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Comcast extends its broadband adoption program for low-income families

Comcast is making a major push to close the digital divide; its latest research reinforces how digital literacy drives economic development.
The Philadelphia-based cable giant commissioned John B. Horrigan, head of research for the FCC's National Broadband Plan, to survey customers of its Internet Essentials program, a national broadband adoption initiative for low-income families. Eligible families, who must have a school-age child at home, get broadband service at $9.95 per month, the option to buy a computer for less than $150 and multiple options for digital literacy training. 
62 percent of respondents said they needed Internet service to look for or apply for jobs; 57 percent said the Internet helped them with job searches. According to the survey, "Broadband adoption programs are an important resource for economic advancement." It recommends, "Stakeholders focused on economic and community development must make appropriate investments to facilitate broadband adoption at home."
Comcast executive David L. Cohen announced that the company will continue Internet Essentials indefinitely. The original plan had the program running for three years and ending in June, 2014. The program has already connected more than 1.2 million low-income Americans -- or 300,000 families -- to broadband Internet at home.
Cohen also announced more than $1 million in grants to 15 cities. Although none are in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia was recognized as a "most improved" community; eligible residents can apply before March 18 to receive six months of free Internet service.  
If Comcast's planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable goes through, the company will have a presence in 19 of the country's 20 largest cities, significantly boosting the number of those eligible for Internet Essentials. 
Source: David L. Cohen, Comcast and John B. Horrigan, FCC
Writer: Elise Vider

Non-profit pursues research and drug development while offering services to the scientific community

A rarity in the biosciences, The Pennsylvania Drug Discovery Institute (PDDI) is a non-profit with the dual mission of conducting research in early drug discovery and functioning as a think tank and service provider to the scientific community on issues such as workplace reentry and mentoring entrepreneurs.
Allen Reitz and Kathleen Czupich founded PDDI in 2010 at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center in Doylestown, where its non-research functions remain. More recently, PDDI established a formal research presence at the University City Science Center's Port Business Incubator in West Philadelphia. Doron Greenbaum, PDDI's new director of research operations and a former professor at the University of Pennsylvania's medical school, is studying treatments for neglected and orphan diseases such as malaria and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
PDDI's non-profit status "gives us more leeway to focus on basic and translational science," says Greenbaum. His focus on those orphan diseases, with their small market potential, is a case in point. PDDI itself is not set up to take a new drug all the way to clinical trial, but as research progresses they might partner with an organization such as the Gates Foundation or the Stanford Research Institute and could eventually license for-profit spin-offs. 
There are only a handful of organizations structured like PDDI, says Greenbaum. The well-established Stanford institute, which has brought a number of therapeutics to market over many years, is one model. 
PDDI's non-research activities include helping displaced biomedical researchers re-enter the workforce, promoting entrepreneurship and serving as a think tank to brainstorm ways to gain efficiencies and productivity in early drug discovery research. The organization also publishes a journal called Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship.
"As a 501(c)(3), we can do these sorts of things," says Greenbaum. "A for-profit would never since they have to focus on the bottom line."
Source: Doron Greenbaum, PDDI
Writer: Elise Vider

From gold and silver to Pittsburgh's Liquid X Printed Metals

A Pittsburgh startup is performing a form of alchemy, converting gold and silver into ink that can be used in a variety of industries from automotives to consumer electronics to medical devices.
Liquid X Printed Metals, a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon University, has developed a proprietary technology to transform various metals into ink form, which is then deposited onto a wide variety of substrates. When heated at low temperatures, the ink converts to the base metal and exhibits comparable features such as high conductivity, thin and precise features, and excellent adhesion.
So, by using a high-tech form of ink jet printing, Liquid X inks can print a circuit that, when cured, conducts electricity. In the automotive industry, that technology "can replace miles of wiring with lightweight conductive materials," explains CEO Greg Babe, creating lighter weight and more energy-efficient vehicles.
Liquid X's technology is also highly cost effective.

"This technology eliminates waste," adds Babe. "We use significantly less metal and in many cases metal is expensive."
The company has patents pending and is preparing to launch its first commercial product in mid-2014. Liquid X is working with a variety of potential partners across the value chain, from end users such as touch screen manufacturers to makers of specialty glass and high-quality polymers, to printing technology companies.
Looking ahead, the company is developing its technology for use in 3-D printing.
Richard McCullough and John Belot founded Liquid X in 2010; Innovation Works was a recent investor. The company currently employs eight, and Babe anticipates adding jobs as the company grows.
Source: Greg Babe, Liquid X
Writer: Elise Vider

DreamIt Health seeks applications for its sophomore class of startups

DreamIt Health Philadelphia, the region's first healthcare accelerator, is accepting applications for its sophomore class.
They will accept applications through May 16 from startups worldwide in the healthcare sector, and expect to select up to 10 companies by June 16, based on the strength of the teams, market potential and traction to date. During the four-month bootcamp (starting July 18), the teams will work at DreamIt Ventures' headquarters in West Philadelphia.
Each participating team will receive a stipend of $50,000, in-depth coaching from successful entrepreneurs, and access to other critical healthcare-specific resources to rapidly develop and test its product, validate its business model, and launch the product. The program will culminate in a "Demo Day" -- participating companies will present their progress and future plans to an audience of leading investors and industry figures.
Last year's inaugural class brought six promising healthcare startups from across the country to Philadelphia to work alongside four Philadelphia-born companies on a wide range of significant healthcare problems, including hospital readmissions, cost transparency, healthcare payments, clinical communications, and mobile diagnostics. All ten companies, eight of which are still in the region, are continuing to achieve key business milestones.
"Many of healthcare's most challenging problems are at the intersection between the doctor or hospital and the health insurer," says Elliot Menschik, DreamIt Venture's managing partner for healthcare. "Startups don’t typically have early access to the customers and users they need to fully grasp the problems, craft meaningful solutions and then rapidly implement and test them in real-world environments. What makes DreamIt Health unlike any other accelerator is the depth and intensity of collaboration among the DreamIt teams and our strategic partners to more rapidly develop and deliver enterprise-grade products that create real value for customers and the foundation for scalable businesses."

As reported last week in Keystone Edge, Independence Blue Cross, a partner in the accelerator along with Penn Medicine, will invest up to $50 million in health related venture funds and early stage companies in the coming years. 
Source: DreamIt Ventures
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh's PHRQL takes nutrition to the grocery store

For those struggling with obesity, diabetes and other diet-related illnesses, the supermarket is ground zero for making healthy choices. Now PHRQL (pronounced “freckle”), a Pittsburgh startup, is growing thanks to software that makes it easier -- and potentially more profitable -- for grocery stores to offer on-site nutritional counseling.
PHRQL is an acronym for "Personal Health Recording for Quality of Life"; the company's core product is its Connect & Coach software, aimed at in-house supermarket dieticians. The software enables them to monitor and coach their patients. What’s more, it links to the supermarket’s point-of-sale systems, providing retailers with data about consumer eating and purchasing behavior, valuable for targeted promotions and marketing. It also facilitates claims to health insurers.
CEO and founder Paul Sandberg says the overall goal is to move nutrition education and counseling from hospitals and medical offices to community settings. And what is more practical and efficient than delivering those services right where people buy their food? 
The company was spun out in 2011 from a Carnegie Mellon research project in which Sandberg and three other students investigated patient-centered solutions to managing health care costs. The company began at AlphaLab and in 2012 gained its first customer, the Giant Eagle supermarket chain. Throughout 2013, PHRQL tested and refined its software.
Today that software is in use at 30 Giant Eagle stores and the company's new contracts – Sandberg declined to name them – will put it in 400 stores across 15 states by the end of this quarter.
Carnegie Mellon is an equity partner; PHRQL has also received investment from the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and continues to seek venture capital. It has seven full-time employees and Sandberg expects to add another three jobs this year.
Source: Paul Sandberg, PHRQL
Writer: Elise Vider

Allentown's Gonzo Pockets offers modern material for an ancient sport

Lacrosse, an ancient game, is getting a high-tech boost from a specialized material developed by a pair of LAX-playing brothers in Allentown, Pa. The sport is a fast-growing phenomenon with ancient origins, tracing back to Native American culture; some accounts date it back as far as 1100 AD. 
Lou and Desi Gonzalez founded Gonzo Pockets in 2013. Their Gonzo Mesh, which makes it easier to string lacrosse sticks and overcome the inconsistencies created by weather, is sold at more than 100 specialty shops across the United States and Canada. 
"We collected a lot of feedback from people," says Lou. "Changes in the weather, such as what happens when the mesh is wet, what happens when the weather is really hot and dry, affect the accuracy of the player's throws. We invented a product that takes away all of that. It gives you the consistency you want regardless of conditions."
The Gonzalez brothers were high school and collegiate lacrosse stars and Lou represented Spain in the World Games in 2006. Lou founded the Lehigh Valley Skyhawks Academy where the brothers provide coaching, training and development for youth lacrosse.  
Gonzo Pockets is a tenant at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center (the incubator was recently profiled in Keystone Edge). The young company has already generated $150,000 in revenue over an eight-month period. Gonzo partner Tom Schmitt estimates that they should reach the $400,000-to-$450,000 range over the next year or so, based on demand and current performance.
"We expect to be able to help Gonzo Pockets think through the process of adding additional products to their offerings over the next few years that will help them continue along a strong growth path," says Anthony Durante, economic development specialist for the Allentown Economic Development Corporation.
Source: Anthony Durante, AEDC
Writer: Elise Vider

IBC Center for Health Care Innovation hopes to turn SE PA into Silicon Valley of health care

With the aim of transforming southeastern Pennsylvania into the "Silicon Valley of health care innovation," Independence Blue Cross (IBC) has opened a new center it hopes will be a national magnet for industry-leading innovations.
Terry Booker, IBC's vice president for corporate development and innovation, says that this is a new area -- but a logical fit -- for insurers.

"We process claims," he says. "And we get to think about the ways that health care can be provided more efficiently and provide better outcomes, resulting in lower premium payments by our members."
As part of the new initiative, IBC announced that it will invest up to $50 million in health-related venture funds and early stage companies to promote innovation through new technologies, products and services. Booker says that about half of the capital will be provided through private equity funds and other professional investors. The other half will be in the form of direct investments in early-stage companies that do business with IBC, preferably in southeastern Pennsylvania. IBC, he emphasizes, would not be the lead investor but would provide support for promising technologies or approaches.
The center will also serve as IBC's point-of-contact to DreamIt Health Philadelphia. The accelerator, housed at Drexel University, began accepting applications for its 2014 cohort this month. The center will also continue to support research underway with New York University and the NYU Langone Medical Center to better detect undiagnosed diabetes, and studies with Penn Medicine that include using mobile technology to improve medication adherence, understanding the impact of genome testing to improve cancer treatment and outcomes, and evaluating care delivery to improve outcomes for stroke patients. The center will also host a new regional task force for health care innovation, a working group of the CEO Council for Growth.
The 5,000-square-foot center at IBC's Center City Philadelphia headquarters is designed to promote collaboration and innovation.

"It’s a departure from the typical corporate environment," says Booker. 
Source: Terry Booker, IBC
Writer: Elise Vider

Coopersburg's PeriscopeIQ uses advanced social media monitoring to reveal customer experience

When Pawan Singh and Mohamed Latib founded PeriscopeIQ (PIQ) in 1999 to deliver business intelligence, the Internet was in its infancy and social media was non-existent. 
In the years since, the fundamentals behind the Coopersburg company’s proprietary software platforms and its statistical analyses haven’t changed, but the means for harvesting data have expanded dramatically.
The company recently announced a new social media monitoring and analytics solution -- what Latib calls "an omni channel … that encompasses every possible data stream [associated with] customer engagement:" email, call center feedback, in-store kiosks, and interactive and social media. 
PIQ offers systems for customer and employee feedback with a niche in compensation, says Latib. Its clients include giants such as Kohl’s, Fossil, Halliburton, Boston Scientific, Seagate Technology, Unilever and The World Bank
The company prides itself on its strict adherence to scientific methods. According to Latib, corporate decision-making is often based on bad data. PIQ's methodology guarantees reliable and valid data so that corporations can make sound business decisions.  
Although it is "industry agnostic," Latib says the company has made a strategic decision to focus on direct-to-consumer retail to drive continued growth. In the last three years, the company has experienced 10 percent annual growth; PIQ is forecasting exponential growth going forward in the order of 25 to 50 percent a year. 
In early 2014, the company announced a significant private-equity investment. With the new capital, PIQ can expand its sales activities in the U.S. and abroad, and make strategic acquisitions.
PIQ employs 23, including seven at satellite offices in Virginia and California. At its headquarters, the company is currently filling two new positions and hopes to add a total of four new jobs this year. 
Source: Mohamed Latib, PeriscopeIQ
Writer: Elise Vider

Gender integration in STEM research boosts innovation and productivity

The good news: a Penn State researcher has confirmed what we already know intuitively -- greater gender equity and integration in science and engineering teams fosters greater productivity and innovation.
The bad news: a Penn State researcher has confirmed what we know intuitively -- women’s expertise is often underutilized and undervalued in science and engineering teams, leading to less-than-optimal productivity and innovation.
Aparna Joshi, an associate professor of management and organization, surveyed research teams at a large public university (not necessarily Penn State) working in a range of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines including computer science, bio-related fields, civil and electrical engineering, etc. She asked every team member to rank the expertise and contributions of everyone else on the team. Returning to the same team about two years later, she queried them on their collaboration and measured their success by indicators such as products, publications and patents.
The teams that had higher perceptions of their female members and better utilized their expertise were more productive. The disconnect, she says, lies in team members’ inability to accurately perceive expertise. She found a tendency among male and female team members to perceive the expertise of fellow female members at a lower level than their male counterparts, despite the level of education those women had achieved. Team members’ perceptions of their colleagues’ expertise is critical because those perceived as experts are offered more opportunities to perform and lead.
As she moves into further research on the subject, Joshi suggests that universities and research institutions can boost women’s perceived stature by creating “visible symbols of success,” namely more senior women and faculty members. She also endorses Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy. 
"This is more than a moral issue," Joshi says. "It fosters innovation."
Coverage of STEM advancements in Pennsylvania is made possible through a partnership with Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

Source: Aparna Joshi, Penn State
Writer: Elise Vider


State offers boost to shale-gas-related innovations and technologies

Good news for emerging shale-gas-related technologies that need a boost to get to commercialization: A new state project will offer grants to Pennsylvania-based small companies to support testing and market launch of innovative technologies. 
Bill Hall, director of Ben Franklin's Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center, says the funds are aimed at companies that are past the proof-of-concept phase and ready to demonstrate market acceptance. The Center received a $750,000 Discovered in PA-Developed in PA grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to support the one-year project, which also includes preparation of white papers on ways to further grow the shale gas industry. 
"The thing that makes this incredibly important is that in Pennsylvania, we have a whole host of small companies trying to break into the shale gas industry," says Hall. "But it’s hard to get that first customer. [They say] ‘Tell me when you’ve sold 65 and I’ll buy 100’."
KCF Technologies of State College is the first grant recipient. KCF makes sensors to monitor vibration in machinery that can signal problems. This sort of safeguard is essential in the shale gas industry, says Hall, where "downtime is very expensive." The funds will support demonstration projects and Hall says he is "100 percent confident that once these are complete, they will have orders and create jobs."

Another three to four companies are under consideration for funding. For maximum impact, the SGICC plans to spread the funds in grants of $20,000 to $50,000. Companies are required to match the grant, he adds, preferably at a three-to-one rate. 
Source: Bill Hall, SGICC
Writer: Elise Vider

PA DOT's new app inventories bridges and roads

There are thousands of small bridges and countless miles of local and private roads across the Commonwealth. Until recently, local authorities kept track, but the state didn’t have a complete inventory.

In addition, the records regarding those roads and bridges were "sometimes on paper or in some person's head who has worked for the municipality for 30 years," says Matthew D. Long from the PA Department of Transportation (PA DOT).
Now Long, planning specialist for the bridge program, has spearheaded development of a custom-built app that allows counties and municipalities to survey their roads and bridges, and relay images and data to Harrisburg in real time. The goal is an up-to-date and centralized database with vital information about design, construction, maintenance and inspection history. 
The project has been running for about a year-and-a-half and has identified about 4,500 eight- to 20-foot spans for which the state had no records or incomplete ones. Same with local and private roads.
The Mobile Local Roads and Bridges Data Collection System (mLRBCS) got underway in 2010 at the suggestion of PA DOT’s planning partner agencies around the state after the realization that, according to Long, "this can’t be done on paper anymore."
DOT secured funds from the Federal Highway Administration and worked with Esri of Redlands, Calif., for the software and Xplore Technologies of Austin, Texas for the hardware, a specialized, outdoor-friendly tablet that is easily readable in sunlight and can survive being dropped seven feet. The total project cost was $525,000.
Surveying bridges and roads is just one example of PA DOT’s burgeoning use of mobile technology, which can be employed for collecting data on everything from traffic signals to the department's Liquid Fuels Program.
Source: Matthew Long and Jamie Legenos, PA DOT
Writer: Elise Vider

Three early-stage startups help launch the Netrepid Virtual Incubator

The Netrepid Virtual Incubator has chosen three Pennsylvania startups for its inaugural class.
"This state’s innovative, entrepreneurial spirit is quickly becoming more than just a 'best kept secret,'" says Sam Coyl, president and CEO of Netrepid, an infrastructure hosting service based in Enola. "These startups are using technology platforms in a unique way to educate, inspire and make the lives of consumers better. We look forward to helping them grow as we continue to accelerate the growth of this startup-friendly ecosystem."
The virtual incubator was established in January with the mission to enroll three innovative startups founded in Pennsylvania each month into a 12-month business consulting program, while also providing technology platforms valued at up to $6,000 per year. 
The first three companies are:

Heritage Spirits Distillery of Lititz is a whiskey distillery dedicated to the preservation of colonial distilling techniques and raising awareness of Lancaster County as the birthplace of American whiskey. 
JobHops of Lancaster is a professional services, employment listing and staffing solution website for the craft brewing industry, which employs an estimated 112,000 people (that number is projected to double by 2018). 
Nurse Recommended of Mechanicsburg is a physician recommendation website where nurses (not patients) provide the reviews, allowing for unbiased ratings of doctors by those who work side-by-side with them every day. 
The three were selected from 10 initial applications by the incubator’s board of advisors, which consists of eight central PA executives with ties to the state's tech sector. Applications are now being accepted for February and March enrollment. 
Netrepid is also involved in Startup Weekend Lancaster, which starts tomorrow; it’s not too late to register. And check back for Keystone Edge's full report from the event.
Writer: Elise Vider

Source: Jonathan Bentz, Netrepid

More on Bridgeworks: A new roof means a warmer, greener business incubator

You can read today in Keystone Edge about the great work being done under the roof of the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center
Well, that distinctive, saw-tooth roof is brand-new, energy-efficient and an important component to attracting and retaining businesses at Bridgeworks.
The business incubator is housed within a 100-year-old building, a former Mack Trucks plant. The old roof was made of thin, corrugated plastic sheeting with no insulation value. According to Anthony Durante of the Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), on a hot summer day, the building could be 95 degrees, and in cold weather, "we would be fighting to keep the building in the 60s."
Recognizing the need to attract clients to an energy efficient and comfortable space, AEDC secured $500,000 in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) funds from the state and $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The new roof is made of a combination of insulated rubberized roofing and double-pane insulated Kalwall, a translucent building material. It has an R-15 insulation value and AEDC expects to see efficiency improvements in the range of 30 to 60 percent.
Work began in August -- three-story-high scaffolding was required to replace the 300 feet of roof on the building's northernmost peak. General contractor Walter Brucker & Company of Perkasie completed the job in the first week of December, just in time for this rough winter. 
Tenants at Bridgeworks are already reporting increased comfort and much lower heating bills (some have been cut in half, Durante reports).

"This project," says Ajay Khatri of ColdEdge Technologies, "is having an immediate positive impact on our company’s bottom line."
Source: Anthony Durante, AEDC
Writer: Elise Vider

Acquisitions and technology drive growth at Newtown Square's Alarm Capital Alliance

With steady acquisitions, a growing direct-to-consumer presence and technology rapidly opening new markets, Newtown Square's Alarm Capital Alliance is experiencing fast growth and predicting more ahead.
The company made its largest-ever acquisition last month, buying Hawk Security Services of Fort Worth, Texas, adding 27,000 customers and 130 employees. Nationwide, the company now has 170,000 customers and about 430 employees.
The most significant indicator of growth in the home security industry is "RMR" or recurring monthly revenue. In 2012, when Keystone Edge last visited Alarm Capital, RMR stood at $3.7 million; now it’s at $6 million, with the Hawk acquisition accounting for $900,000.
Acquisitions drive Alarm Capital’s business, and although 2013 proved to be less robust than expected, CEO Amy Kothari says 2014 appears strong with "more acquisition opportunities in our pipeline." She ascribes much of the growth to a rapid embrace of smart home and personal security technology. The company gets 100 to 150 calls a month from customers interested in controlling their thermostats, locks, lights, etc. from remote locations or for personal security.
"It’s no longer about protection, it’s about connection," says Kothari, and security companies are quickly needing to decide whether they want to invest in technology or sell to companies like Alarm Capital.
In Southeastern Pennsylvania and several other markets, the company is also growing its direct-to-consumer presence as My Alarm Center, planning TV and other high-visibility advertising and branding.
The company moved to an expanded home office in Newtown Square in late 2012, growing to about 32,000 square feet with ample room to grow. It will need it. Already at about 175 employees (up 50 from 2012), Kothari anticipates continuing to add 15 to 20 positions every year.
Source: Amy Kothari, Alarm Capital Alliance
Writer: Elise Vider

New York's SIGNa Chemistry sets up shop in York

Recognizing the potential applications of its core technology for the oil and gas industry, SIGNa Chemistry, a New York City-based company, has a new presence in York.

SIGNa has established its Oil and Gas Recovery unit at the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship West Lab Facility at York College in order to pursue expanded uses of its technology at oil and gas fields.

Michael Lefenfeld founded SIGNa in 2005; he developed a technology to transform reactive alkali metals into safe, non-combustible, sand-like powders that can be used in a variety of chemical processing operations.

According to Lefenfeld, the company is now focused on the oil and gas industries. A small team began work in York in August, exploring how the company's core product, known as ActiveSand, can be used to enhance, speed and green hydraulic fracturing and oil recovery. Using ActiveSand, producers can potentially recover up to 50 percent of residual oil and accelerate the start of enhanced production by as much as 20 percent, all with minimal environmental impact. In shale gas formations, the technology also boosts productivity and addresses environmental concerns by reducing water needs and producing cleaner wastewater.

Lefenfeld says SIGNa expects to begin testing its new applications in Pennsylvania wells by the end of the year and that the J.D.Brown Center is just a starting point for operations in the Commonwealth. The company is already looking for expanded physical space in the region.

Source: Michael Lefenfeld, SIGNa
Writer: Elise Vider
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