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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

Friday: Young Philly writers challenged to post -- no cat videos allowed

Two Philadelphia companies are teaming up to encourage teenagers to think and write clearly in the digital realm -- with the admonishment that "good stories are about far more than cute pet or baby photos" -- in a one-day challenge on Friday, November 14.

VUID, a Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania portfolio company, and Mighty Writers are running the $1,000 Spotlight Special Contest for #nopics

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, young writers are invited to post a poem or story to VUID's Spotlight app while including the hashtag #nopics in the post body (no photos allowed). There will be three winners: $500 to the judges’ favorite post; $250 to the post with the most "likes"; and $250 to the post by a Mighty Writer with the most likes. 

Mighty Writers offers free writing classes to Philadelphia students ages 7 to 17.

"At Mighty Writers, we're always looking for new and innovative ways to spark a love of writing in children and teens," says Rachel Loeper, the program's education director. "The Spotlight app has ignited a few of our students, who have been posting their pictures and stories, and even sharing information about programs they're participating in at Mighty Writers."

The Spotlight app is VUID’s first product. The company is also developing the VUID #, a unique mobile ID number that allows users to log in to everything safely and securely. VUID numbers range from one to ten billion, so everyone on Earth could have a number. (More numbers will be made available once the global population exceeds 10 billion.)

For tomorrow, though, VUID is setting its sights on something much smaller.

"We're honored to partner with a nationally recognized organization that runs one of Philadelphia's most sought-after programs for youth," enthuses VUID CEO Kevin Brophy. "Mighty Writers teaches Philadelphia kids and teens to think and write with clarity so that they can achieve success at school, at work and in life. This is very similar to our mission at Spotlight, which is to provide an amazing contest experience that rewards people for sharing their best stories, thoughts, poems and song lyrics."  

Source: Karen Meidlinger, VUID
Writer: Elise Vider

Philly's Wash Cycle Laundry cleans up at national demo day

Wash Cycle Laundry, whose pick-up-and-delivery bicycle-powered carts are ubiquitous in Center City Philadelphia, was the grand-prize winner last week at the first Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day in New York City.

Founder and CEO Gabriel Mandujano walked away with a $25,000 check for his rapidly expanding wash-and-dry empire.

Wash Cycle started in 2010 "in a broken down laundromat in West Philadelphia," recalls Mandujano. Today the company employs 47 at six locations in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, serving households and commercial customers such as hospitals and universities. 

His winning pitch went roughly like this: "Bikes are cheaper and faster than trucks for urban deliveries, and yet can be used for commercial-scale applications -- we've hauled almost three million pounds of cargo since we got started, and have even been operational on a number of snowy days when Philadelphia International Airport was closed. We've proven that we can service sophisticated and large-scale commercial customers [such as] hospitals, nursing homes and universities, and are now looking to grow in those segments here in Philadelphia and across our footprint."

"Businesses that have a triple-bottom line -- the ones that look out for people, planet and profit -- used to be on the fringe a bit," he adds. "To get this recognition from Blackstone, which is one of the savviest investors around, is another great indication that businesses that do well and do good are becoming the new mainstream."  

Mandujano plans to use the investment "to upgrade a number of aspects of our tools and technologies, from the components of the bikes we use to our proprietary web platform that's at the core of our service."

Looking ahead, the company is gearing up for national expansion; they expect to create 60 more jobs by 2016 and another 100 the year after that.
Blackstone LaunchPad, a co-curricular campus program designed to foster entrepreneurship, launched this spring in Philadelphia at Philadelphia University and Temple University, with the University City Science Center as regional partner. 

Mandujano, who serves on Philadelphia University’s sustainable design faculty, represented the school as one of 20 finalists selected nationwide.

Source: Gabriel Mandujano, Wash Cycle Laundry
Writer: Elise Vider

Allentown's Colony Meadery grows by brewing an ancient beverage

Mead is one of humanity's most ancient beverages, dating back millennia before the birth of Christ, possibly even before the invention of agriculture. It was downed in ancient Greece and Viking lands, brewed at monasteries and celebrated in mythology, folktales and poetry throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.

Now the honey-based brew is making a comeback -- sales were up 130 percent last year. Allentown's The Colony Meadery is growing in tandem with its namesake product, racking up awards and fast establishing itself as a major brewer.

The company was established barely a year ago when Greg Heller-LaBelle, a onetime beverage writer, tasted "Mo-Me-Doh," a mead created by accomplished homebrewer Mike Manning at a beer tasting. The pair calculated that thanks to the craft beer boom, "the market was ready for some new flavors," recalls Heller-LaBelle.

With sales running 100 percent ahead of projections, Colony is already gearing up for expansion. The meadery is taking an additional 2,000 square feet at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, "which will allow us to triple our capacity and renovate our tasting room in the coming months, as well as install [specialized brewing equipment] for carbonating mead," explains Heller-LaBelle.

Colony is also working to get into Pennsylvania state stores. For now, it sells bottles direct, is distributed statewide in New Jersey and is available by the glass at a number of bars and restaurants. 

According to Heller-LaBelle, the potential is huge.  

"Mead is an incredibly versatile beverage, and can take on a huge range of flavors," he says. "Our meads range in alcohol percentage from a 5 percent 'cider' to 17 percent dessert meads. And we have meads that range from bone dry and savory to sweet and fruity, with everything in between. Mead is gluten-free and can deliver a distinctive flavor not currently available in other beverages."

The judges at national mead competitions agree, awarding Colony nine medals so far.

Source: Greg Heller-LaBelle, The Colony Meadery
Writer: Elise Vider

Nine healthcare startups 'Dream' big in Philadelphia

Nine healthcare startups are poised for growth on the heels of the DreamIt Health Philadelphia 2014 accelerator program, which draws to a close this week.

The participating companies, selected by DreamIt VenturesIndependence Blue Cross and Penn Medicine, received $50,000 each in seed capital along with four months of hands-on support and resources to develop their ideas into scalable companies with high-growth potential. The companies pitched to investors, industry leaders and potential customers last week.

"Philadelphia has all the right components to become a national magnet for healthcare innovation," says Independence President and CEP Daniel Hilferty. "Through this unique joint venture, we’ve already brought several promising, unique, young companies to Philadelphia, and we look forward to seeing the results of this year's program come to life at Demo Day."

DreamIt Health Philadelphia 2014 participating companies include:

BioBots, a Philadelphia startup, offers plug-and-play desktop 3-D bioprinters, enabling users to easily create functional biological structures.

Philadelphia's Drop Diagnostics enables rapid mobile disease detection using only a drop of blood.

NarrativeDx from Austin, Texas, provides healthcare administrators and clinicians with actionable insights from patient experiences to improve care and reduce the risk of losing millions of dollars in reimbursements.

Bear, Del.'s RegDesk connects mobile health, medical device and biopharma companies with the largest global network of on-demand compliance experts, eliminating delays and expense in launching their products.

Pittsburgh's RistCall helps hospitals improve patient safety and satisfaction scores by replacing traditional wall-mounted nurse call-bell systems with wearable, connected devices.

Tissue Analytics from Baltimore turns the common smartphone into a sophisticated medical imaging and diagnostic platform for chronic wounds.

TowerView Health offers payers and other risk-bearing entities a service that improves patient adherence to multiple medications using a next-generation connected pillbox. The company is based out of Chicago, Ill., Houston, Texas, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, Calif.

TrueClaim, based in both Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Fla., helps health plans engage their members to substantiate claims and prevent billing errors, waste, fraud and abuse.

Philly's Willseeyou has developed predictive scheduling software that helps clinics boost their bottom line by booking more appointments, reducing inefficiencies and improving the patient experience.

Additionally, two companies born out of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are participating in DreamIt's Open Canvas@CHOP program:

Haystack develops analytics and monitoring solutions that help hospitals detect, investigate and report patient privacy breaches.

3D Peds is currently operating in stealth mode.

Source: DreamIt Health Philadelphia
Writer: Elise Vider

Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Bethlehem's Orbweaver improves efficiency in the EMS sector

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.

For electronic circuit board makers and others in the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry, sourcing and procuring components is time consuming, inefficient and expensive.

Bethlehem's Orbweaver Sourcing has developed a cloud-based software solution that boosts the speed, accuracy and productivity of the parts procurement process. The platform automatically analyzes and filters search results from hundreds of suppliers based on nearly a dozen customizable settings. Tailoring results to a customer's unique demands saves time and money.

Established in 2012, Orbweaver launched its QS2 supply-chain management software in 2013, first as a browser-based app and Excel add-in, and later as a cloud-based product. Today the company has several dozen clients around the country, reports CEO Christopher Ciesielka. 

Orbweaver is preparing to launch two new products in the next quarter.

"We are looking to release a sizable upgrade…that will include client specific pricing, which will enable users to aggregate electronic component pricing based upon the prices specifically offered to them by suppliers, as opposed to generic retail pricing," says Ciesielka. "This upgrade is a substantial improvement in electronic component quote cycle efficiency, [and] moves our toolset into the procurement and logistics cycles of the EMS industry."

In response to feedback from suppliers and distributors, Orbweaver is also preparing to launch a second toolset for use further down the supply chain. 

The company recently hired its fifth full-time employee.

Source: Christopher Ciesielka, Orbweaver Sourcing
Writer: Elise Vider

Workforce Quarterly shines a light on employment in the Pittsburgh region

"Tech careers in the Pittsburgh region these days are not for software engineers only," says Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky. 

That was a key finding of the inaugural issue of Workforce Quarterly, a new publication that promises to shine a bright light on the Pittsburgh region’s employment ecosystem. 

The free publication, published by the Conference’s ImaginePittsburgh.com and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, will analyze and present data about the region's evolving workforce landscape in an easily digestible and visual way. The inaugural issue (Fall 2014) focuses on IT-related careers in the region and the need to shift perception to meet demand.

"Job seekers, educators, career counselors and parents need to understand where the opportunities really are," explains Yablonsky. "Tech, we discovered, is at the heart of many open positions in the region. This is one example of perception-changing news that we hope our Workforce Quarterly reports can communicate." 

Here are a few more of the findings from the first issue:   
• Fifty-seven percent of all the open jobs in the region -- across all sectors -- require some IT skill or knowledge.
• Not every candidate for an IT job needs a four-year degree.
• Web developers (who have experienced the fastest growth rate, 21 percent, between 2007 and 2012) typically require only an associate’s degree.
• Advanced manufacturers are increasingly seeking more brain than brawn in employees, hiring women and men who are tech-savvy and capable of using the technologies that run today’s innovation-driven manufacturing processes.
"It is clear that individuals no longer need a four-year degree to work in IT-related jobs, nor do IT-related careers exist only at such companies as Google, IBM or Microsoft," the report concludes. "Well-compensated IT-related jobs exist in every industry in nearly every company and at every education level. As demand for these occupations continues to grow, it is important for the region to graduate and train more individuals, to develop and promote clear career pathways for all, and to have industry at the table to appropriately align supply to demand."

The next Workforce Quarterly is set for December and will focus on the region's aging workforce. 

Source: Dennis Yablonsky, Allegheny Conference on Community Development
Writer: Elise Vider

Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Bethlehem's Map Decisions software helps manage infrastructure

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.

For strapped local governments, compliance with everything from stormwater management regulations to inventorying traffic signals can be a big job.

"With revenues declining and infrastructure aging, municipalities need to maximize the value from their existing assets," says Christian Birch, founder of Bethlehem's Map Decisions. "And even though budgets are getting tighter, demands for high quality service and accountability increase every day. In recent years, local governments face growing regulatory compliance demands that present an increased risk of fines and tort liability claims. Municipalities need to ensure that infrastructure assets are available, safe, reliable and performing to design standards."

Map Decisions streamlines the process of mapping, managing and analyzing infrastructure assets. Its Mobile Enterprise Asset Management System, launched earlier this year, is a secure, cloud-based mobile platform that combines the benefits of geographic information systems (GIS), mobile work orders and computerized maintenance management systems. Aimed at governments, utilities, and the energy, transportation and construction industries, Map Decisions’ products are affordable, easy-to-use, can be set-up quickly and require no long-term commitment, says Birch.

"These services are an attractive option for customers that do not have the staff required to conduct the collection of data for their initial asset inventory," he explains. "For example, our Traffic Sign Management module helps municipalities comply with a federal mandate that requires them to map and capture 30 different attributes for each road sign that is located within their municipality. Our product dramatically reduces the time required to capture and manage asset data versus paper-based processes. If our customers don't have the staff to complete their initial inventories, Map Decisions will conduct [them]. Once completed, Map Decisions will provide them with their complete data and the free use of our software for a year."

Looking ahead, the company will focus on sales and marketing; it is on target to hit revenue projections for this year and projects quadrupled revenue next year. Map Decisions doubled its staff from two to four in the past three months, and anticipates creating four additional jobs in the next 12 months. 

Source: Christian Birch, Map Decisions
Writer: Elise Vider

Chevron's $20 million Appalachia Partnership Initiative addresses skills gap for energy jobs

It is well documented that energy companies in southwestern Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio struggle to find applicants qualified to fill skilled jobs.

Now the Chevron Corporation has announced the Appalachia Partnership Initiative, a $20 million effort designed to address education and workforce development in 27 counties in the three states. Launched in coordination with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the RAND Corporation, the initiative aims to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and technical training to help growing regional energy and manufacturing industries fill thousands of new jobs. 

The initiative is the culmination of a planning process Chevron engaged in with local partners, business and community leaders, and educators to identify regional needs and priorities. A 2012 workforce analysis by the Allegheny Conference documented the impact of the skills gap in the local workforce, especially in STEM fields. 

"We know that an educated and skilled workforce leads to economic growth -- for our business, our partners and the communities where we operate," says Nigel Hearne, president of Chevron Appalachia. "Our success is deeply linked to the region's progress, and we believe the Appalachia Partnership Initiative will act as a catalyst for social investment that addresses workforce development and helps to build a new energy economy that creates jobs and economic development opportunities across the region." 

The Appalachia Partnership Initiative includes an expansion of Project Lead the Way, focused on STEM programs in K-12 schools, and ShaleNET, a workforce training program for the oil and natural gas industries. In addition, it will develop an Energy Lab in Allegheny County and Bethlehem Center school districts to teach middle school students about a variety of energy resources in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center

Source: Chevron Corporation
Writer: Elise Vider

Mercyhurst U 'Quickstarter' boosts entrepreneurship in Erie

You've no doubt heard of Kickstarter, the popular online crowdfunding platform. Now Kristan Wheaton, a Mercyhurst University professor, has developed "Quickstarter," a tool to identify and help potential entrepreneurs conceive successful crowdfunding campaigns.

Quickstarter is to Kickstarter what entrepreneurs are to "pre-entrepreneurs," Wheaton’s term for individuals with ideas and skills who haven’t yet "made the mental leap to entrepreneurship."

Under Quickstarter, Wheaton and his students form support teams to provide pre-entrepreneurs with targeted assistance needed to move the project forward. The help might come in the form of copywriting, public relations, graphic design, social media management or video production. If crowdfunding is successful, Quickstarter will direct the entrepreneur to appropriate resources to advance their idea.

Three projects are already underway with funding from a Mercyhurst Academic Enrichment Grant. Now, a $10,000 investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania will enable five more Quickstarter projects through June 2015.

"Quickstarter, which is basically just my plan for supporting crowdfunding campaigns and increasing the likelihood of their success, is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs in the Erie region who need specific kinds of technical support to launch their ideas and potentially turn them into real business opportunities," explains Wheaton.

There is also a larger mission in mind. Citing a March 2014 report, "Northwest Pennsylvania’s ‘entrepreneur problem’ is a simple one. There aren’t enough of them," says Wheaton.

The lack of entrepreneurs and a workforce skills gap, "exacerbate the so-called ‘brain drain’ as both young college graduates seeking relevant skills to build their resumes and entrepreneurs leave the area. To remedy this, the No. 1 recommendation of the study…was to improve the entrepreneurial culture and generate additional deal flow -- in short, increase the supply of entrepreneurs. Quickstarter addresses this recommendation directly."

Wheaton has laid out a strategy for scaling up Quickstarter with the goal of supporting 100 successful projects over three years. 

Source: Kristan Wheaton, Mercyhurst University
Writer: Elise Vider
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