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With a 3D smartphone photo app, Hologram wows at latest Penn State hackathon

 
Just when you thought your smartphone could do everything, along comes Hologram,  an app that allows phone cameras to take 3D photos. Created by Zain Shah, a University of Pittsburgh sophomore, and Ishaan Gulrajani, an MIT freshman, Hologram was top winner at HackPSU 2013, Penn State's recent hackathon.
 
"Though many of the projects were entertaining, there was one hack that had everyone mesmerized—Hologram," hackathon organizer Kathleen Warner wrote in a blog post
 
"The world you and I live in right now is three dimensional," explains Gulrajani in a demo video. "But unfortunately the photos that the cameras on all of our smartphones take exist only in two dimensions. This is so lame!"
 
The app works by basically taking two photos – one with flash and one without. "Areas of the photo, which are dimmer without flash and bright with flash, are closer and areas of the photo, which aren't affected by the flash, are farther away," Gulrajani says.
 
As first-place winner, the Hologram team won an all-expense-paid trip to San Francisco, sponsored by Ready Force, where they'll tour companies including Dropbox and Uber.  
 
The latest HackPSU was Penn State's largest ever, drawing over 150 participants from schools including MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University, reports Warner. The judges included David Rusenko, CEO of Weebly and Steve Huffman, co-founder of Reddit and Hipmunk
 
Source: Kathleen Warner, HackPSU 2013
Writer: Elise Vider

CMU startup PayTango, dancing as fast as it can

Tired of digging through backpacks and messenger bags for their student IDs and debit cards, four Carnegie Mellon seniors started to investigate ways to consolidate all the cards in their wallets and pay with a swipe of a finger.
 
They knew they were onto something when, recalls Brian Groudan, "we heard gasps" while demonstrating at a University of Pennsylvania hackathon last fall.
 
Groudan, Kelly Lau-Kee, Umang Patel and Christian Reyes are all graduating this spring and are partners in PayTango,  a fingerprint-based identification and payment system.
 
In only a few months, PayTango is dancing as fast as it can. Inc. magazine recently named it among America's coolest college start-ups for 2013. Three of the partners spent the first three months of this year at the Silicon Valley Y Combinator accelerator in Mountain View, California, and PayTango has begun to attract serious investor interest. "We didn't plan for this," muses Groudan. "It just sort of happened."
 
The students developed the technology, which marries biometric and card data, in CMU's inaugural Tech Startup Lab Course last fall, taught by Luis von Ahn, known as one of the pioneers of crowdsourcing.
 
PayTango's registration process takes about 20 seconds. Users place two fingers on the terminal's fingerpad, swipe the card they want to register and type in a phone number. Any card with a magnetic strip can be registered – credit, debit, gift, loyalty or ID. On repeat visits, users simply place their fingers on the fingerpad to make payment. The service is paid for through contracts with merchants, and is free for users.
 
The system is being tested at CMU dining locations and Groudan expects to continue to expand its testing there and at other campuses and local businesses, such as gyms. Investor interest is coming from Silicon Valley, but, he adds, "our first customer is CMU and we have very close ties to Carnegie Mellon."
 
Source: Brian Groudan, PayTango
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Back home in PA, at least for now, FastFig enjoys exponential growth

Go figure. FastFig, a startup developed in Easton, launched in Bethlehem and, for the moment, quartered in Philadelphia, has gotten its biggest visibility so far at Austin's recent South by Southwest fest. And it appears poised for exponential growth.
 
Billed as a "word processor for math," FastFig is a cloud-based tool that allows students to do math online – everything from basic arithmetic through algebra to calculus – typing and solving problems in the program without the need to go back-and-forth with calculators, paper and pencil.
 
You almost need high-level math to chart FastFig's progress. Brian Peacock, a 2012 grad of Lafayette College in Easton, began developing FastFig during his senior year. In October, teamed with Jay Hotaling, who serves as CEO (Peacock is chief tech officer), he officially launched FastFig at the Lehigh Valley Tech Meet-Up in Bethlehem.  Next the pair applied to tech accelerator programs; two days after applying, DreamIt Ventures accepted FastFig for a three-month program in Austin, Texas. Two months in, Peacock was pitching FastFig at a Demo Day during the high-profile South by Southwest event.
 
Now Peacock is in Philly, meeting with a number of interested investors. "We're hoping to stay in Pennsylvania," he says. "At the same time, there are investors everywhere and it's important to go where the investment is. So at this point, it's hard to tell."
 
Besides the two partners, the young company has two employees and is actively testing FastFig at high schools in Austin and New York City and at the University of Pittsburgh, which is supplying FastFig to its engineering students. Peacock is unsure when the product will be ready for commercial launch, but says the company is working on devising a revenue model, with the hopes of having a workforce of six to eight in another year.
 
Source: Brian Peacock, FastFig
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Calling all tech entrepreneurs: Apply FAST for free boot camp

Listen up, budding tech-based entrepreneurs. The deadline to apply for the next State College 8-Week Boot Camp  for business startups is COB tomorrow, otherwise known as 5pm Friday, April 12.
 
It's worth the scramble. The boot camp, sponsored by TechCelerator@State College, offers a free chance to hear from successful entrepreneurs, business support professionals, and even private and institutional investors on how to develop a solid, fundable business model.
 
The program requires a time commitment of two hours per week on eight successive Tuesdays beginning April 23, from 3 to 5 p.m.
 
There are other perks, too. Ben Franklin’s Transformation Business Services Network and Penn State’s Small Business Development Center staff will provide weekly one-on-one business mentoring. And participants will compete for $10,000 to help get their business off the ground.
 
Last year’s winners were Lin Wang, CEO, and Dr. Tony Jun Huang, CTO, of Ascent Bio-Nano Technologies LLC and Dr. Kevin Irick of SiliconScapes.  Ascent Bio-Nano has developed a chip that can produce three-dimensional focusing of a stream of cells, making it possible for inexpensive portable devices to rapidly screen cells for diseases such as leukemia or HIV. SiliconScapes is developing SmartView, a smart-camera technology that can be attached to retail displays and advertising and is capable of detecting shopper posture, attention and gaze, as well as interactions with the product.
 
“We had these technologies for quite a few years, but before the TechCelerator program we had never thought that we could start a company ourselves to commercialize the technologies. The TechCelerator program has done a great job in inspiring us, coaching us, and making us believe that we can do it," says Huang.
 

 
Source: Don McCandless, TechCelerator@ State College
Writer: Elise Vider


BFTP/SEP's 2012 performance profile



BFTP invests $315K in eight innovative Northeast companies

Software, social media, sales and storage are some of the sweet spots for eight companies receiving $315,700 in new investments from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s  (BFTP/NEP).  

These five early-stage companies will receive loans:

Bison Analytics
of Lewisburg, $35,000 to complete development of its business intelligence software for small businesses that use QuickBooks™ accounting software. Bison will continue software enhancements, develop a sales strategy for the company’s cloud-based product, and analyze follow-on funding tactics.
 
Cerora Inc., a resident of Ben Franklin TechVentures business incubator in Bethlehem, $50,000 to re-engineer software and hardware, and commercialize the Cerora brainwave sensor, a medical-grade, portable, and affordable electroencephalogram (EEG) that measures and records the electrical activity of the brain.
 
EggZack another TechVentures firm, $48,000 to complete efforts to improve the inbound sales process, which promotes EggZack through informative social media content marketing. EggZack markets a patent-pending software as a service (SaaS) solution aimed at marketing small businesses.
 
Everest Business Services in West Wyoming, $50,000 to establish brand recognition and sales by leveraging partnerships and Internet sales strategies. Everest utilizes proprietary software to provide short-run, digital print products.
 
Dunmore's GiveGab,  $35,000 to implement a sales and marketing strategy to begin commercializing premium features of GiveGab's proprietary web-based software platform that facilitates communications between volunteers and nonprofits networks.
 
BFTP also named three established manufacturers as recipients of 1:1 matching funding for work with a college or university partner on technology-based manufacturing innovation. They are:
 
Consolidated Storage Companies, Inc.,  of Tatamy and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, $25,000 to help complete a plant-wide production analysis at this manufacturer of storage systems and tool chests in order to optimize manufacturing processes.
 
EcoTech Marine  of Allentown and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, $22,700 to complete implementation of a new Enterprise Resource Planning system with features to accommodate expansion and maintain quality. EcoTech makes pumps and lighting for hobby reef aquariums.
 
Hydro Recovery, Blossburg and Penn State, $50,000 to investigate the economic extraction of useful materials from residual “frac” water, used in the development of natural gas wells.

Source: BFTP/NEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 

Bots & BBQ: Upcoming robotics open house in Lackawanna County aimed at manufacturers, students

Mike Duffy of Keystone Automation in Duryea and John Mele of Jam Works Robotics Solutions in Forest City are both Harley-riding Navy veterans. The companies they founded, Keystone in 1999 for automated machinery, and Jam Works in 2007 for robotics, collaborate frequently. "There's nothing that can't be done with these two systems," says Mele.
 
Now the two are joining forces on Bots & BBQ, a fun-sounding, two-day robotics open house  with some ambitious goals in mind. From 9-5 on Thursday, April 18 and Friday, April 19, Duffy and Mele hope to make Pennsylvania manufacturers aware of the huge advancements in robotics and automation and generate orders, sure. But equally important, they want to impress upon students and educators the appeal of a job in modern manufacturing.
 
"There's a major problem with the perception of manufacturing," says Duffy. "We want to showcase that it's not working in a dirty, nasty foundry … You're going to be using your mind, as well as your hands."  Most advanced manufacturing jobs today, he adds, require a two–year degree and they pay far more than most jobs available to those with just a high school diploma.
 
On both days, the agenda includes plant tours for students, seminars on topics ranging from pneumatics to data collection and seven demonstration robotics work- cells, performing typical operations such as measuring, palletizing and high-speed handling. Fanuc, a major robotics maker for whom Jam Works is an exclusive integrator and distributor, will be on hand, along with Rockwell AutomationPenn-Air & Hydraulics,  Norgren  and Bimba.  

The BBQ part? The organizers will be bringing in roast pig each day for lunch.
 
Source: Mike Duffy, Keystone Automation, and John Mele, Jam Works Robotics Solutions
Writer: Elise Vider

Emmaus' American Millwork & Cabinetry grows from its ashes with expanded facility and workforce

Seven years after a devastating fire, American Millwork & Cabinetry is growing steadily, with a new line, a major physical expansion and a bigger workforce.
 
A maker of architectural millwork for custom, institutional, medical and retail store applications, American launched AmeriCase, a new product line of cabinetry for institutional use, in late 2010.
 
With support from the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority and the state's Small Business First program through Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., American founder George Reitz has completed a $433,000 expansion to support the new line, which already accounts for 35% of the company's gross revenues.
 
American added 22,000 square feet to its manufacturing facility, bringing it to a total 52,000 square feet, and installed new equipment and mechanical systems. And it added 10 new workers, bringing its total workforce to 46. The company also occupies an adjoining 3,000-square-foot office in Emmaus and opened a satellite sales office in Annapolis, MD last year.
 
Reitz founded his company in 2002 in 8,000 square feet of rented space in Quakertown. By early 2006, he was under contract to buy a building when the Quakertown plant burned to the ground. With support from the woodworking and local community, Reitz, a devotee of lean manufacturing, swapped expertise for access to equipment at a plastic laminates firm, leased other space and regrouped.
 
By the end of 2006, American Millwork had purchased its five-acre industrial property in Emmaus and had 18 employees working in 30,000 square feet.
 
Reitz says he is conservative about predicting job growth, but if AmeriCase continues on its growth trajectory, American could add another two to four positions this year or even more.
 
Source: George Reitz, American Millwork & Cabinetry
Writer: Elise Vider

269 "wins" in 2012 to bring thousands of new jobs to Pittsburgh region in coming years

Pittsburgh and its environs are expanding. Not like the universe, but in terms of business investment and job creation. 
 
For 2012, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance counted 269 economic development deals -- or "wins" -- worth $3.2 billion in capital investment and expected to create 8,388 new jobs and retain another 3,422 over the next several years. 
 
The Alliance also reports record-high employment levels of 1.16 million. Equally significant: 42.6% of the region's jobs are in high-paying industries with an average wage of at least 110% of the U.S. total. What's more, the Brookings Institution last year identified Pittsburgh as one of only three U.S. metro areas that are fully recovered from the recession in terms of employment and GDP per capita. 
 
What accounts for the prosperity of the 10-county region and its recovery from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression? "Without question, it's our diverse economy," says Alliance President Dewitt Peart.
 
Access to an educated, highly skilled workforce and a competitive cost of doing business are key factors in the region's continuing success in attracting and retaining business, he adds.
 
In 2012, manufacturing re-emerged as the fastest-growing industry sector, with 59 deals announced. But this is not your grandfather's assembly line. "These days, all manufacturing is advanced manufacturing," says Jim Futrell, VP for market research. High-tech manufacturers, he adds, are reliant on a skilled workforce, "with at minimum some kind of post-secondary education."
 
The other major drivers for 2012 were financial and business services, energy, information and communications technology and healthcare and life sciences, but there is a lot of overlap, says Peart, such as "the law firms that are coming from Texas to set up practices to deal with [energy] growth."
 
About half of the deals counted by the Alliance are located in Allegheny County; the rest are spread among the other nine counties.
 
Source: Dewitt Peart and Jim Futrell, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
Writer: Elise Vider

Inventing the Future: Department of Making + Doing offers testing ground for workshop-based learning

When Evan Malone moved NextFab Studio from the University City Science Center to Washington Avenue in late 2012, he left in place several fabrication tools (including a laser-cutter and 3-D printers) and the last two years of NextFab's lease. To reinvent the space, NextFab and Breadboard, who partner on community outreach and artist residency programs, teamed up with  Public Workshop and The Hacktory. The local organizations are developing a combined headquarters and coworking space for tactile projects and education. The partnership, dubbed the Department of Making + Doing (DMD), opens at 3711 Market Street this month.
 
In addition to the high-tech toolage, the space features a full wood shop and electronic workbenches. Initially it will serve as a homebase and workspace for the four partnering organizations, as well as a location for their outreach and educational programming.
 
As schools continue cutting art and music programs, public spaces for tactile learning become critical. "[The school system] is taking away a whole domain of knowledge," says Breadboard's Dan Schimmel. "Essential to understanding these cerebral, book-taught topics is an innate understanding of the physical world."
 
Currently, DMD serves Public Workshop's Building Hero Project, a community design leadership program for young adults. In the fall, DMD plans to offer afterschool programs at the space -- classes will include kinetic sculpture, basic programming and soft circuits (integrating electronics into fabric and clothes). The Hacktory will also host Hardware Freedom Day on April 20.
 
Eventually, DMD hopes to serve the immediate University City neighborhood by offering a space where community projects, such as green infrastructure, can be imagined and built.
 
"It empowers people to believe they have the tools to solve problems," says Michael Darfler of Public Workshop. "We’re coming to this with the attitude that we’re not just talking about how to solve problems, but actually doing it."

The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.
 
Source: Alex Gilliam and Michael Darfler, Public Workshop; Dan Schimmel, Breadboard; Georgia Gutherie and Daniel Bergey, The Hacktory
Writer: Dana Henry

Desperately seeking America's best unknown business

Ardmore's Gregory FCA,  which bills itself as the largest public relations firm in Pennsylvania, and Safeguard Scientifics  of Wayne are on the hunt for the best unknown business in America.
 
"Maybe it's that killer technology startup that has yet to make the radar. Or perhaps it's some new wonder drug that will increase life expectancy. Or could it be that new sustainable business that's doing great financially while doing good for the world," said Gregory CEO Greg Matusky in a blog post.
 
The contest purse comprises $10,000 in cash and a $40,000 PR campaign.
 
The judges include Matusky, Safeguard CEO Stephen T. Zarrilli, Daniel Roitman of Stroll, a Philadelphia-based education e-commerce platform company, and Miles Spencer, an angel investor and co-creator of the reality show Money Hunt.
 
Here’s what they say they're looking for:

* The current operating success, recent growth and future viability of the company.
* The story behind the company and its products or services.
* The company’s current visibility and awareness.
* The likely positive impact of the application of a public relations campaign to the company and its products and services.
* The social shares and number of votes received in support of the company’s nomination as outlined in the contest rules. While this contest is not based on votes or Likes, an applicant’s ability to engage and connect with employees and customers will be considered.
* How well the submission explains why the company should be selected as The Best Unknown Business in America and how it can benefit from exposure.  
 
The contest closes at midnight June 18 and the winner will be announced in July. To learn more and submit an entry, visit Gregory FCA's Facebook page
 
Source: Alicia Buonanno, Gregory FCA
Writer: Elise Vider

From Mad Men to digital, Conshohocken's DDCworks is hiring and reinventing itself

With its origins in the Mad Men era, one of the Philadelphia region's oldest marketing agencies has undertaken a complete makeover for the digital era.
 
The Conshohocken-based agency, formerly known as Diccicco Battista Communications, has a new name – DDCworks – new ownership, expanded and redesigned office space, a recent acquisition, a growing staff and a new organizational structure.
 
The just-announced changes were two years in the making, says Tim Cifelli, the new president and COO. His partners are CEO Mike Diccicco and Sean Donahue, executive vice president and creative director. "We're a 45-year old start-up," says Cifelli. "We are young, entrepreneurial owners and we are rebuilding the agency to make it relevant for 2013. But we have four-and-a-half decades of experience and infrastructure to back us up."
 
A key aspect of DDCworks' growth strategy was to bring in new talent and develop new positions such as "creative technologist" to meet demand for digital capabilities across all agency operations. DDCworks has almost 30 employees, four of whom filled new positions created in 2012, Cifelli says. He anticipates another four hires this year. In December, the agency also acquired DeFazio Communications to bolster its public relations capacity; Tony DeFazio is the new head of PR.
 
Another big change is a new cross-disciplinary approach, integrating agency services such as creative, media placement, digital and public relations that once operated in separate silos. The agency's expanded and remodeled 12,000-square-foot office is the physical manifestation of the new structure, with a new, open space design that fosters collaboration and brainstorming, says Cifelli.
 
Unlike many agencies, the agency is a generalist. But Cifelli notes that real estate and finance clients, quiet for several years, are starting to return as they emerge from the recession.
 
Source: Tim Cifelli, DDCworks
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

New Berks County KOZ offers tax breaks, highway access and high visibility

Two-hundred-and-six undeveloped acres hard by the Morgantown exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike are ripe for development as a brand-new Keystone Opportunity Zone.
 
The KOZ designation is one of the state's major economic development tools and is credited with creating or retaining more than 43,000 jobs since its inception in 1999. Companies inside zones are eligible for tax reductions or abatements affecting an array of state, county and local taxes.
 
These include the PA corporate net income tax, capital stock and foreign franchise tax, personal income tax, sales and use tax for purchases consumed and used by zone businesses, mutual and thrift institution tax, bank and trust company shares tax and insurance premium tax. On the county and local side of the ledger, potential tax breaks include earned income and net profits and property taxes. Projects located in a KOZ are also given priority consideration for assistance under state community and economic development programs as well as community building initiatives.
 
The new KOZ at the New Morgan Business Center in tiny New Morgan Borough offers 10 years of tax breaks and is part of a much larger planned mixed-use development that will eventually include residential and commercial uses. The site is known locally as Grace Mines and is part of the old Bethlehem Steel mining operation, says Pamela Shupp, vice president at the Greater Reading Economic Partnership, which is charged with marketing the new KOZ. The Partnership is at work on electronic and print marketing materials and informing its network of site selectors and industrial real estate interests about "this brand new piece of inventory with all these incentives attached to it," Shupp says.
 
The most likely prospects, she adds, are advanced manufacturers with needs for heavy infrastructure and highway access or corporate headquarters, who can benefit from the site's high visibility from the Turnpike.
 
 
Source: Pamela Shupp, Greater Reading Economic Partnership
Writer: Elise Vider
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