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Pittsburgh entrepreneurs: It's Thrill Mill business plan competition time

Thrill Mill, a nonprofit accelerator for Pittsburgh startups, is choosing its next class of young businesses to get cash, mentoring, space at its incubator and, by the looks of it, a great time.
 
The Business Bout competition offers $25,000 to one winning team of entrepreneurs and $5,000 each to 14 others. They'll all also get mentoring, in-kind support and office space at the Hustle Den, Thrill Mill's incubator space in Pittsburgh's East Liberty section.
 
Business Bout, say the organizers, "is designed to be ultimately pro-entrepreneur: the competition is open to ideas across all industries (anything from bakeries, to non-profits, to high-tech)."
 
Applicants need only submit a two-page application – one page describing their idea, one page introducing the people behind the idea and why they want to grow their business in Pittsburgh. Proposals  should be submitted by email and are due by midnight, December 6.
 
Last year's top winner was Project Aura, which had the bright idea of attaching lights to bicycle wheel rims.
 
This year's finalists will hone their skills at the three-day Venture Boot Camp in January before making 30-minute presentations. The 15 winners will take up residency for one year at the Hustle Den in late February.
 
Thrill Mill  takes a 5% ownership stake in each of the winners. Over the course of the year, the winning teams will get intensive training in entrepreneurship by Carnegie Mellon professor Babs Carryer and C-Leveled, a Pittsburgh consultancy,  and will get to make investor pitches at the Thrival Innovation and Music Festival in September.
 
Source: Thrill Mill
Writer: Elise Vider

Lehigh's new master's in entrepreneurship wins N. American university honors

About 10 years ago, John B. Ochs, a mechanical engineering professor at Lehigh University, began to observe that students in the school's popular undergraduate Capstone program were less interested in working on industry projects as in developing their own ideas.
 
In recognition of that entrepreneurial impulse among today's students ("permanent and incredibly healthy," says Ochs), Lehigh launched its Master of Engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship (MTE) in 2012, graduating its first class of 14 entrepreneurs earlier this year.
 
Now the program has been recognized by the Pittsburgh-based University Economic Development Association as one of the top university economic initiatives in North America.
 
Product development and company launch are graduation requirements for the MTE program, which features dedicated curriculum, faculty and studio space. "You're going to learn by launching. You're going to figure out what it means to be an entrepreneur by being an entrepreneur," says Ochs, the MTE director. "It sounds trite, but we firmly believe that you learn by doing."
 
Students are immersed for a full 12 months in a tight, skunkworks atmosphere, with courses including intellectual property creation and management, visual thinking, prototyping, modeling and testing, product development and business planning.
 
The first graduating class has launched startups including Eleanor Kalle, a New York-based jewelry designer; Second Shift Innovations, which creates next-generation tools for first responders; and Venos,  which developed a device to attach iPads to MacBooks to create a mobile dual screen.
 
The second MTE class of 28 will graduate in spring 2014; the program's 10-year goal is to graduate 90 student entrepreneurs and launch 50 new companies each year.
 
The MTE students come from a wide range of majors, backgrounds and interests, says Ochs. But there is one essential common denominator. "If you're going to be an entrepreneur," he says, "you have to have passion for what you do because it's going to envelop your life."
 
Source: John B. Ochs, Lehigh University
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 
 

Hey! What's the big idea? (There's $25K and more for tech innovation.)

Do you live in Central or South Central Pennsylvania? Do you have an idea for a new, technology-based product or process? Get busy, because your idea could win one of two $25,000 cash prizes in Ben Franklin’s BIG IDEA Business Plan Contest
 
This year’s competition, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA  (BFTP/CNP) and the BF Venture Investment Forum, targets 25 counties in Central and South Central Pennsylvania.  

To be eligible, you must live in one of the 25 counties; have developed or be developing, a new, innovative tech product or process; have had no significant sales if a product has already been developed; have fewer than 50 employees if a company has been formed and have never received previous BFTP funding.

Preferred industry sectors include (but are not limited to):  nanotechnology; green technologies; alternative energy; advanced manufacturing; advanced materials; medical devices; information technology and software.
 
The application deadline is December 9; final judging is set for February 20, 2014.
 
In addition to the $25,000 in cash, the two grand-prize winners will also receive:

  • One-year website hosting offered by Netrepid;
  • The opportunity to participate in a BF TechCelerator Boot Camp for Startups;
  • Six months free rent in the BF TechCelerator @ Carlisle (for a winner from that area);
  • Assistance from the Innovation Partnership in preparing a proposal to receive a federal research (SBIR) grant;
  • Access to all Ben Franklin’s business support services at no charge.
“We had a huge response to last year’s contest. Nearly 2,000 people came to the BIG IDEA landing page to check out the easy application process.  We believe that anyone with the courage, energy and enthusiasm to apply to a business plan contest is already a winner,” says Stephen Brawley, President/CEO of Ben Franklin.

Full details, a list of the eligible counties and an application forms are online
 
Source: BFTP/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider

Dyer, baker, software makers and more get BFTP/NEP $$$ support

A dyer, a baker and several software makers are among the early-stage companies and established manufacturers in the latest investment round announced by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania
 
BFTP/NEP is making loans to these to early-stage companies: 
  
Colymer Industries, Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, $35,000 to complete a new financial model, strategic business plan, corporate operating agreement, and assignment of intellectual property for this manufacturer of proprietary non-asphalt roofing materials.
 
Columbia County Bread & Granola, Bloomsburg, $28,000 to complete development of a strategic business plan that will help the company expand into new markets and raise capital as needed for its line of food products for health-conscious consumers and individuals who suffer from a variety of dietary restrictions. 
 
eVendorCheck,  Hawley, $81,000 to develop and implement enhanced sales strategies for the company’s web-based customer feedback system for procurement professionals.
 
Pivitec, LLC, Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, $75,000 to continue commercialization and enhancement of hardware and software products for this developer of audio streaming and distribution products. 
 
PROVA Systems and Technologies, Inc., Carbondale, $60,000 to support the commercialization of a fleet management software system for small and medium-sized enterprises, and family fleets. 
 
TSG Software,  Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, $100,000 to support a focused sales and marketing effort in commercializing software for business cleaning services, property and facility managers, and building management contractors
 
These tech-based, established manufacturers and their higher-ed partners are receiving 1:1 matching funds: 
 
Applied Separations, Inc., Allentown,and Philadelphia University, $50,000 to develop and implement a new process and deploy equipment for the waterless dyeing of textiles for business-to-business sales to clothing manufacturers and textile companies.
 
Cambridge-Lee Industries, LLC, Reading and Northampton Community College’s Emerging Technologies Applications Center, $27,650 to conduct testing of  energy-efficient, micro-fin refrigeration tubes at this manufacturer of copper tubing for plumbing, refrigeration, and other commercial applications. 
 
Custom Processing Services, Inc., Reading and Northampton Community College’s Emerging Technologies Applications Center, $50,000 to investigate how the waste energy from a proposed thermochemical process can be used in the company’s manufacturing processes and as a potential fuel source and to determine the economics, technical, and environmental issues involved with the process. The company provides sophisticated air-jet milling, micronizing, blending, and testing of powered materials on a contract basis.
 
EcoTech Marine LLC, Allentown and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, $25,000 to implement a new Enterprise Resource Planning system with features to accommodate facility expansion and maintain quality for this maker of equipment for hobby reef aquariums. 
 
Georg Fischer Harvel, Easton and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, $50,000 to complete a sustainability analysis to reduce energy consumption by 20% or more. GFH is an international leader in thermoplastic extrusions, primarily manufacturing PVC and CPVC piping for diverse target markets in high-end applications such as microelectronics and pharmaceuticals. 
 
KME Kovatch, Nesquehoning and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, $25,000 to develop new finishing processes associated with the pumper truck and tanker truck. KME Fire Apparatus is an industry leader in the design and manufacture of custom fire and fuel tanker vehicles and equipment, and the largest privately held manufacturer of fire trucks in the nation
 
McGregor Industries Inc.,  Dunmore and Penn State, $15,154 to survey and test three new, more cost-competitive tread infills at this manufacturer of metal stairs, gratings, and floor plates. McGregor will also test the tread infills for material characterization and stair tread structural and slip performance.
 
Source: BFTP/NEP
Writer: Elise Vider

Indiana's Arctic Blast Covers keeps bank branches toasty

Working for a bank purchasing department, Dale Conrath knew that ATMs, drive-through windows, cash drawers and night-deposit slots were great for customers. But for the tellers and others huddled around space heaters behind those drafty holes, not so great.
 
Internet searches showed that there were simply no products available to solve the problem. So Conrath started tinkering. For four years, working out of his Indiana garage, he experimented with materials and designs and built prototypes, with significant help from the Small Business Development Center at Indiana University
 
In 2012, he launched Arctic Blast Covers, which offers a line of thermal covers for ATM machines, night-drop boxes and cash drawers.
 
Conrath has a patent pending for his technology, which he claims can reduce a bank's utility bills up to 20% annually, raise inside room temperatures as much as 15 degrees and has the added benefit of keeping automotive pollution outside.
 
A recent pilot program at 16 PNC bank branches in western PA was a big success. And Conrath was recently awarded $35,500 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA for marketing and distribution.  He reports that he is in close talks with Bankers Security, which offers security devices to the banking industry, to distribute Arctic Covers in four states.
 
Conrath is already thinking about other possible markets. Pharmacies are one. Another is the gas and oil drilling industry to address the problem of water freezing in wells when they are shut down.
 
For now, though, the focus is on growing sales for the bank line. As Conrath notes, "There is no competition – zero." And winter is coming.
 
Source: Dale Conrath, Arctic Blast Covers
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 

Entrepreneurs and startups will be eligible for Innovate in PA funding

The state has officially launched its new Innovate in PA program to accelerate high-wage job growth by supporting entrepreneurs and startups.
 
At a recent visit to Innovation Works' Alpha Lab, Gov. Corbett said, “With 98 percent of new jobs in Pennsylvania coming from startups and small emerging growth companies, Innovate in PA is a common-sense approach to economic growth. Innovate in PA’s investments will help forward-thinking companies inspired with vision to become household names, turning Pennsylvania into the next Silicon Valley.”
 
Innovate in PA, effective as of October 1, will offer $100 million in deferred tax credits to insurance companies in the state to raise funds over multiple years. The funds raised will be directed to the Ben Franklin Technology Development Partners, three Life Sciences Greenhouses and the Venture Capital investment program.
 
The governor's office said Innovate in PA is projected to create a minimum of 1,850 technology jobs, nearly 3,500 indirect jobs and more than double the return-on-investment back to the state. For every dollar invested via Innovate in PA in early-stage businesses, it is projected that $2.37 will be returned to the state in additional tax revenues.
 
“With Innovate in PA we offer new ways to support creative thinking and business know-how with vital investment,” Corbett said. “Every great business begins with a bold idea and we are here to give you that initial boost to propel your startups from a plan on paper to a thriving company that embodies the American dream.”
 
The legislature created the new tax credit program this summer to address the seed capital needs of startup companies and small businesses with the goal of supporting growth and expansion in Pennsylvania, facilitating job growth, new patents and products and increasing tax revenues for the Commonwealth. 
 
Source: Governor's Office
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Penn State funds agricultural research with an eye to commercialization

Innovative and potentially marketable research projects to develop a new fertilizer, anti-bed bug pesticide, farm equipment and waste-to-fuel technology have received grants from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
 
The Research Applications for Innovation (RAIN) Grants aim to stimulate economic development through transfer of technologies to the marketplace, says Gary Thompson, associate dean for research and graduate education.
 
Nina Jenkins, a senior research associate in entomology, is leading a research group developing a biopesticide for long-term control and prevention of bed bug infestations. Jenkins has filed patent applications for the technology, which has garnered strong interest from the hotel industry. The grant will be used to collect data needed for eventual approval of the project for in-home use.
 
Corey Dillon and Agronomy Professor Greg Roth are working to commercialize "the Penn State Interseeder" developed by research technologist Chris Houser. The equipment  can seed a cover crop into no-till corn, while also applying fertilizer and post-emergent herbicide, saving growers time and money and making cover crops more economically feasible. 
 
Cover crops are gaining favor for their ability to reduce soil erosion, take up excess nutrients, suppress weeds and provide forage and biofuel feedstock.
The grant will be used to market the equipment for licensing to potential suppliers and manufacturers. 
 
Nicole Brown, associate professor of wood chemistry, is investigating a value-added use for lignin and silica-rich rice hull ash, which are wastes from bioenergy, and pulp and paper production. Brown's team has applied for a patent for technology that incorporates these low-value products into bricks that substitute for coke, the fuel source in the metal casting industry.
 
Industry trials have shown that these innovative solid-fuel bricks can reduce the energy and carbon dioxide footprints of steel and iron foundries by 20 to 25 percent, while providing additional value for several waste or low-value materials. 
 
Another team, led by Associate Professor Mary Ann Bruns, is studying cyanobacterial biofertilizers and will work with a company that plans to produce low-carbon liquid fuels by capturing carbon dioxide to grow cyanobacteria.
 
Source: Penn State
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Six startups share $740,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA

Six entrepreneurs, technology startups and small manufacturers are beneficiaries of  the latest investments announced by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA
 
FairTech Labs, located in State College and a graduate of the BF TechCelerator@State College, provides an online solution for personalized household inventory management.  Shelf Scouter effectively organizes, manages and purchases household goods and eliminates the inefficiencies associated with paper grocery lists.  
 
Also located in State College, Ascent Bio-Nano Technologies, a graduate of the BF TechCelerator@State College, has developed patented, low-cost flow cytometer cell sorters that analyze and sort without damaging the cells.
 
Arctic Blast Covers in Indiana has introduced a line of thermal covers that are designed to insulate and warm bank branch offices that maintain ATMs, cash drawers and night deposit slots.   
 
Located in York, UniSeal  has introduced FloorEverDri® into the global moisture mitigation and concrete curing market. UniSeal’s green, user-friendly product meets or exceeds all ASTM moisture and alkalinity testing standards and also acts as a primer for flooring adhesives.   
 
Netrepid  in Harrisburg, is an IT services company which is building on a nine-year legacy.  The BFTP investment helps complete a company restructure and will also be used to hire support and sales personnel. The company offers co-location, hosting and infrastructure management. 
 
Conduit Technology, housed in the Erie Technology Incubator on the campus of Gannon University, has developed and launched a cloud-based software product that automates the current manual, paper-based process used to collect medical device documentation required by insurance companies.  
 
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Neat meat substitute grows from Lancaster kitchen to grocery shelves

In 2011, when her two kids decided to become vegetarian, Laura Lapp "started messing around to try to get them to eat something." From those experiments in her Lancaster kitchen has emerged what she says is the first soy-free, gluten-free, shelf-stable meat replacement and the basis for Neat Foods, which she founded in 2012 with her husband, Phil.
 
Neat started selling its line of meat substitutes last year on Amazon, where it has been a strong seller. Now the startup is poised to expand to bricks-and-mortar grocers. The Lapps will be debuting Neat at the Natural Products Expo East trade show in Baltimore later this month.
 
The Lapps have kept all aspects of their young company strictly local. Neat is manufactured at the gluten-free-certified, commercial production facility run by the Susquehanna Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired  in Leola. Their distributor is Garden Spot Distributors in New Holland. Their packaging was designed by The Infantree in Lancaster.
 
Neat's line of ground meat substitutes is derived from nuts and other natural ingredients, comes in three flavors (Mexican, Italian and Original) and has a one-year shelf life. Many meat replacements currently on the market have soy and gluten and even additives and chemicals, so the advent of Neat "is a big deal for vegetarians and vegans," says Laura Lapp.  And much of the competition is frozen, much more expensive to ship and to pay for space at the grocery, adds Phil.
 
For now, the company is just the two of them, but Phil is hoping to add at least one more, a customer service representative, as soon as possible. For now, the goal is to get into more grocery stores, hit $30,000 in sales for the fourth quarter and "ramp up significantly next year," he adds.
 
Neat!
 
Source: Laura and Phil Lapp, Neat Foods
Writer: Elise Vider
 

LV Startup Weekend winner Skaffl impresses at TechCrunch Disrupt SF

A little more than a year since winning Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend for its fresh take on mobile technology's integration with K-12 education, Allentown-based Skaffl has made a big splash on the West Coast.
 
The startup launched its flagship iPad app, braket (formerly known as "Rung") in beta at TechCrunch Disrupt SF in San Francisco earlier this week. It attempts to create a paperless classroom, helping teachers manage the distribution of written assignments to students. The first version of braket will be free and available on the iTunes App store within the next month.
 
Braket works like this: Teachers upload any handout in .pdf or .doc format to distribute to students, who can complete the assignment by annotating directly on the document. Teachers can assess student work and grade it from within the application.
 
Additional functionality will be added to braket to help meet teachers' needs. Ultimately, braket's goal is to simplify the many tedious tasks of lesson plans, assignemnts and assessments. 
 
Co-founders Rita Chesterton and Michael Hanssen are both education veterans. Chesterton was a lawyer before entering the education field as a teacher and later working as a technology coach and instructional technologist. Hanssen has worked for two decades as a school technology director. Anoher cofounder, Matthew Smollinger (Chief Technology Officer), has extensive enterprise IT experience in networking, security, cloud server management, and web, mobile and desktop software development. Skaffl's fourth cofounder is Angela Moramarco (Chief Creative Officer), an expert in strategic digital marketing with a focus on mobile and social media.
 
Skaffl is one of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania most recent portfolio copmanies. The startup is also working on a patent that will enable students to flip between their notes and assignments, according to TechCrunch.
 

IPart keeps its funding rolling to assist tech startups secure federal grants

Once again, Pennsylvania's Innovation Partnership (IPart) has scored funding in a challenging environment, in order to "assure Pennsylvania's small technology companies that its programs will continue to assist them in generating winning, fundable federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) proposals."
 
Director Kelly Wylam says that IPart secured a $95,000 Federal State and Technology Partnership (FAST) grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The funds were contingent on successfully raising a dollar-for-dollar match from the IPart membership: Ben Franklin Technology Partners, University City Science Center, Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine, BioStrategy Partners, the Innovation Transfer Network, Ben Franklin Venture Investment Forum, Drexel University and Temple University.
 
With $190,000 in hand for the 2013-14 fiscal year, Wylam says that IPart can provide training, assistance and review of proposals and micro vouchers and micro grants to help small companies defray the costs of preparing winning proposals.
 
The potential return-on-investment is high. Wylam notes that in fiscal 2012-13, IPart assisted about 25 companies, two of whom have already received phase 1 federal awards of $250,000 each. Subsequent phases offer money in the millions. Since IPart's inception in 2003, the program, administered by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, has conducted 505 technical reviews and 92 SBIR/STTR federal awards have been granted, totaling over $25 million.
 
Despite a drop in federal/state funding, Wylam says, "we have not missed a beat here." For a very small amount of money, she adds, "We're helping [Pennsylvania's tech startups] have a better chance of winning these dollars and moving their technologies forward."
 
Source: Kelly Wylam, IPart
Writer: Elise Vider

PA universities dominate in national contest for innovative economic initiatives

Four innovative economic growth initiatives at Pennsylvania universities are among 20 finalists in a national competition recognizing cutting-edge programs.
 
Tim Hindes, director of marketing and communications for the Pittsburgh-based University Economic Development Association (UEDA), the competition's sponsor, says the Commonwealth's heavy presence among the finalists demonstrates how "institutions in Pennsylvania are focusing their efforts on building economic development initiatives, initially around startup development and then supporting those startups."
 
Final judging will happen at the UEDA's upcoming annual summit, October 27-29 in Pittsburgh. Criteria will include replicability/scalability, sustainability and originality. 
 
Three of the four PA finalists are competing, along with a fourth from Iowa, in the "innovation and entrepreneurship" category. They are:
 
The Entrepreneurial Fellows Center at the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
The center provides founders and presidents of high-growth companies with networking, mentoring and more to advance the knowledge and skills needed to manage rapid growth and propel their businesses to the next level. 
 
The Innovation Café at the Penn State College of Medicine. 
The iCafe provides access to resources needed to bring an idea from the lab to the marketplace. It offers networking forums, educational programming, access to capital and entrepreneurial mentorship.  The College of Medicine recently launched an Innovation Fund to invest in promising technologies.
 
The Research Commercialization Program at Innovation Works
IW is on of the four Ben Franklin Technology Centers in PA, covering the southwestern part of the state. Its Research Commercialization Program is a collection of initiatives that utilize university partnerships to provide funding and support for the commercialization of innovative technologies. 
 
In addition, Lehigh University's Master of Engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship  s competing in the "talent development" category.  Started in 2012, the new graduate program is aimed at creating successful student startups with product development and company launch required for graduation. This May, Lehigh graduated its first class of 14 entrepreneurs, launching 10 new businesses. 
 
Source: Tim Hindes, UEDA
Writer: Elise Vider
 

On your mark, get ready, startup: Startup Weekends coming to Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg

Arrive, collaborate, eat a lot of pizza, leave with a business. That's the idea behind two upcoming Startup Weekends in Pennsylvania. The events have become de rigueur for young, aspiring entrepreneurs who progress from pitch to prototype over 54 frenzied hours.
 
Startup Weekend Harrisburg is set for September 13-15 at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.  The second annual Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend runs November 15-17 at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem.
 
Startup Weekend is a Seattle-based international movement that supports the development and expansion of entrepreneurship. Aspiring entrepreneurs are immersed in the process of moving an idea to market. Startup Weekend has built a network of more than 55,000 alumni, thousands of volunteer organizers and 100 trained facilitators across more than 300 cities in 100 countries.
 
The winning team at this year's Lehigh Valley event will get to compete in the upcoming Global Startup Battle. Last year’s winner, a startup representing Startup Weekend Toronto, was awarded more than $35,000 of in-kind prizes.
 
“Skaffl would not be where we are today without Startup Weekend. We came … with little more than an idea, and left with so much more,” says Rita Chesterton, the CEO of last year's Lehigh Valley winner, Skaffl. “It was through Startup Weekend that we were able to meet our CTO, Matt Smollinger. My cofounder Mike Hanssen and I had the opportunity to work with Matt in a high-productivity, high-stress environment for 54 hours. That time gave us confidence that we would make a great team together moving forward.”
 
Sources: Steven Infanti, Harrisburg University; Anthony Durante, Lehigh Valley Tech
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Erie's reCAP shakes up some growth

Making her homemade salad dressing requires a whole lot of shaking and Karen Rzepecki had had it with leaky Mason jar lids. So she went online to buy some leak-proof, shake-and-pour caps. "That," she says, "was my aha moment. I couldn't believe it didn't exist."
 
With an already-instilled entrepreneurial spirit and small-business experience, she quickly saw the business potential. "I wanted it for myself, but I immediately saw the commercial opportunities," she says.
 
Rzepecki entered and won the 2011 Innovation Erie Design Competition. Using those funds, along with a successful Kickstarter campaign, she commissioned a designer and a tool-and-dye maker (a neighbor) to create molds for two standard-sized Mason jars and found a contract manufacturer, Erie Molded Plastics, to make the lids of BPA-free plastic. reCAP Mason Jars was launched.
 
Since then, Rzepecki reports, sales are up 200%. reCAP started selling on Amazon last September; by the end of the year it was among the online retailer's top 25% sellers.
 
The young company recently won $10,000 as a winner of the BIG IDEA business plan contest, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA
 
Rzepecki plans to continue building her successful e-commerce platform, but is also moving into sales in bricks-and-mortar retailers. The product is already available at some hardware and general stores.
 
And she is relocating what till now has been a home-based business to the Erie Technology Incubator and expects to upgrade her four part-timers to full-time within six months. 
 
Source: Karen Rzepecki, reCAP Mason Jars
Writer: Elise Vider

Only six months old, Erie's APCS wins BFTP-CNP BIG IDEA Business Plan Contest

Advanced Power Control Solutions (APCS) is only six months old, but precocious for its age. The company, which has developed an innovative coal/natural gas hybrid burner technology that allows coal-fired power plants to run cleaner and cheaper, is the winner of the BIG IDEA Business Plan Contest, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA
 
APCS' technology, invented by Chris Abeyta, allows coal-fired plants to displace 30-40% of the coal they burn with cleaner natural gas or natural gas liquids by modifying the plant's existing coal burners through a cost-effective retrofit.
 
The company is officially based in Arizona, but with Pennsylvania's heavy reliance on coal, "Pennsylvania is where the growth is going to be," says Tom Woodward, APCS president. (And there is a large potential market nationally; Woodward notes that 40% of the nation's power still comes from 625 coal-powered plants.)
 
Not only has APCS a fully commercialized technology, ready for turnkey installation, but Woodward notes that the business plan includes partnering with suppliers to bring gas to the plants, capturing that contract as well.
 
One immediate prospect of interest to Woodward is FirstEnergy,  which announced last month that it would close two coal-fired plants in Western Pennsylvania, citing the cost of complying with environmental regulations and "the continued low market price for electricity." "The reasons they cited are exactly what our technology addresses," says Woodward.
 
As BIG IDEA prize winner, APCS gets $35,000, six months of residency at the Erie Technology Incubator at Gannon University,  one-year free tuition at the eMarketing Learning Center and a free, five-hour consult on intellectual property from attorney Jonathan D'Silva of Erie's MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton.
 
Two other finalists Adaptmicrosys and reCAP Mason Jars received $10,000 in seed money from Ben Franklin.
 
Source: Tom Woodward, APCS; BFTP-CNP
Writer: Elise Vider
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