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Jump Start Grants to boost state's early-stage life science companies

It’s a classic dilemma: scientists have profound therapeutic or drug discovery expertise, but often lack the comprehensive development, regulatory or commercial expertise -- to say nothing of the necessary funds to engage consulting help -- to commercialize their discoveries. 

The Jump Start Grant, now accepting applications, is aimed at filling this void in Pennsylvania. Early stage therapeutic companies can compete for professional services and expertise in the form of product development and commercialization plans, which are critical to raising venture capital and growing efficiently. 

"Early stage companies often lack the expertise to comprehensively address the myriad commercial development challenges which exist in the life sciences marketplace," says Pennsylvania Bio President and CEO Christopher P. Molineaux. "We are fortunate to have partnered with two industry leaders on this unique grant opportunity which gives our members access to development and commercialization insights required for preparation of funding applications and presentations."

PharmaDirections of North Carolina and New Perspectives in Alabama are partnering with PA Bio, the statewide trade association for the life sciences, to award two grants of about $50,000 each.

Subject matter experts will assess applications based on the following submission criteria: concept, scientific rationale, innovation, market opportunity understanding, management team and impact. Two winners will receive service grants that include an additive development plan and budget, associated Gantt charts, and commercial opportunity assessment.

Applications are due August 21. Winners will be announced in October 2014 at PA Bio's Life Sciences Future Signature Event. 

Source: PA Bio
Writer: Elise Vider

Philadelphia's Lingua.ly grows globally with its language-learning technology

Lingua.ly, a Philadelphia ed-tech startup, has launched WebApp, a tool to help teach language through the open web. 

Founded in 2011, Lingua.ly offers cloud-based language learning technology that provides learners with a free dictionary and platform to look up words in English, French, Spanish, Arabic or Hebrew. 

The new platform expands Lingua.ly's services to schools and other educational institutions that are looking to provide innovative ed-tech offerings for language students and bilingual learners attending school in a second language.

The app goes beyond traditional translation and dictionary services and assesses skill level behind the scenes, recommending fresh content and practice exercises personalized for the individual. It also includes new gamification features, such as a words- collected leaderboard and practice-session tracker to reward power users and encourage additional vocabulary searches.

"Lingua.ly’s WebApp enables schools to incorporate new, sophisticated technologies, which reinforce language learning in a more effective way through real world content from the Internet," explains CEO and co-founder Dr. Jan Ihmels.

The Android version of the app was released in early April and was downloaded more than 100,000 times in the first month alone. The iOS app is launching this summer, along with optimization for tablets and extension support for additional browsers. This fall, Lingua.ly plans to roll out support for new languages and higher order language elements, such as grammar.

The company is also expanding its reach through a new relationship with the largest textbook maker in Israel, The Center for Educational Technology (CET). In Septermber, CET will offer WebApp technology to its one-million-plus language learners in the country’s public school system. Lingua.ly is also examining expansion into new markets such as Brazil, Columbia, Argentina, Russia, China, the E.U. and U.S. schools via pilot programs this summer.

The company currently employs nine and is closing a funding round intended to double the R&D team size and strengthen its marketing capacity. 

Source: Kim Cox for Lingua.ly
Writer: Elise Vider

Robotic baby-gear maker 4moms expands and hires in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's 4moms is having a growth spurt, driven by its high-tech robotic baby gear. The company is expanding its offices in the city's Strip District to 78,000 square feet, doubling both its footprint and its workforce.  

The company is committed to creating at least 120 new jobs while retaining its 100 employees over the next three years.

4moms -- the company name comes from an early focus group comprised of four moms -- was founded in 2005 by Rob Daley and Henry Thorne who saw an opportunity to re-invent baby products. The company’s origami stroller, for example, folds and unfolds at the touch of a button; it also charges a cell phone, counts mileage and lights up with LCD lighting, powered by generators in the rear wheels that charge as the stroller is pushed. The mamaRoo infant seat can be programmed for five unique motions: car ride, tree swing, kangaroo, rock-a-bye and ocean. The 4moms infant tub is designed to let clean water flow in while dirty water flows out so baby is always bathing in fresh water. 

The company plans to invest more than $4.7 million in its new site, which features a lab three times larger than its old space, giving product designers and engineers more room to develop products. The Governor’s Action Team, in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, coordinated the project. 
 
"The next six to 12 months is a pivotal time frame for 4moms, as we deliver new products to the market and continue to develop new innovative ideas," says CEO Rob Daley. "We predict significant revenue growth and are hiring top talent across the organization to support that growth."

Source: Kathryn Jacks for 4moms
Writer: Elise Vider

New on Campus: Drexel's Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships

A long-vacant corner in West Philadelphia is the new home of the Dana and David Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships at Drexel University

Drexel re-developed the site with the help of a $10 million gift from the Dornsifes.

"As the venue for Drexel's research, practice and scholarship, the Dornsife Center will offer space for community outreach activities developed and delivered by the University’s participating colleges and schools, such as a free law clinic, health and wellness center, community education programs, arts collaborations, architectural design-build studios and engineering demonstrations,” the university said in a statement.

The center is located on a 1.3-acre site at 35th and Spring Garden streets. The university partnered with Philadelphia’s BLTA Architects to renovate three existing vacant buildings that formerly housed an elementary school and two administrative buildings. The site also includes an 1850s mansion that has been named Lindy House as a tribute to Philip B. Lindy, a philanthropist who secured the property for Drexel and was an active participant in the renovation.

The Dornsife Center was designed to support the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods and create a space for the Mantua, Powelton Village and Drexel communities to interact and share with each other. The newly renovated buildings provide a range of flexible spaces appropriate for individual counseling, group meetings and workshops, large gatherings and hands-on innovation.

Source: Drexel University
Writer: Elise Vider

Bethlehem's CDG Environmental cleaning up with water purification

After emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, CDG Environmental, a Bethlehem-based maker of water purification and disinfectant processes, is growing again in markets ranging from municipal water systems to food handling. 

CDGE produces highly engineered, state-of-the-art chlorine dioxide chemistries that are safe, stable and easy-to-use; they are utilized in a wide range of sterilization, disinfection and decontamination applications for a variety of markets. 

According to CDGE President David Morris, the basic technology was developed in the 1970s and '80s in collaboration with industry experts and university affiliations, and scaled up to commercial products. 

Since 2009, CDGE has focused on two products for which regulatory approvals have opened up an array of new applications. At the same time, Morris adds, the company has expanded its distributor network to approximately 30 highly recognized organizations serving the water treatment, food processing and dairy markets, among others.

"It's a specialty niche business that has a lot of potential," CDGE Technology Development Manager Peter Dent told the Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC). "Ours is a demonstrated product in an area that has increasing importance around the world. It's basically clean water."

The company's "products are used for the treatment of potable water and cooling water in hospitals, healthcare facilities, hotels, commercial, governmental and office buildings, ships, treatment of food processing water, livestock drinking water, industrial process water, vegetable washing and cooling towers," added Dent. "The products are mostly used to get rid of bacteria, algae, slime and more, and do so in a quicker, more effective way than alternatives such as bleach, chlorine, PAA and other chemicals." 

CDGE employs about 12; half work at the company’s manufacturing facility in Allentown. CDGE is currently pursuing further development in the dairy, membrane separations, food processing, process water and municipal potable water treatment markets, as well as production and delivery improvements, and a new low-cost, chlorine dioxide generation system.

Source: David Morris, CDG Environmental and Joe McDermott, Allentown Economic Development Corporation
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Philly's Biomeme has growth in its DNA

Growth appears to be in the DNA of Biomeme, a Philadelphia startup. In only a year, the company has raised significant funding, tripled its staff and is moving to larger offices. 

Biomeme "enables anyone to do mobile real-time DNA analysis on a smartphone," explains co-founder Max Perelman. The company makes kits, hardware and software allowing users to easily isolate DNA from a variety of sample types (including blood, water and urine) without the need for lab equipment, and to look for unique DNA signatures of specific targets of interest such as Flu A, E. coli 0157 or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

Perelman, Jesse vanWestrienen and Marc DeJohn moved to Philadelphia last spring from New Mexico and California to participate in the DreamIt Health accelerator. From there, Biomeme went to Philadelphia’s NextFab to participate in its residency program and ramp up prototyping and low-volume manufacturing; they were the first company to utilize the partnership between Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) and NextFab. 

Now, with a workforce of 14 (including full-timers, interns and co-op students), Biomeme is moving again into a larger facility featuring lab and manufacturing space on North 3rd Street, a burgeoning tech hub officially dubbed N3RD -- pronounced "Nerd" -- Street by the city.

Markets include test developers and consumers, "anyone," explains Perelman, "who wants a DNA lab in the palm of their hand." Biomeme has successfully completed a number of validation studies with third party laboratories and is preparing a number of developer tools for limited release this year with plans to roll out its STI test panel internationally in 2015. 

Biomeme has raised $1.9 million in seed financing, including $400,000 from BFTP/SEP.

Source: Max Perelman, Biomeme
Writer: Elise Vider

Reading's Smartz Studios launches its first cultural education app

Reading's Smartz Studios has released its first app and it’s close to los corzones of founders Leo and Al Martinez and Paula Calvo. The family members are all Colombian natives, and the app, called Ty Tunes: Colombia, is designed to teach young children about Colombian culture.  

Al Martinez, a graphic artist, immigrated to the United States from Colombia in 1998. His brother, Leo, a software developer, followed in 2012; Paula Calvo came in 2013. Ty Tunes emerged from Paula and Leo’s desire to teach their five-year-old son, Sebastian, more about his Colombian culture.

"After searching for similar educational apps with no success, we were determined to start a software development company that specializes in cultural digital toys," explains Calvo. 
 
Ty Tunes: Colombia, the first in an intended series, is designed for children between the ages of four and seven. They interact with the app’s main character, Pablo, feeding him Colombian foods, dressing him in Colombian costumes, and helping him play Colombian music using instruments representative of the country. 

The digital toy can toggle back and forth between English and Spanish to teach children in their preferred language. The app also has an educational section for parents. 

"The digital toys that Smartz Studios are working to create aren’t just for first-generation immigrants," insists Calvo, but are learning tools to teach about other cultures and embracing diversity.

The app is currently available on Android devices and is expected to be available on Apple products by the fall. Smartz Studios plans to develop more apps about other cultures around the world and should issue its next release by the end of the year. 

Source: Paula Calvo, Smartz Studios
Writer: Elise Vider

Sniffling and sneezing? Erie's Direct Allergy promotes curative treatment

For the millions of Americans with moderate to severe allergies, allergen immunotherapy (AIM) is a time-tested and highly effective cure. But the number of allergists and immunologists who provide AIM in the United States is dwindling due in part to the prevalence of short-term, over-the-counter remedies. 

Erie’s Direct Allergy aims to address that disconnect by offering turnkey, third-party AIM services, enabling family doctors and primary care physicians to provide this specialty care.

"We provide the expert labor, the specialized labor and the certified labor [to medical practices]," says founder and president Bob Schultz. "We are bringing allergy immunotherapy to the frontline of medicine."

According to Schultz, pills, nasal sprays and similar medications only mask allergy symptoms; AIM actually cures allergies by slowly conditioning patients' immune symptoms to the allergen with weekly treatment over several years.

"It’s a better modality," he explains. "It just hasn’t been marketed to primary care."

For the practices, Direct Allergy offers a way to enhance clinical offerings, improve patient satisfaction and boost revenues without disrupting everyday operations. For patients, Direct Allergy's services are more convenient and less costly than visiting a specialist.

Schultz founded Direct Allergy in 2012 with several other longtime pharmaceutical industry executives. Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA invested $350,000 to help launch several test sites. 

Testing is now complete and Direct Allergy is in full operation at five sites in Titusville, one in Pittsburgh and two in western New York State, and is in negotiations in other states. Schultz projects that the company will expand into as many as 15 sites by the end of the year and to 36 by the end of 2015. The company currently employs 10 and could grow to 30 by year’s end.

Source: Bob Schultz, Direct Allergy; Liz Wilson Ben Franklin Technology Partners/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider
 

New PA-based trade group advancing "the Business of 3D Printing"

Just like the Internet in the '90s and home computers in the '80s, 3D printing -- itself already more than 25 years old -- is neither fad nor hype. 

Now a new trade group, the 3D Printing Alliance,  is convening "The Business of 3D Printing," a June 18 conference in Harrisburg intended to look at how this $2 billion market can drive business in Pennsylvania.

"3D printing is one of those unstoppable forms of innovation that is already and will continue to transform manufacturing and a lot of other industries,” says Michael Antonucci, an Alliance managing partner. 

Additive manufacturing technology, 3D printing’s formal moniker, "is most commonly used for designing physical models, prototypes, patterns, tooling components, and production parts in plastics, metal, ceramics, glass or other composite materials," says Tom Palisen of the state's Department of Community and Economic Development.  It is used in industries including consumer products and electronics, automotive, medical and dental devices, aerospace and military markets. Emerging industries include the oil and gas sector.   

"From a pure application standpoint, 3D Printing has had the most traction to date with development of prototypes, and that's been the main driver for many, many years," says Antonucci. "It's moved well beyond prototypes now and it's all about getting innovative new products to market quicker, with less reliance on outsourcing and offshoring."    

3D printing proponents believe that additional applications are virtually limitless, especially as early patents expire, leading to a proliferation and reduction in the price of equipment. It took 20 years for the 3D printing industry to reach $1 billion and an additional five years to reach $2 billion; it’s on track to reach $4 billion by 2015, reports Bob Fiori, also an Alliance managing partner. By 2017, the market set to reach $6 billion worldwide. 

The 3D Printing Alliance, based in Downingtown, was formed last year to support the 3D printing industry throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Its mission is to commercialize innovation and drive economic growth centered on 3D printing through membership, workshops, events and other services. 

Source: Michael Antonucci and Bob Fiori, the 3D Printing Alliance; Tom Palisen, DCED
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Lehigh Valley Angel Investors seek to support more startups

What do Carmell Therapeutics, developer of biomaterials manufactured from human blood plasma that contain a concentration of natural regenerative factors to promote healing; EggZack, a software-as-a-service solution that requires only a single entry to update a client’s website and other marketing functions; mdCurrent, a health and medical publisher serving practicing doctors in India; Orion Fleet Intelligence, which provides GPS-derived business intelligence software and services to companies with fleet operations; and Cerora, a brain biosensor information company developing accessible neuro-diagnostic information for brain health assessment, all have in common?

They are all Lehigh Valley startups that got an early boost from the Lehigh Valley Angel Investors network (LVAI). Now LVAI is seeking new partners to expand its portfolio and allow for greater investment in the region.

LVAI was founded in 2010 by Todd Welch of Charter Partners, Stu Schooley, founder and co-owner of Dutch Springs, and about a dozen other successful entrepreneurs.

"All of us are entrepreneurs and we all built our companies from the ground up," says Schooley, president of LVAI. "Now, we are interested in supporting like-minded people. Somewhere along the way, someone helped us and we want to return the favor."
 
Schooley said that the network’s goal is to grow from the current 21 members to a group of about 35 to 40 investors. Prospective investors should contact Schooley by email or by calling 610-759-2270. 

LVAI is associated with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania as an affiliate member of the Ben Franklin TechVentures business incubator/post-incubator at Lehigh University

Source: Stuart Schooley, Lehigh Valley Angel Investors
Writer: Elise Vider 

BFTP/SEP issues request for proposals to commercialize alternative and clean energy technologies

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) is inviting companies developing solar, wind, geothermal or hydro power, advanced uses for natural gas resources, novel energy storage technologies and technologies related to energy conservation or transportation to apply to its Alternative Energy Development Program (AEDP). 

AEDP offers loans between $50,000 to $750,000. The program is intended to accelerate the development and commercialization of promising clean and alternative energy technologies. BFTP/SEP says it will consider proposals for technologies that have demonstrated impact for energy generation, conservation and/or distribution.

To be eligible, companies must have fewer than 250 employees and be located in -- or willing to relocate to -- Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery or Philadelphia counties. Technologies employed in the proposals can range from early-stage to commercialization ready. 

Under the terms of BFTP/SEP’s request for proposals, a five-to-one cash match is required for $50,000 loans; loans greater than $50,000 require a one-to-one company match.
 
An email notice of intent to apply is due by 5 p.m. on June 23; completed proposals must be submitted by 5 p.m. on July 7.

Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

Software test puts Greenville medical team into Kenyan operating room

A young Kenyan woman is fast regaining use of her hands after a groundbreaking surgery performed by two teams of surgeons: one in the operating room in Kenya, the other in a small town in western Pennsylvania.

The successful surgery, completed in April, was the first long-distance test of Distance Expert Surgical software, developed at Greenville Neuromodulation Center (GNC), a nonprofit organization whose mission is, in part, to advance Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) through research, education and clinical care. 

DBS is a highly effective treatment for a wide range of neurological and psychiatric disorders, says Dr. Erwin B. Montgomery, Jr., GNC’s medical director. But only about 150 sites in the U.S. offer the surgery, and it's incredibly rare in the developing world.

The 25-year-old Kenyan patient had suffered for 17 years with severe chorea; this resulted in significant self-injury due to excessive, involuntary movement of her hands. The software gave Montgomery (who developed it with GNC colleague He Huang) the data critical for precision placement -- within one millimeter -- of a micro-electrode deep in the patient’s brain, all in real time from thousands of miles away.

GNC has licensed the technology to FHC Inc. and Greenville Modulation Services, its wholly owned subsidiary. Montgomery expects the software to be commercialized within months.  

Distance Expert Surgical is part of a suite of products that GNC is working on. Distance Expert Medical is designed to facilitate the management of complex diseases by health care professionals and non-expert physicians -- a secure database allows specialized practitioners to analyze patient information and make recommendations to treating physicians. GNC has completed a prototype for treatment of Parkinson’s disease. 

Meanwhile, Distance Expert Compiler is an under-development tool that would allow any medical center or hospital to create its own system for specific medical needs. And Distance Expert Fellowship is a training and education platform for doctors and medical personnel, a way for experts to "look over their shoulders in the operating room," explains Montgomery.

None of these are tele-medicine in the traditional sense, he emphasizes. Instead, GNC’s tools make highly specialized medical expertise available to treating physicians around the globe, especially for rare treatments such as DBS. Only about 100,000 DBS procedures have been performed worldwide, says Montgomery, "and a lot more than that are needed."

Source: Dr. Erwin B. Montgomery, Jr., Greenville Neuromodulation Center 
Writer: Elise Vider
 

State College's LignoLink wins federal dollars to develop improved feedstock

LignoLink, a State College startup and Penn State spinoff, has won a $750,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Grant from the National Science Foundation. It’s a big step on the road to developing the company’s patented technology for the genetic modification of crops to enhance digestibility for biofuels feedstock and livestock forages.

Penn State professors Ming Tien and John Carlson invented the technology and formed LignoLink in 2011. Scott Welsh, the company’s director of business development, explains the technology like this: "We are developing a method for transforming crops so that they are easier to process into biofuels and are more digestible as animal feed. This technology will reduce the cost of bio-based products and fuels by making processing more efficient, and can improve feed efficiency for livestock."

The company name comes from "lignin," a critical component of plant cell walls. But lignin is hard for animals to digest and is an impediment to producing cellulosic-based biofuels. LignoLink’s process addresses those problems by changing the lignin structure so that it can be more easily broken apart. 

The technology has been demonstrated in corn and poplar, says Welsh; getting commercial seed in the market is at least five years away. When that day comes, he adds, agricultural seed companies will be the primary market. 

Besides the new SBIR grant, LignoLink received early funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA. The company currently has three full-time and three part-time employees, and plans to add another full-timer in the next six months. 

Source: Scott Welsh, LignoLink
Writer: Elise Vider

Pennsylvania SBDC reports 2013 results amid a challenging funding environment

Nearly 11,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners benefitted from free, confidential business management advice provided by Pennsylvania’s 18 Small Business Development Centers in 2013, and SBDC can point to an array of success stories and positive results.

But, in releasing its 2013 annual report, SBDC also makes clear that with an 8 percent drop in federal funds due to sequestration, its capacity is diminished.

Altogether, the centers advised 10,966 entrepreneurs and businesses in 2013, providing nearly 110,000 hours of consulting. Most participants were very small ventures, with fewer than six employees, and most requested help with developing a business plan. More than half -- 55 percent -- were operating in the service industry. Many were women-, minority- or veteran-owned. 

SBDC reports that the number of advisees fell by about 1,000 from 2012. The number of educational programs and attendees fell, too.

"Automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to federal funding took a toll on our program last year…directly impacting services to Pennsylvania’s small business owner," said PA SBDC State Director Christian Conroy in a statement. 

Still, client-obtained financing grew to more than $138 million and client government contacts rose to more than $305 million. 

Success stories included the Gannon University SBDC, which helped McKean Veterinary Hospital in Edinboro raise $960,000 to expand operations. The Bucknell University SBDC helped the father-daughter founders of Upper Desk in Hughesville with patent and market research for their product. And in Philadelphia, the Widener University SBDC helped the AAA School of Trucking navigate the federal procurement data system and find new opportunities.

SBDC says it is seeking "stable federal funding" for the 2015 fiscal year in order to "best serve entrepreneurs and small businesses in Pennsylvania and nationwide."

Source: Kelly Cofrancisco, SBDC
Writer: Elise Vider

Penn State life science researchers now eligible for QED proof-of-concept funding

Philadelphia's University City Science Center’s successful QED proof-of-concept program has an important new academic partner: Penn State University has expanded its involvement from the Medical College at Hershey to include its main campus at University Park, opening the seventh round of QED funding to hundreds of life science researchers. 

"Penn State Main Campus’ participation in QED signals growing interest in cross-disciplinary collaborations in technology commercialization across Pennsylvania," says Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang. "Innovative minds and the discoveries they will make contribute to our region’s future as a technology hub and innovation center."

In May, the Science Center issued its latest RFP for technologies ripe for commercialization to 21 participating institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Over the next seven months, QED will offer advisory support and the chance for direct project funding to researchers from the participating institutions as they position their technologies for product development and private investment. After the QED Selection Team makes an initial cut, approximately 10 researchers will be paired with business advisors and work to develop business plans to commercialize their technologies. Ultimately, four projects will be selected to receive up to $200,000 each in funding. 

"Faculty in the College of Medicine participated in last year’s QED Program with some success," says Neil Sharkey, Penn State’s Interim Vice President for Research. "Four teams were selected as finalists in the competition, one of which garnered an award. We are hoping for the same level of enthusiasm from Penn State bioscience faculty located at University Park."

QED describes itself as "the first multi-institutional, proof-of-concept program for the life sciences and health IT [bringing] together academic invention, market insight and commercial guidance." To date, five projects funded by QED have been licensed and gone on to raise additional funds. One, a portable low-cost radiation-free breast cancer detector invented by Drexel University Professor Wan Y. Shih, was funded by QED in 2009 and licensed to UE LifeSciences, a growth-stage company in Philadelphia. 

QED continues to attract additional funding based on its track record of successful commercialization outcomes. This year, the program received a $300,000 award from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to help fund Pennsylvania-based awardees.

Source: University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider
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