup that aims to substitute tablets for pencils and notebooks in K-12 classrooms.

Skaffl has developed a mobile iPad application that allows teachers and students to exchange class materials, assignments, homework, assessments and grades, all in real time. Students can write or draw on their tablet and teachers can view -- and provide feedback -- to student work in progress.

The last year has been a heady one for Skaffl, reports co-founder and CEO Rita Chesterton. The company launched the beta version of its app live onstage at Tech Crunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September 2013. That same month, Skaffl received a $100,000 investment from Ben Franklin Tech Partners of Northeast Pennsylvania. Shortly after, Skaffl was awarded a $15,000 grant from the city of Bethlehem as part of the Keystone Innovation Zone program.

Starting in February, Skaffl spent four months in Boston as part of the LearnLaunchX accelerator program, testing its product in several schools in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. And just a few weeks ago, Skaffl presented at the EdSurge Seattle Summit and was named "a S'cool Tool of the Week."

"Since returning to our home offices in Pennsylvania, we had our official launch in July of 2014," says Chesterton. "We have growing numbers of teachers and students across the U.S. and around the world who are now using Skaffl everyday in their classrooms."

Skaffl (available for most late-model iPads) is free at the App Store until January, as Skaffl rolls out new features. 

Source: Rita Chesterton, Skaffl
Writer: Elise Vider
 
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