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Ben Franklin funds $2M to seven Southeast PA firms on heels of Early Stage Venture Showcase

The visionary folks at Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA have been as busy as the companies they support.

The highly successful economic development program announced on Monday a total of $1,975,000 to seven early stage companies with promising technology innovations. The companies included Ambler's Bioconnect Systems Inc. ($500,000), Glen Mills' Holganix LLC ($250,000), Devon's LiftDNA Inc. ($250,000), West Chester's LoSo Inc. ($125,000), Bala Cynwyd's Orion Security LSP, LLC ($200,000), Malvern's Quanta Technologies, Inc. ($250,000), and Malvern's Valence Process Equipment ($400,000).

Last Thursday, 21 other companies strutted their stuff in front of potential money as Ben Franklin partnered with Greater Philadelphia Venture Investors and the University City Science Center to host its annual Early Stage Venture Showcase at the Navy Yard. The event was open only to investors; angels, venture capitalists, and individual investors packed the room. Upstairs, the highly popular IT/Physical Science/Clean Technology track companies presented; downstairs, Life Sciences entrepreneurs told their stories to a much smaller crowd.

Ryan Caplan, of ColdLight Solutions, opened with a strong presentation highlighting his company's impressive proprietary Neuron platform, which offers automated data analysis derived from artificial intelligence, leading to highly targeted recommendations for retail, pharmaceutical and communications applications. Another standout was the aforementioned Holganix, an organic fertilizer company which is already servicing some massive lawns in its first year of business, including Longwood Gardens. The Holganix process unlocks already existing nitrogen from the soil and air through biological means and dramatically reduces the need for pesticides.

Downstairs a smaller but tougher crowd checked out Science Center tenants BeneLein Technologies, which uses a bioprocess to create generic antibiotics, and Vascular Magnetics, which hopes to develop a magnetic nanotechnology treatment for peripheral artery disease.

Doug Leinen, founder of BeneLein, says that he has not received direct feedback from investors. Richard Genzer, who attended the Venture Showcase on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic Angel Group, reports that he has taken further action with three companies.

Source: Doug Leinen, BeneLein, Richard Genzer, Mid-Altantic Angel Group
Writer: Sue Spolan

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Clean Technology Resource Center provides guidance for alternative energy use and commercialization

Small business owners statewide have heard a lot about alternative energy, but it can be difficult to figure out how they might best be able to use it.

Enter the Clean Technology Resource Center, run out of the Penn State Small Business Development Center. The center, which opened last April, helps businesses across the state that want to use alternative energy sources like geothermal or wind power. The center's director, Heather Fennessey, says it's able to point business owners toward government subsidies for alternative energy use and provide guidance on the best sources of clean power. Businesses benefit from working with an organization that isn't interested in selling a product, Fennessey says.

"If you call a vendor and say, 'I want solar panels,' and they're a solar vendor, of course they're going to say 'OK,' " she says.

Since the center opened it has helped about 45 business owners, including a Snyder County turkey farmer who is now able to generate heat from the birds' bedding.

The center also works with Pennsylvania companies that want to introduce new clean energy technologies to the marketplace, although Fennessey says she can't give any examples.

Next month the resource center is hosting an educational event called the Pennsylvania Clean Technology Forum in Harrisburg. It's also planning informational webinars in the future, Fennessey says.

Source: Heather Fennessey, Clean Technology Resource Center
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Upcoming hearing will give senators information about windmills in Lake Erie

Various wind turbine developers have expressed interest in building windmills off of Pennsylvania's Lake Erie coastline, and they would have to secure leases from the state allowing them to do that. Problem is, right now there aren't any standards for what these leases would involve.

That’s why two state senators are hosting a public hearing about wind energy off the Lake Erie shore. Sens. Jane Earll of Erie County and Mary Jo White, whose district includes pieces of six northwestern PA counties, will put on the March 14 hearing at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center near Presque Isle State Park.

Regina Smith, Earll's special projects coordinator, says the hearing will give lawmakers information about the possible effects of offshore windmills before they start the process of writing legislation to allow them. A bill concerning offshore wind turbines was introduced before the current legislative session started in January, but it died before becoming law.

The full slate of speakers hasn't been confirmed yet, but Smith expects there to be representation from industry groups, environmental activists and state agencies. People who want to express their opinions on the issue can also send their thoughts by e-mail or postal mail.

"We’d like to hear from all sides," Smith says. "We do want to know how people are feeling about this."

Source: Regina Smith, office of Sen. Jane Earll
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Craigslist for manure: Free website connects buyers and sellers of biomass and compost

Have some manure to get rid of? In the market for switchgrass to convert to fuel? If you're in the Keystone State, you might want to bookmark the Pennsylvania Biomass Trader on your Internet browser.

The free website is a sort of classified ad service for people looking to buy or sell materials that could be turned into energy or compost. It's run by the state Small Business Development Centers, which also run a similar website, the Pennsylvania Material Trader, a resource for those in the market for everything from scrap paper to medical supplies.

The Biomass Trader grew out of another website just for those looking to buy and sell animal manure. "A lot of people were interested in manure not just for fertilizer, but as an energy source," explains Nancy Crickman, who runs the Small Business Development Centers' Environmental Management Assistance Program.

The site has been up for about a year, but Crickman still considers it a new initiative because it's not useful unless enough people take advantage of it.

"It's a free resource, and the more it's used, the better for everyone," she says.

So far the Biomass Trader has about 160 members, and it has hosted about 150 listings. Users include a Juniata County buyer in search of scrap wood, a State College supplier looking to sell switchgrass and several farmers with horse manure to give away.

Source: Nancy Crickman, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


New energy-focused continuing education programs coming to Luzerne County

CAN DO, an economic development group in Hazleton, already has a service to help businesses in Luzerne County and the surrounding area cope with rising electricity costs. Through its Energy Solutions program, CAN DO has screened energy auditors, wind power firms and other providers before recommending them to prospective customers.

Now, the Energy Solutions initiative has resulted in a partnership between CAN DO and Penn State's Hazleton campus, which recently started offering a bachelor's degree program in general engineering.
Unlike other engineering programs in the Penn State system, Hazleton's focuses on alternative energy and electricity generation. The idea is to train students to work in fields with increasing local prominence, like renewable energy and natural gas drilling.

Along with the bachelor's degree curriculum, CAN DO and Penn State Hazleton are offering continuing education programs. The first two, scheduled for March, will focus on pumping systems and the basic principles of electricity.

"We're training the existing workforce and preparing the future workforce," says Bernie DeBias, director of the Energy Solutions program.

In the future, DeBias says Penn State and CAN DO will develop education programs based on regional companies' training needs.

Source: Bernie DeBias, CAN DO
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Meet the 'higros': Businesses that generate nearly every new job in PA

Would you be surprised to learn that less than 1 percent of all businesses in Pennsylvania created almost every new job throughout the commonwealth?

That's exactly the impact that about 2,300 high-growth companies had on the state, according to research by economic development consultant Dr. Gary Kunkle. His examination of Pennsylvania's economy found that these businesses -- affectionately referred to as "higros" -- generated almost 60,000 new jobs between 2006 and 2009. Out of 757,000 businesses in Pennsylvania, 0.3 percent were considered higros. In about a month, there will be a new list of higros.

"These firms are in every single industry within the state," says Kunkle, president of North Carolina consulting company Outlier LLC. "They're almost randomly geographically distributed."

Focusing on nurturing these businesses and helping them expand represents a new approach to economic development, His research shows that 97 percent of new jobs come from businesses expanding, rather than companies opening or relocating. The most successful businesses hire new workers gradually as they grow.

"It's better to hire 10 people 10 times than to hire 100 people once," Kunkle says.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development plans to put this research to work to predict which businesses in a 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania are most likely to succeed, and how to best ensure their success. Details are still being worked out.

Also, the Team Pennsylvania Foundation is talking with the state Department of Community and Economic Development about how to use Kunkle's findings.

Sources: Dr. Gary Kunkle, Outlier LLC; Matt Zieger, Team Pennsylvania Foundation
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


EverPower building $350M windfarm in Cambria, hiring

Somerset County will be home to a new $350 million, 170-megawatt wind energy farm, the largest project in Pennsylvania to date developed by New York City-based EverPower.

The Twin Ridges Wind Farm is the third renewable project in the state for EverPower, which opened a Pittsburgh office in Lawrenceville last year that has grown to 20 employees. Plans call for continued hiring this year in permitting, wind resource and engineering, says Jim Spencer, founder, CEO and a native of Pittsburgh.

EverPower's first wind farm in Cambria County was the Highland Wind Project, which is already in the business of generating 62.5 megawatts of wind energy. A second project, nearby, is the $120 million Highland North wind farm, which recently secured funding and should be operating by the end of this year, generating 75 megawatts of electricity, says Spencer.

Both projects are located near the town of Krayn on top of a reclaimed strip-mine in close proximity to a municipal utility. EverPower has a purchase agreement for Highland's electricity with grid-operator PJM Interconnection and Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions.

"Everpower is like a real estate developer of renewable energy projects," Spencer explains. "This area of Pennsylvania. (along the Allegheny ridge line) is an excellent wind corridor. Pennsylvania has the potential for 5,100 megawatts of wind energy; we're only at 750 megawatts now. We have a long way to go."

Spencer believes with the state's continued support of renewables, the industry will create thousands of new jobs both in the state and across the country.

"My concern (with the excitement generated over Marcellus Shale) is the state might overlook a real source of economic growth in renewables," he says. "There is a very attractive market here. But unless the renewable standards increase, we're unlikely to see more development and construction here."

Source: Jim Spencer, Everpower
Writer: Deb Smit

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Lehigh University gets $1.2M in grants to continue materials and energy research

Lehigh University is receiving $1.2 million in state grants to continue initiatives that put academic research to work in the business world.

Out of that total, $600,000 will go toward research on materials and nanotechnology. Most of it will pay for staff members and academic scientists who work with companies that use Lehigh's research facilities, says Martin Harmer, director of the university's Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. Lehigh has partnered with about 30 companies, including Silberline, a Tamaqua-based maker of industrial pigments and coatings.

Another $600,000 will go to the Energy and Environmental Research Initiative at Lehigh. Some of it will fund research on new energy technologies and a joint program with Northampton Community College that assists businesses that want to use alternative energy sources. The rest will support a new professional master's degree program in Energy Systems Engineering, which graduated its first 24 students last year -- all of whom got jobs in the field of electric utilities and distribution, according to Dr. Alan Snyder, Lehigh's vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies.

The grants were approved by the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority. Support from the state has helped Lehigh secure other grants, including some from the federal government.

Sources: Martin Harmer and Alan Snyder, Lehigh University
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Recent Duquesne grad launches website for discussion about Marcellus Shale

Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation is the biggest thing to hit Pennsylvania in decades, and it can be hard to navigate exactly what it means to each consumer, property owner or business.

That's why C. Arthur West IV saw a chance to create an online community focused on the natural gas deposit that lies under much of the Keystone State. In October he launched a website,
NaturalgasPA.com, as a place for information and discussion.

"It's basically happening in everyone in Pennsylvania's backyard," says West, who graduated from Duquesne University last year with a degree in business and communication. "The most amazing thing to me is the amount of natural gas that's underneath this state."

His site's features include job listings, news articles, a discussion forum and directories of lawyers, financial planners and energy companies. Users can submit content, but West mostly updates NaturalgasPA.com himself in addition to his job as a real estate title coordinator. Some posts on the site
are in favor of drilling and some are against – West says he aims for a 50/50 balance.

"We're certainly not for or against the industry," he says.

NaturalgasPA.com has developed a strong following in just a few months. It has about 200 members and draws between 5,000 and 10,000 people per month. West has also been a guest on "Natural Gas Matters," a weekly show on Pittsburgh radio station FM NewsTalk 104.7.

Source: C. Arthur West IV, NaturalgasPA.com
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Direct Energy in Pittsburgh expanding and hiring 66

Direct Energy's Pittsburgh headquarters is expanding with the addition of 9,000 square-feet of office space in the Federated Building downtown and the hiring of 66 employees.

Company growth is a reflection, in part, of the changes brought about by deregulation 10 years ago, explains Bethany Ruhe, company spokesperson. While utilities like Duquesne and Columbia Gas continue to operate the lines of distribution, consumers can now choose a gas and/or electricity supplier. That's Direct Energy's niche, offering consumers, businesses and industries rate deals, green programs and custom options.   

The company has grown to become one of the largest competitive energy suppliers in North America of electricity, natural gas and related services, serving more than 50,000 customers and  5 million residential consumers. DE opened its Pittsburgh office following the purchase of Strategic Energy in 2008. While the office primarily handles business customers, DE also recently relocated its Ohio residential office here to serve customers in the northeast.

"A lot of what we do is geared toward helping customers achieve their energy efficiency goals," Ruhe explains. "At Direct Energy, we want to be more than just the lowest price. We do it through innovative products and special services. We work very hard to make it as easy as possible for customers."

The biggest hurdle is educating people to shop for electricity, much as one would for a mortgage or insurance, she adds.  Direct Energy helps customers build customized solutions based on each customer's individual energy strategy, which may incorporate renewable energy certificates and other programs.

Direct Energy has grown substantially in the last three years, adding more than 100 people and employing upwards of 400 in the region. And this little known fact: DE greened the city during the G20 Summit, purchasing renewable energy credits that provided sustainable energy to the city while world leaders were here.

Direct Energy employs 6,000 worldwide and has a corporate business office in Toronto and parent company in the UK.

Source: Bethany Ruhe, Direct Energy
Writer: Deb Smit

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PSU scientists start company to convert mining waste into aid for hydraulic fracturing

Two Penn State scientists have found a better way to coax oil and natural gas out of the ground – and it involves ingredients that are normally thrown out.

Dr. John Hellmann, a professor of materials science and engineering, and Dr. Barry Scheetz, a professor of materials, civil and nuclear engineering, recently formed a State College company called Nittany Extraction Technologies, based on their technique for making materials used in oil and gas drilling.

More specifically, the scientists are dealing with proppants – so named because they prop open cracks in rock formations like the Marcellus Shale that underlies much of Pennsylvania. This is important to the process of hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping pressurized water into rock so the gas can come out.

Proppants, usually sand, keep the cracks open. But Hellmann says the problem is that sand breaks into shards so it's less effective than manmade proppants. Other common proppants are made of bauxite or a type of clay called kaolin, but these are increasingly expensive and decreasingly available. So Scheetz and Hellmann spent a dozen years searching for waste that could be made into a proppant. They settled on mine tailings, a term for the crushed rock left over after mining.

"These are materials that we specifically targeted because they were going into landfills," Hellmann says. "These materials are available in large enough quantities that it should be sustainable.

Nittany Extraction Technologies is perfecting the process of making proppants from mine tailings. The next step is to test it in the field, which Hellmann expects to happen this fall.

Source: John Hellmann, Nittany Extraction Technologies
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Pittsburgh's water world could be future industry cluster

The region is taking the next step toward the creation of a thriving industry around our abundant water supply, a Water Innovation Consortium that will inspire innovation, sustainability and collaboration among the more than 3,000 water-related firms here.

The first economic analysis of the local water industry sector, Pittsburgh's H2Opportunity Report, was released this month, providing a snapshot of water-related industries and the potential for growth. The study follows on the heels of Pittsburgh World Environment Day and the two Water Matters! conferences held in 2010.

In a nutshell, the region has the clout to generate a cluster of water-related industries, from energy to wastewater and desalinization technologies and products. More than 3,000 companies provide water-related components, products and services that provide 34,000 jobs and more than $5 billion in direct economic activity.

By putting together a "cluster model" similar to the Milwaukee Water Council, the group will organize and advance regional opportunities and coordinate existing resources aligned with those opportunities; think PLSG and the Pa. Nanomaterials Commercialization Center  which drive life sciences and nanotechnology growth in the region.

The study also identifies four pilot projects to drive the region forward:  supply and treatment, components, services and transportation. Two promising growth industries are identified as water treatment and water desalination with a mix of companies from Siemens Water Technologies and Calgon Carbon Corp. to newer firms such as Cardinal Resources and Epiphany Solar Water Systems.  

"This represents a different way of bringing partners to the table," says Jerry Paytas, vice president of research analytics, Fourth Economy, the author of the study. "It's an open cast-call approach to bring in the right players."

"We see our role as enabling the success of the teams that will focus on the areas they see as critical to the region's water future," says Jan VanBriesen, director of the Center for Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems, which will coordinate the consortium.   "The consortium is really a 'bottom up' effort to bring together the region's extensive expertise and innovation in water issues."

The study was commissioned by the WED Partnership, foundations and companies working with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Sustainable Pittsburgh.

To learn more about how to get involved, contact Dave Nakles at CMU.

Source: Jerry Paytas, Fourth Economy; Jan Van Briesen, Carnegie Mellon; Sustainable Pittsburgh
Writer: Deb Smit

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New testing facility at Harrisburg Area Community College makes energy from agricultural leftovers

A new lab at Harrisburg Area Community College will turn agricultural byproducts into energy and give students a chance to learn how biomass technology works.

Last week Enginuity Energy, based in Mechanicsburg, hosted a grand opening for its biomass gasification facility at the college's Harrisburg campus. Put simply, the company's technology – named Ecoremedy – takes organic material, such as animal manure or the soil-like material left over from mushroom growing, and converts it into steam, fertilizer or animal feed supplements.

The Ecoremedy system can use any type of organic material as long as it's less than 65 percent water. The material is placed on a conveyor belt and heated. The gases that come off during that heating process are combined with hot air to make a fireball that heats water in a boiler, creating steam that can be used to generate energy. The remaining organic material is then converted into additives for fertilizer or feed for farm animals.

Richard Madeira, Enginuity's VP of sales and marketing, says the company has received calls from all over the country. It plans to use the lab in Harrisburg to test the energy-generating potential of byproducts from sources like breweries, paper mills and ethanol production facilities. "We're focusing on materials that are naturally existing," he says.

Finding new uses for agricultural byproducts reduces the amount of waste that ends up in the Chesapeake Bay, Madeira says. Enginuity is also working with HACC to integrate the lab into classes.

Source: Richard Madeira, Enginuity Energy
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Lancaster County solar installer reaches out to customers, competitors and developing countries

Advanced Solar Industries isn't your typical solar panel installer.

The New Holland, Lancaster County-based firm has an employee whose job is to maintain connections with customers after their energy systems have been completed. It invites customers to take part in company volunteer projects, and customers have welcomed workers into their homes when solar installations were long finished. Soon, Advanced Solar plans to deliver lunch to competitors, an overture aimed at uniting solar installers so they can work together as an industry.

CEO Josh Mitten says his goal for 2012 is to be recognized as one of the best businesses to work for in Pennsylvania.

Part of Advanced Solar's distinction lies in its founding in 1995 by Elam Beiler, an Amish man who wanted to use the sun's energy to keep his buggy's headlights on.

Beiler has since moved to Indiana. Before he left, he built a company that already had plenty of experience installing solar panels by the time solar energy systems started becoming popular a few years ago. And Advanced Solar's own offices are just now being connected to the grid, a necessity for a business with 33 employees.

The company installed about 140 solar panel systems in 2010 and plans to expand beyond Pennsylvania this year with projects in Maryland and North Carolina. And this fall it will have a charity bike ride to raise money for The Collaboratory, a Messiah College organization that plans to install solar panels at medical facilities in developing nations.

"Where our business is does not limit where our impact can grow," Mitten says.

Source: Josh Mitten, Advanced Solar Industries
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Additions to Central PA rail line expected to bring new business

Adding less than a mile of track to a railroad line might not sound like an improvement, but it's expected to spur plenty of business activity in Northumberland County.

The SEDA- Council of Governments Joint Rail Authority, which owns the 27-mile Shamokin Valley Railroad, plans to add about 3,500 feet of track to the train line in Central PA. Of that, 2,000 feet, next to an industrial park under development near the town of Kulpmont, will allow trains to reverse their direction. Another 1,500 of track will serve TimberEnd Inc., a nearby mulch company.

The $1 million project will be paid for with state and federal money. Jeff Stover, the authority's executive director, says construction should be finished this summer. SEDA-COG, a development agency for 11 counties in Central PA, expects it to entice businesses to come to the area. That would be a welcome development for the Shamokin Valley line, which carried just 206 loaded rail cars last year. The authority's five lines carried a total of 34,000 cars in 2010.

The Shamokin Valley project is the first of 14 improvements planned for the rail lines the authority owns in central PA. The agency has secured $10 million in federal grants for these projects, most of which are meant to facilitate business stemming from natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation.

Source: Jeff Stover, SEDA- Council of Governments
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

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