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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

Wanted: shale gas innovators; Reward: $25,000-plus

The Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center is looking for researchers, entrepreneur or innovators with great ideas in the shale gas space in Pennsylvania or West Virginia.
 
SGICC announced the 3rd annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest, with a purse of $25,000 in cash prizes for each of the four best shale gas-oriented innovations, new product ideas or service concepts that are either in the development stage or recently launched. Besides cash, the winners are also promised exposure to investors, potential partners and industry sponsors.
 
"Any idea related to the shale gas space is eligible - even if the product or service has already been commercially developed," said SGICC Director Bill Hall in a statement. "Examples include natural gas utilization products/services, remote site monitoring, well pad EH&S products or services, natural gas or NGL conversion technologies and water management or remediation technologies."
 
Applications are due February 1, 2014; a panel of industry experts will choose finalists.
 
This year's contest has been expanded to include West Virginia through a grant from the Benedum Foundation. The 3rd Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest is co-sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners, ANGA, Acorn Energy, AquaTech, Baker Hughes, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, Chevron Technology Ventures, CONSOL Energy, Chesapeake Energy, First National Bank, GE Oil & Gas, Little Pine Resources, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Praxair, Range Resources and Seneca Resources Corporation.
 
Source: SGICC
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

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
 
 
 
 
 

Baseball, energy, gaming and more: Ben Franklin funds 9 early-stage tech firms

Nine early-stage Philadelphia tech companies will receive nearly $2.2 million from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) to advance their businesses.
 
Cloudnexa,  $250,000
Philadelphia's Cloudnexa delivers cloud management solutions, migration, deployments and professional services, allowing clients to move and manage their applications into the cloud with streamlined managed services capabilities.
 
Community Energy, Inc., $400,000 (Ben Franklin previously committed $400,000)
Based in Radnor, CEI is a clean energy company uniquely positioned on both sides of the supply-demand equation, building solar and wind energy projects by engaging customers through products and services. In 2012, CEI constructed the Keystone Solar Project in Lancaster County, the largest solar project in Pennsylvania.
 
EyeIC, Inc., $25,000 (Ben Franklin previously committed $725,000)
West Conshohocken's EyeIC is a cutting-edge healthcare technology firm dedicated to commercializing image analysis technologies for medical applications.  EyeIC's MatchedFlicker® is a new technology for monitoring the advent and progression of retinal disease and glaucoma through change detection in time series images.
 
FLOWatch, LLC, $250,000
The Philadelphia's company’s flagship product of the same name, FLOWatch®, is a next-generation, data-management system focused primarily on the water utility and environmental fields.  The web-based, enterprise-wide system provides a back-end, neutral data-management solution, giving control over data definition and access directly to plant managers and operators.
 
Lumigent, LLC, $375,000
Lumigent in Glenside is a lighting retrofit company that offers energy efficiency products and services. The Lumigent model enables clients to participate in the lighting retrofit market with limited investment in infrastructure costs.  It offers a single-source solution, from audit through proposal, to customers competing for turnkey retrofit lighting projects.
 
OrthogenRx, Inc., $175,000
Doylestown's OrthogenRx is a late-stage product development and marketing organization developing generic Class III medical devices in orthopedics. The company utilizes a new business model focused on a product portfolio of generic medical devices with an emphasis on the musculoskeletal therapeutic area: rheumatology, physiatry, orthopedics and sports medicine specialties.
 
RxSport Corporation,  $500,000
Norristown's RxSport (Chandler Bats) originated when its founder, a furniture maker in Greensboro, NC, noticed the increased number of broken maple bats in Major League Baseball and realized flaws in how they were designed and manufactured. RxSport perfected a technologically advanced and labor-intensive process that maintains the utmost strength of materials and quality of design and has gone on to supply bats to a number of major league teams.

Shenandoah Studio, LLC, $150,000
Philly's Shenandoah is a game studio focused on turn-based strategy games for the iPad and iPhone, allowing hobby gamers to play serious board games on their mobile electronic devices. The company’s first product, an iPad simulation of the Battle of the Bulge, was released in December 2012 with great success.  Since then it released a free version of the game, and created an iPhone version.  Shenandoah is slated to release three new games: Drive on Moscow, Gettysburg: The Tide Turns, and El Alamein.
 
TuvaLabs, LLC, $50,000
Philly's TuvaLabs has created an online platform that takes news stories about significant events taking place around the world and transforms them into interactive math learning units for students. TuvaLabs is a member of the Project Liberty Digital Incubator, housed by the Interstate Media Group, funded by the Knight Foundation, and operated and supported by Ben Franklin. 

Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Growing Doylestown biotech pitches Philly on UK trade mission

Renold Capocasale, founder and CEO of Doylestown's FlowMetric  was in London this week with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to extol the virtues of the region as an ideal location for overseas companies.
 
For Capocasale, it was also a chance to attract potential partners, investors and clients for his company, a contract research organization that works with pharmaceutical and biotech firms, research institutions and medical facilities on development of drugs and therapeutics.
 
"We have the know-how to help no-go or go decision making as early as pre-clinical drug discovery all the way through the clinical trial process," says Capocasale.
 
He founded the company in 2010 after working for 16 years in drug development for Johnson & Johnson. When he was caught up in a gigantic round of layoffs, he seized "the chance to do something proactive rather than reactive."
 
Since then, he says, the company has doubled its revenues every year. So when Pennsylvania Bio – about which Capocasale offers kudos – made him aware of the trade mission, he was gung ho. "We believe strongly in the region as a center for growth in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)," he says.
 
In September, FlowMetric opened an office in Milan, Italy in order to work more effectively with European Union and American companies doing clinical trials overseas.  And Capocasale is in the process of incorporating a spin-off, FlowMetric Diagnostics, to take advantage of a $100 million market.
 
FlowMetric currently employs seven in at its headquarters at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County and Capocasale expects to hire two more by the end of the year, with more hiring in the first quarter of 2014. With the new company, he anticipates "lots of job creation" by the end of 2014.
 
Source: Renold Capocasale, FlowMetric

Writer: Elise Vider

New facility, new products and more jobs at Carlisle's fast-growing Tex Visions

In 2004, Tex Visions started operations at the TechCelerator@Carlisle at the Murata Business Center. The 23-year-old founder Marcel Ruhland and a sales manager worked from a 375-foot office suite.
 
Last week, Tex Visions cut the ribbon on its brand-ne, 60,000-square-foot facility, where its 50-plus employees are at work making display hardware and doing large-format custom printing.  
 
The company has maintained explosive growth, even through the recession, says Marketing Manager Ashley Werner.  "We found our niche and rolled with it," she says. The big leap occurred in 2008 when the company added in-house production. 
 
"Murata provided us the space we needed for our staff and also accommodated our need for production space as we grew," says Werner.
 
But by 2011, the company had outgrown the TechCelerator. The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority stepped in with a $2 million loan to help Tex Visions build its new, stand-alone facility in Carlisle, with office, production and warehouse space. 
 
Tex Visions invests heavily in R&D, Werner says, and is constantly innovating and growing. New machinery, just delivered to the new plant, will enable Tex Visions to expand its printing capabilities to rigid materials such as custom-cut magnets. 
 
A new e-commerce site allows customers to shop online.  The company employs a full team of software developers who are now working on new functions to better process artwork and a tool that will enable customers to design their own materials. 
 
"Every month we have a new product launch, " Werner says. "We already have thousands of [products] so we might as well keep going." 
 
And innovation drives job creation. The company is currently hiring five new members of its sales team and Werner anticipates adding another five to 10 more over the next year on the production side. 
 
 
Source: Ashley Werner, Tex Visions
Writer: Elise Vider

Good news on Philadelphia venture capital front

After a number of rough years, 2012 saw an increase in the number of venture capital deals and dollars flowing to Philadelphia region technology companies. And 2013 is looking good.
 
A new report  released by Ernst & Young,  Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP)  and the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT),  reports that 2012 was the best year since 2008 for investment in the region, bucking the national trend of declining deals and dollars.
 
"And early results from 2013 appear to be on track to meet or exceed the five-year average annual investment amount of $750 million," the report says.
 
The report finds that 2012 investment in the region was $698 million: $580 million in 59 deals came from venture capital firms, $59 million in 64 deals from angel investors, $51 million in 11 deals from corporate/strategic investors and $7 million in 57 deals from seed funds and accelerators.
 
The numbers reinforce Philly's strength in the life sciences, which accounted for 41% of all funded companies since 2008. But the report also finds a significant uptick in the software and information technology sectors, accounting for 33% of all companies funded, which it attributes to a surge in investment activity for enterprise software companies starting last year.
 
"The results … are a further impetus for entrepreneurs to choose the Greater Philadelphia region to launch and grow their enterprises," says RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, BFTP/SEP's CEO.
 
 
Source: Jaron Rhodes, BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 

For inundated hiring managers, Philly's gatherDocs offers a solution

For retail, hospitality and service industries, hiring is a constant, traditionally involving floods of emails, overflowing file cabinets and paper. Lots and lots of paper.
 
Now gatherDocs, a Philadelphia startup, is offering a mobile hiring solution that provides a simple, centralized system for recruiting and hiring for a target market of retailers, restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations and more.
 
There are a number of software tools to serve human resources in white-collar industries, says gatherDocs co-founder Alex King. But not much for those who hire cashiers, sales associates, wait staff and other hourly, non-salaried help and "are constantly hiring for the same positions, over and over."
 
gatherDocs allows managers to collect applications, evaluate applicants, schedule interviews and sort, rank and organize applications. In one click, a retailer can post the same job description to hundreds of locations or filter applicants to see who is available for 5 a.m. shifts.
 
Prospects can apply by scanning a QR code at an in-store "now hiring" sign, send a text or visit the company's page on the gatherDocs mobile site. 
 
King founded the company last year with Bruce Marable, a high school classmate, and Dan Lopez. The three also are partners in Defined Clarity, a web-consulting firm. gatherDocs is already out with a fully commercialized product, which King thinks will do especially well as seasonal hiring ramps up. 
 
The company is also rolling out a new "onboard" capacity that allows hires to fill out tax forms and the like on their devices. "Our aim is to optimize the entire hiring process," says King.
 
gatherDocs has a staff of five and expects to add two positions next year. King's goal is to grow to 70 within five years. And the firm is full committed to Philadelphia. "There is no chance of us moving," he says.   "We’re ingrained here in Philadelphia."
 
Source: Alex King, gatherDocs
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Stroudsburg's IER applies its social outreach technology to childhood obesity and more

It all started with the fruits and vegetables that Edward Connors used in the classroom. As founder in 2008 of East Stroudsburg's Innovative Educational Resources to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Connors says that having students guess the number of petals on an artichoke, say, was a great way to teach math.
 
But the approach also yielded an altogether different realization. "Our work with inquiry-based math and science using fruits and vegetables as manipulatives in the K-8 classroom led us to discover new educational opportunities related to food choice and nutritional education," Connors says.
 
In 2010, IER won $548,000 in U.S. Department of Agriculture funding to look at how technology could be used to address the problem of childhood obesity.  What ultimately resulted is IER's "virtual social worker," a community-based research method and community engagement platform, aimed at providing underserved and vulnerable populations – low income, low literacy, non-English speaking, for example – with culturally relevant access to information on health and nutrition.
 
Working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, IER piloted its approach in an application intended to improve access to health and social service resources for the Hispanic community around Charlotte, North Carolina.  IER is also behind the recent launch of PoconoHealth.org, an interactive, online directory of health, social service and education resources. 
 
Now Connors is preparing to establish a new company, Heudia, to apply the same strategy and technology to health literacy. "I realized that health care costs are being driven by the same lack of access to primary care and income inequality," he says. 
 
 
Source: Edward Connors, Innovative Educational Resources
Writer: Elise Vider
 

A new center for innovation and creativity at Lehigh University's Mountaintop Campus

Lehigh University is embarking on "a bold new initiative to renovate and reimagine" two massive, former Bethlehem Steel buildings on its Mountaintop campus.
 
With a $20 million gift from alumnus Scott Belair, who graduated in 1969 and went on to co-found Urban Outfitters, the school acquired the buildings, totaling 120,000 square feet, in May and envisions using them as a center for innovation and creativity.
 
"Mountaintop provides an opportunity for students to define complex questions, take intellectual risks, use faculty as mentors and access resources and support from across the university and beyond," the university said in a blog post. "Students will be challenged to develop their capacities for creativity, inquiry, discovery, synthesis and teamwork."
 
Several teams of students and faculty worked at Mountaintop this summer in open-ended pilot projects. One team isolated and characterized viruses that attack bacteria that are found in soil as part of a large national project on tuberculosis. Other teams developed a prototype for durable housing for refugees, designed an integrated system for both crop production and water filtration and produced a documentary film about the first four women faculty members in Lehigh's English department. 
 
The university is gathering ideas for projects and uses for the facility and expects to use Belair's gift to leverage an additional $40 million as it moves ahead with its multi-phase Mountaintop project.
 
 
Source: Lehigh University
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Griesing Law earns major recognition, attracts major event for women, minority owned firms to Philly

When we profiled Fran Griesing, founder of Philadelphia-based, startup-focused Griesing Law in May, the trailblazing attorney spoke about the traps of working at a large firm -- especially for women -- and the value of making her firm "an environment in which everyone who worked there could reach their best potential."
 
The approach was validated last month when she picked up the 2013 Law Firm MVP award from the National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF). The award honors a member law firm for "its outstanding achievement in furthering NAMWOLF's mission of promoting diversity and inclusion by fostering relationships between preeminent minority and women-owned law firms and corporations and public entities. Griesing was joined by her firm's Director of Administration Jessica Mazzeo, to accept the award in Minneapolis on Sept. 23 at NAMWOLF's annual meeting and expo.
 
Griesing played a significant role in attracting the 2014 NAMWOLF annual conference to Philadelphia next September. The event is important to not only Griesing, but the many women- and minority-owned law firms in Greater Philadelphia. The event (and its build-up) will provide many valuable opportunities for those firms to connect with large corporations and public entities, helping attract bigger business.
 
"We are honored and delighted to be recognized given the many firms that work tirelessly to promote NAMWOLF's important mission of affording access and opportunities for minority and women-owned law firms," she said.
 
Keystone Edge staff
Source: Fran Griesing
 



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