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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

Netrepid Virtual Incubator aims to grow PA entrepreneurial ecosystem

With the goal of creating a "pre-screened Rolodex of how to start up a company," Netrepid  is launching a pro bono, virtual business incubator for Pennsylvania entrepreneurs.
The Netrepid Virtual Incubator will enroll three startups each month for a year of technology services, mentoring and other support.
CEO Sam Coyl of Enola's Netrepid, a veteran of Silicon Valley, says the need became apparent to him during involvement with startup weekends in Harrisburg and Lancaster and that the incubator will initially focus on central PA. "That ecosystem just doesn't exist [there]. These entrepreneurs don’t feel they have access to mentors and the support they need to get off the ground."
From its data center in Harrisburg, Netrepid will manage the incubator and provide enrolled startups with up to $500 a month in customized technology solutions, such as email, web or cloud hosting. Participants will also get a one-year membership to the Technology Council of PA and access to business mentoring from the incubator's board of advisors, which includes established businesses and organizations including TechQuest PA, the Ben Franklin Incubation Network at Carlisle and the Harrisburg Regional Chamber.
The incubator launches on January 1 and applications are being accepted. So far, Coyl says, applicants include several technology startups, a manufacturer focused on streamlining, a medical device maker and a robotics firm.
Each month, the board will select up to three participants – two early-stage startups and one startup with a working prototype or minimum viable product – through a rolling nomination and competition process.
Coyl hopes the incubator will foster a more robust environment for startups, ultimately providing more access to capital, creating jobs and driving economic growth. "The state of Pennsylvania has a very innovative, talented ecosystem of entrepreneurs, but it’s a best-kept secret," he says. "The goal of this program … is to help accelerate the growth of this ecosystem."
Source: Sam Coyl, Netrepid Virtual Incubator
Writer: Elise Vider

Bethlehem's Pivitec is the 2013 Ben Franklin Venture Idol

With a laser focus, a clear grasp of its market, realistic goals and a strategy for achieving them, Bethlehem's Pivitec has emerged as the 2013 Ben Franklin Venture Idol.
The company, which develops, manufactures and markets software for live professional audio productions, competed against 10 finalists to wow a live audience and a panel of investors to win the title at a late November event billed as "a cross between  Shark Tank and American Idol." Hosted by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the evening was also the region's first in-person crowdfunding event.
Tom Knesel, Pivitec's president and  co-founder, says his company has grown steadily since its founding in 2010. For the first few years, supported by about $290,000 in BFTP investments, Pivitec focused on research and development. It started shipping small quantities of product  in late 2012 and is now manufacturing and shipping a line of five products to domestic and international markets. (World Electronics in Reading is Pivitec's contract manufacturer.)
A musician with an engineering background, Knesel saw the opportunity to replace extensive cables and "big, ugly boxes" onstage with software and wireless mobile devices. Pivitec's primary market so far has been theatrical venues and houses of worship – itself an $8 billion U.S. market.
Now Knesel is looking to leverage Pivitec's technology into other markets – convention and conference centers, recording studios, airports – a move that could grow Pivitec's market opportunity to $18 billion worldwide. The company, a resident at Ben Franklin TechVentures, employs three full-timers; Knesel says Pivitec is now transitioning from engineering positions to building a sales force and could potentially add as many as five new jobs in the next year.
In the final round of judging, Pivitec completed against Bethlehem's Cerora, a healthcare information technology firm, and Hawley's eVendor Check, which provides high-tech, vendor-selection tools.
Source: Tom Knesel, Pivitec
Writer: Elise Vider

Bucknell entrepreneurs' ScheduleFast takes off

Working out his sophomore year class schedule at Bucknell, Tony Tomashefski started writing software to navigate conflicts. Now a senior majoring in computer engineering and management, his ScheduleFast is used by roughly 57% of the Bucknell student body.
Tomashefski and business partner Zach Crowley, were the first-place winners at last month's Business Pitch Competition, hosted by Bucknell University's Small Business Development Center (SBDC). 
"Tony and Zach identified a clearly  understandable problem from their own experience as students and have developed a great solution in ScheduleFast," says Steve Stumbris, the SBDC's director. "The traction they've already achieved was perhaps the most impressive part of their pitch; the majority of the freshman class at Bucknell are already users of their product."
Tomashefski says he had never built a website when he decided to share his idea with other Bucknell students. "People started to use the site (feedback was really encouraging) so I kept developing it further and further." He registered ScheduleFast as an LLC a year ago and started to generate some revenue with advertisements. Crowley joined last semester to focus on expansion and marketing.
The two young entrepreneurs are currently experimenting with different business models, says Tomashefski, and are attempting to generate revenue off the sale of books through Amazon's affiliate program.
"I am currently in the process of writing a mobile app for Android and we should have an iOS app in production sometime next semester," he adds. "We plan on building up the website and pursuing a viable revenue model in the coming months."
As first-prize winner, the pair will be helped with their prize of $1,500 and one year's membership in Bucknell's Entrepreneurs Incubator
Source: Tony Tomashefski, ScheduleFast
Writer: Elise Vider

Penn's new hybrid incubator/seed fund supports education entrepreneurs

With funding from an array of venture capitalists and investors, four education startups are getting support from the Education Design Studio Inc. (EDSi), a new hybrid incubator and seed fund established by the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.
Dr. Barbara Kurshan of GSE describes the  $2.1 million EDSi as a "new innovation ecosystem we are building for entrepreneurs, researchers, investors and teachers." A mash up of an incubator, design studio, seed fund and social impact company, EDSi is virtual for now, as it helps launch four startups: Adidapter, ApprenNet, Raise Labs and scrible.  GSE is actively searching for a physical location in Philadelphia, where it expects to locate EDSi next year. 
The four startups were among the winners and finalists at the 2013 Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition. A new cohort of education entrepreneurs will be chosen from participants at the May 2014 competition.
Investors in EDSi include Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania; McGraw-Hill Education; Ron Packard of K12 Inc.; Drs. Steve and Jessica Melman from Dermazoo; John H. Cammack, Managing Partner of Cammack Associates; John Katzman, CEO of The Noodle Companies LLC; the Brigitte and Donald Manekin Family Fund; Gregory Milken; Richard Binswanger, President/CEO of Away To Donate; Dr. Wallace Boston, CEO of American Public Education, Inc.; and Eric Aroesty. 
For McGraw-Hill Education, the investment  –  "the company's biggest and most formal foray into the world of startup incubators," according to spokesman Brian Belardi – is an opportunity to potentially partner, acquire or hire innovators in the fast-evolving education technology arena. "We get to lend capital, time and experience," says Belardi, "and we get access to these education startup companies and an ear to the ground in education technology."

Source: Dr. Barbara Kurshan, Penn GSE and Brian Belardi, McGraw-Hill Education
Writer: Elise Vider

From wine stoppers to flower pots, Jessup's Besta Cork turns recycled cork into consumer wares

In only a few months, a Scranton-area startup has kept tens of thousands of corks – 91,750 as of October 8, to be precise – out of landfills. Instead, Besta Cork recycles all those wine stoppers and crafts them into an expanding line of consumer products.
Shawn Whitiak founded the company earlier this year with partners Michelle Mendez and Paula Corrales after the trio of young entrepreneurs won the Great Valley Technology Alliance Business Plan Competition. Casting about for an innovative business idea, Whitiak, an undergraduate business major at Keystone College, saw a cork chair designed by Corrales and "was completely blown away by the possibilities of cork."

Cork, says Besta Cork, is the ideal, sustainable material for consumer products: it is highly durable, light, compressible and elastic, non-toxic, biodegradable, antibacterial, non-conductive and not flammable.
The competition awarded the trio $50,000 in cash and in-kind services, including business consulting, accounting services, web design and office space at the TekRidge Center, a technology incubator at the Jessup Small Business Center.
Besta Cork partners with Cork Reharvest, the nation's largest cork recycler. Besta Cork, Whitiak explains, grinds and mixes the cork with non-toxic materials in his garage. Next, it is packed into molds and heated up in his oven for 40 minutes, emerging as Besta Corks' line of bowls, flower pots and even a stool. 
The company's line of "Corkit" flower pots allow plants to breathe, eliminating the need for drainage. The "Acorn Chair" is a stool that can support up to 200 pounds.  
Source: Shawn Whitiak, Besta Cork
Writer: Elise Vider

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
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