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

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

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

Three early-stage startups help launch the Netrepid Virtual Incubator

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

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

Source: Jonathan Bentz, Netrepid



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

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

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

New York's SIGNa Chemistry sets up shop in York

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Michael Lefenfeld, SIGNa
Writer: Elise Vider

Applications open for six spots at Philly's new Digital Health Accelerator

The University City Science Center has a new opportunity for entrepreneurs in the fast-growing digital health and health care IT sectors.
 
The West Philadelphia research campus is accepting applications for its new Digital Health Accelerator (DHA). Up to six companies will receive up to $50,000, office space at the Science Center, professional mentorship and introductions to healthcare stakeholders including insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and hospital and research institutions.
 
"As the healthcare and IT sectors converge, digital health is rapidly becoming an area of opportunity for forward-thinking entrepreneurs," says Science Center CEO Stephen S. Tang in a statement. "With its concentration of healthcare providers and a growing start-up sector, Greater Philadelphia is well-positioned to become a leader in the development of the health IT sector. Through the DHA, the Science Center is poised to serve as a landing ground for these new companies."
 
Jeanne Mell, the center's vice president for marketing communications, says the DHA is "interested in supporting companies that already have evidence of some financial maturity -- either through seed investment, or through revenues from initial sales of their products. These companies would either be ready to deploy their product for the first time in a pilot setting, or looking to expand their market penetration following a successful pilot."
 
The deadline to apply is March 31; further applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through March 31, 2015 if funds are available.  
 
Source: Jeanne Mell, University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

Bigger and better Pittsburgh Public Market reopens

Pittsburgh significantly upped its creative city cred last week with the official re-opening of the Pittsburgh Public Market
 
Pittsburgh had been without a public market house since 1965 when the last one was demolished. In 2003, Neighbors in the Strip began planning for a new indoor year-round market in the city's historic market district, The Strip.
 
The new market supports local businesses by allowing them to thrive without the high overhead of a traditional storefront.

"The idea behind the market is to give food-based entrepreneurs the opportunity to focus on building their businesses," says market manager Tiffani Emig. "We envision it as a third space away from work and home where people can feel comfortable hanging out -- a place for education, a place for social interaction."
 
The market opened in 2010 in a smaller, temporary location. It had a "soft opening" in October at its new 25,000-square-foot home, a vacant telecom equipment building that was re-purposed by the city's Indovina Associates. Emig estimates the capital investment at $1.2 million.
 
The new facility hosts 20 small businesses, mostly food based; many of them do their food preparation on-site. Eliza’s Oven, for example, is a full-scale bakery operating out of only 100 square feet. Work on the project continues, with a shared-use commercial kitchen scheduled to open by summer, and more signage and streetscape improvements on the way.
 
The Pittsburgh Public Market is a non-profit entity under the auspices of Neighbors in the Strip, a non-profit organization established in 1999 to promote economic development opportunities while preserving the personality, integrity and character of the Strip, a one-time shantytown and wholesale produce market northeast of downtown.
 
Source: Tiffani Emig, Pittsburgh Public Market
Writer: Elise Vider
 

CMU seniors launch Fabricate.IO with an array of inventions and ingenuity

With the realization that a traditional 40-hour work week can quash creativity -- and that inventors aren't always the best businesspeople -- two Carnegie Mellon seniors have created Fabricate.IO Invention Studio. It's part start-up (though just now being incorporated), part business incubator, part co-working space, part hackathon and all imagination.
 
With what co-founder Todd Medema calls "a bunch of wildly different products" in various stages of development and commercialization, Fabricate "finds these individual inventors, brings them on board and mashes together all these different skill sets."
 
The promising products include:
 
* The World View Clock, says Medema, is "an artistic yet functional item" that shows photographs of locations (Grand Teton National Park, Austin Texas and Pittsburgh to date) that match current time, then change slowly to mark time's passage. Fabricate sells a clock for $299 and has developed an app for Android (1,000 downloaded) and now for Apple.
 
* Litmus, a b-to-b service launched this week, crowdsources market research. Starting at $25 for a single test, users can upload marketing pitches and materials for polling and results from Litmus.
 
* Runner Lighting is motion-activated floor lighting invented by Medema's roommate and co-founder Scott Martin. The pair plans a Kickstarter campaign to fund production.
 
* Sendery, built during a hackathon event, is a free, seamless, ultra-fast file-sharing service.
 
* Bagpipe is a guide to building your own, well, bagpipes. If it looks like PVC pipe and duct tape, that's what it is. Martin is a bagpiper and real bagpipes can cost thousands. Fabricate posted free DIY instructions.
 
* Minecraft Lamp is another DIY project with free instructions.
 
Medema says he and Martin plan to stay and grow Fabricate in Pittsburgh. "We have strong roots at Carnegie Mellon," he says. "Pittsburgh is a great place to find new talent and promote new products."
 
Source: Todd Medema, Fabricate.IO
Writer: Elise Vider
 

BFTP/SEP and NextFab partner to help advanced manufacturing startups

For an emerging manufacturer on the road to commercialization, developing a product prototype can be an expensive speed bump. Now, under a new partnership, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA (BFTP/SEP) will match up to $5,000 to provide startups access to facilities, equipment and services at NextFab Studio.
 
NextFab, which bills itself as a "gym for innovators," offers cutting-edge hardware and software tools, technical training, consulting and, most recently, incubator services. Its 21,000-square-foot space in Philadelphia houses a wet lab, 3-D printers and scanners, laser engravers and cutters, and electronics, wood and metal shops.  
 
Evan Malone, NextFab’s founder and president, says that while $10,000 is not usually enough to fully fund the prototyping process, it enables emerging manufacturers to refine or make incremental progress. 
 
The first startup benefiting from the collaboration is Biomeme, a maker of mobile systems for advanced DNA diagnostics and one of five nascent companies in residence at NextFab. The funding will enable Biomeme to use NextFab’s 3-D printers, robotic circuit board assembly technology and computer-numerical-control machine tools to refine their design and begin pilot manufacturing. 
 
Companies don’t need to be NextFab members to apply. The focus is on medical technologies, alternative energy and new consumer products. According to Malone, this program should "help the Philadelphia region and the Commonwealth become even more attractive as a destination for the brightest young entrepreneurs."
 
Source: Evan Malone, NextFab Studio
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Taffy Activewear joins Reading's Jump Start Incubator

While working as a trainer at a Philadelphia gym, Katie Kozloff Banks was struck by how frustrating it was for her female clients sized 12-and-up to find stylish, comfortable and flattering activewear. 
 
She knew the market potential was huge. According to a recent piece in the Washington Post, plus-size fashion is one of the fastest-growing segments of the apparel industry with over $17 billion spent in 2012.
 
In 2010, Banks launched Taffy Activewear, exclusively for women sizes 14 to 24.  

"The concept is simple," she says. "When you feel good about how you look, you work out harder. Our mission is to help plus-size women feel confident about the way they look in activewear. Whatever their goal, curvy women can look stylish and attractive as they lead healthier, more active lives."
 
Banks works with contract designers to create products that meet her specifications; the garments are manufactured in China. With a national team of sales representatives and a contract fulfillment center in Pennsylvania, Taffy’s sales have nearly doubled every year. The clothes are sold at national retailers including Burlington Coat Factory, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. Sales via Amazon are imminent.
 
Now Banks is launching a companion line, Katie K Active, with an extended size range (small through 24) aimed at a higher-end market. Online pre-sales will start next month and Katie K will be available starting in March at specialty retailers, boutiques, yoga studios and department stores, including Canyon Ranch resorts. 
 
Banks recently moved her company into the Jump Start Incubator in Reading. For now, she is a company of one, but her goal is to build a location where she can have in-house design, sales, warehousing and shipping under one roof. 
 
Source: Katie Kozloff Banks, Taffy Activewear/Katie K Active
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 

Prize-winning PSU research flows from global water shortages

About 70 percent of the earth's surface is water, but clean, fresh, potable water is increasingly scarce. A team of Penn State students is at work on a solution that could address “the global water challenge that faces humankind,” says Abhishek Kar, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering. 
 
Their project recently won the $10,000 grand prize in the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Awards at Penn State, enabling the team to continue its research with an eye towards commercialization. Their approach is to introduce "micropumps" -- micro-particles that help boost the yield of clean water extracted from sea and wastewater via reverse osmosis, a widely-used technique. 
 
Reverse osmosis systems use a semi-permeable membrane to desalinate seawater and treat wastewater. Common problems with reverse osmosis include fouling and concentration polarization; this reduces the amount of potable water produced. The micropumps act like a chemical Pac Man, swarming to eliminate those problems and increasing the yield. According to Kar, this approach could have major social and economic impacts as well as commercial potential.
 
With the Dow win, the team (graduate students Kar, Rajarshi Guha, Hasin Feroz and Yuxi Meng, with faculty advisors Manish Kumar and Darrell Velegol) is continuing testing and beginning to design an element that could be incorporated into reverse osmosis systems. The grant gives the team the opportunity to continue work "on something we really believe in," says Kar. "Something of a global nature."
 
Source: Abhishek Kar, Penn State
Writer: Elise Vider

PA Life Sciences Connect aims to keep life science talent in Greater Philadelphia

Thanks to a $750,000 state grant, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP-SEP) and the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC) have launched PA Life Sciences Connect, a program to support new business ventures and create jobs in Southeast Pennsylvania's critical life sciences sector.
 
Anthony Green, BFTP-SEP's vice president for technology commercialization, says that as many as 6,000 life science workers in Philadelphia and its suburban counties have lost their jobs since 2006. They include everyone from "highly paid senior managers to lab bench workers to the people who clean animal cages," he says. "These are people you can start a company around."
 
The new program will pinpoint technologies that are ripe for commercialization, then work with technology transfer programs at universities, hospitals, the National Institutes of Health and other sources. Teams of job hunters can apply to tackle the process of forming a company around the technology; established companies can also apply as long as the project would represent an expansion. 
 
The resulting startups can locate within a network of nine incubators in the region where they will receive a suite of services including marketing, business planning and financing strategies. They can also apply for investment dollars from BFTP-SEP. 
 
"This is not a panacea by any stretch of the imagination, but we may be able to prove that this is a model," says Green. The goal of the two-year project is to create five to eight companies, yielding 20 to 30 jobs. "Then we can start to think about other sources of funding and other models to keep these jobs here and to keep the region vibrant."
 
Source: Anthony Green, BFTP-SEP and David Niles, MCEDC
Writer: Elise Vider

Made in Allentown: Three manufacturing startups join Bridgeworks incubator

Manufacturing in Allentown just got a boost, with three startups set to join the Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) Bridgeworks Enterprise Center incubator. 
 
"These three diverse ventures have very promising business plans and represent the next generation of manufacturing for Allentown and the Lehigh Valley," says AEDC Executive Director Scott Unger.
 
Gonzo Pockets manufactures specialized mesh for lacrosse stick heads using a proprietary rubberized coating. Brothers Lou and Desi Gonzalez, both successful collegiate lacrosse players, founded the company after being frustrated by existing products. After teaming up with entrepreneur Tom Schmitt, they finalized a Gonzo Mesh prototype and distributed it in more than 100 specialty lacrosse stores across the U.S. and Canada in just nine months. 
 
HiJinx Brewing Company, currently based in South Whitehall Township, was started in a garage by Curt Keck and Chris Becker. Their nanobrewery already supplies beer to more than a dozen Lehigh Valley bars and restaurants and, after only a year, HiJinx is unable to keep up with demand. A new 10-barrel brewing system will be purchased and installed at Bridgeworks, fulfilling the founders’ lifelong dreams of owning their own production brewery.
 
Zzyzx Polymers (pronounced ziz-icks) has secured exclusive rights to nearly 20 patents revolving around new technology to create plastic compounds. The founders have applied for funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania to further develop their revolutionary processes. The company hopes to commercialize its novel mixing technology to create plastics with unique properties. The company also hopes to disrupt the recycling industry by reusing plastics that are currently sent to landfills by other waste management companies.
 
AEDC's Anthony Durante says Bridgeworks' goal is to help the manufacturers grow, "and then launch them back into the Lehigh Valley over a span of four to seven years so that we can do it again with another batch of startups." Founded in a refurbished Mack Trucks plant in 1989, the business incubator has helped launch 44 companies in Allentown that have created more than 285 jobs. Bridgeworks Enterprise Center is a member of the Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network, led by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
 
Source: Anthony Durante, AEDC
Writer: Elise Vider

Drexel, UC Science Center and DreamIt Ventures opening a new Innovation Hub

Drexel University,  the University City Science Center  and DreamIt Ventures, on a joint mission to support innovators and entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia region, will launch a new innovation hub in April.

“The Hub is available to companies in a variety of sectors, although its location makes it ideal for technology, digital media, or health IT companies. The goal is to accommodate a community of companies that value a collaborative environment and wish to interact with each other, with startups at the Science Center and with faculty and students at Drexel University, as well as other universities and research organizations in the region,” says Kristen Fitch, a Science Center spokeswoman.

The 17,500-square-foot facility on the second and third floors of the Science Center building at 3401 Market Street will include a suite of flexible workspaces designed to foster collaboration throughout the entrepreneurial ecosystem. It will also house the world headquarters for DreamIt Ventures, a global business accelerator.

The space will be able to accommodate about 100 and flexible enough to host a larger company of up to 25 people or many smaller enterprises in individual offices and a co-working environment, Fitch says.

Drexel is also making a $3 million investment in DreamIt to invest in startups. "DreamIt Fund II and our new headquarters in Philadelphia further position the region as a technology startup hub,” said David Bookspan, founder of DreamIt Ventures. "This exciting partnership between three world-class organizations is an important step in bringing additional capital to Philadelphia to support our growing startup community.” 

Application materials are being developed, but expressions of interest can be sent to claing@sciencecenter.org.

Source: Kristen Fitch, University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

Palmyra's Robometrix starting production and sales of its consumer-market robots

Imagine remotely checking in on elderly loved ones with a mini-robot that you move around using your smartphone.  Or playing with your dog while you’re at work. 
 
Robometrix, a startup in Palmyra, is introducing its VisitorBot Mini, a compact telepresence device that can be operated on a tabletop or floor and sells for only $300. The larger VisitorBot Max stands four-feet-tall and, for example, can move around a factory floor to monitor overseas manufacturing from your Pennsylvania workplace. It sells for about $1,200.
 
George Keller, who founded Robometrix in 2010 with his son, Tyler, says the company has spent the last few years doing R&D, building and tweaking prototypes to create “telepresence robots that are as simple and inexpensive as possible. We think we’re pretty much there.”
 
Keller, who has a PhD in biochemistry and whose day job is at the National Institutes of Health, says that telepresence robots are widely used in medical applications. Robometrix’s aim is to bring the technology to consumer markets. 
 
The company is now moving into sales for its hand-built robots. Eventually, Keller says, they expect to go to more conventional manufacturing but “we don’t want to mass produce something that may not be what the market wants.”
 
Robometrix currently has three full-timers and Keller hopes to add a few more part-time positions as the company continues to ramp up production and sales. It helps that Robometrix won first prize recently at the eight-week business mentoring program sponsored by the Ben Franklin TechCelerator@ Hershey, a partnership of the Office of Technology Development at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania and the economic development arm of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber
 
Source: George Keller, Robometrix
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Nurturing creativity, collaboration and innovation at York’s new CoWork155

What do a photographer, an event planner, an environmental consultant and a clown have in common?
 
They’re all members of CoWork 155, York’s first, only and thriving shared workspace that nurtures a culture of collaboration and creativity.
 
JJ Sheffer, who manages the space and co-founded it in June with Kristin Baker, says, “It’s going beautifully. We knew there was a demand. And we knew there was a sense of collaboration in York. But it has exceeded all expectations.”
 
Randy Byrnes, who owns the building at 155 West Market Street in downtown York, a onetime Sears, Roebuck store, first approached Sheffer about establishing a co-work space there after visiting and drawing inspiration from Lancaster’s Candy Factory
 
CoWork155 offers full- and part-time memberships and amenities including Wi-Fi, kitchen and lounge areas, conference rooms, printers, copiers and fax machines and desk space. But most important, says Sheffer, is the opportunity to think creatively and collaboratively. “They come to CoWork155 to hatch their big ideas,” she says.
 
CoWork155 has also quickly positioned itself as a hub for cool community events, using social media as a primary marketing tool. A recent food truck rally, for example, drew 1,700 attendees, who lined up at 14 trucks in a drenching rain. A live audience was expected earlier this week for the recording of a music podcast.
 
Sheffer is an event planner whose New Muse Entertainment is itself a CoWork155 member. 
 
“One of my favorite things in life is getting people who do not know each other, but should, together in the same place at the same time and seeing what happens,” she says. “We started CoWork155 to bring some of York’s creative thinkers together under one roof.”
 
 
Source: JJ Sheffer, CoWork155
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
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