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$11.5 M in federal grants and the "Good Housekeeping Seal" to four Ben Franklin Biotech Clients

Four biotechnology clients of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania have been awarded more than $11.5 million in follow-on funding in federal science-based grants.
 
The four are all residents at Ben Franklin TechVentures on the Lehigh University campus. The funding, says BFTP/NEP, demonstrates both the viability of the startups and their work and that "an investment from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners is like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for early-stage technology firms."
  
Azevan Pharmaceuticals, Inc. received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) award for a potential next-generation therapeutic for depression that targets a different neurochemical system than current drugs. The company has received about $9 million from NIH since 2004.
 
Hager Biosciences, LLC  received two NIH grants in 2011 and 2013, totaling almost $675,000. The first grant is to develop a therapeutic agent to address substance addictions such as nicotine, and also with potential application to panic and anxiety disorders. The second grant is to discover unique agents that could mitigate OP (Organo Phosphurus) chemical threats, addressing both acute OP-poisoning and long-term neurodegenerative effects.
 
The National Science Foundation has awarded $800,000 from 2009 through the present to Third Eye Diagnostics Inc., and the company also received $250,000 from a federal Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project grant. Third Eye received a Pre-Proposal Technical Award, a Federal Marketing Assistance Review and MicroGrant from the Innovation Partnership (IPart). The company is developing a non-invasive, handheld intracranial pressure (ICP) monitor. 
 
The U.S. Department of Defense awarded two grants totaling $850,000 in 2012 and 2013 to VaxForm LLC.  The company is developing a vaccine targeting diseases resulting from Streptococcus pyogenes infection.
 
“These federal grants allow Ben Franklin clients to commercialize their products that significantly improve the human condition,” said R. Chadwick Paul, CEO of BFTP/NEP. “This follow-on funding lets Ben Franklin leverage our investments to help create more highly paid, sustainable jobs for Pennsylvania workers.”
 
Source: BFTP/NEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 

Philadelphia's growing Invisible Sentinel gets visibility

Invisible Sentinel isn't all that invisible anymore. The company marked its expansion at Phiiladelphia's University City Science Center at a high-profile event this week, with Sen. Pat Toomey as the speaker, no less.
 
Founded in 2006, Invisible Sentinel is staying true to its Science Center roots, tripling its office, lab and manufacturing space and retaining its 18 jobs.
 
The company builds portable, easy-to-use, cost-effective equipment for the rapid diagnosis of food contamination. CEO Nicholas Siciliano, who co-founded the company with Ben Pascal, says the technology "eliminates the need for infrastructure and major investment" for its customer base of food and beverage manufacturers and processors and third party testing labs.
 
Invisible Sentinel is also launching its Veriflow technology, "the next generation in powerful diagnostic tools to help manufacturers and government regulators keep the global food supply safe." The newly commercialized product suite detects the bacterial strains that cause the majority of non-viral foodborne illnesses: Shiga Toxin-Producing E.coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni, and Salmonella enterica.
 
Preventing bacterial outbreaks and ensuring food safety is big business. Invisible Sentinel reports that contaminated food sickens about 48 million in the U.S. annually, while industry-wide revenue streams are crippled to the tune of $152 billion.
 
Siciliano proudly notes that the company is all made in PA, manufacturing right in University City using molded plastics made in York.
 
Its market is domestic, but Siciliano says they are exploring overseas expansion. He anticipates that Invisible Sentinel will double its workforce by the end of 2014, adding management, manufacturing, sales and marketing and scientific positions.
 
Source: Nicholas Siciliano, Invisible Sentinel
Writer: Elise Vider
 

New Geisinger Institute for Advanced Application to boost health care innovations

Two decades ago, Geisinger Health Systems was an early adopter in the use of electronic medical records. Now Geisinger, which serves more than 2.6 million residents throughout central and northeastern Pennsylvania, is once again fully embracing innovation with the establishment of its new Geisinger Institute for Advanced Application (GIAA).  
 
GIAA, "an ambitious endeavor," says its director, Dr. Gregory Moore, will conduct research and development across a range of disciplines, all with the goal of improving the quality and reducing the cost of health care.
 
The institute is comprised of three components. The Center for Healthcare Re-engineering is focused on introducing industrial and systems engineering concepts to health care. The Center for Emerging Technology and Informatics is "very future focused" in its work, which involves use of gadgets, human interface (how does a technology work for a sick or elderly patient?), novel data streams and more.  The Center for Clinical Innovations is studying health care of large populations, patient and family engagement and health care systems technology.
 
Some of this work has been underway at various Geisinger campuses; other aspects such as the emerging technologies/informatics piece are new. All of the centers will eventually be consolidated at a single location. Moore is actively searching for a facility – an old warehouse or school would be ideal, "to create a think tank atmosphere" – within 25 miles of Geisinger's Danville headquarters and hopes to be settled within a year. The spread-out institute currently has about 30 staffers; Moore expects to recruit another dozen in the next 18 months.
 
As its new models, applications and technologies are ready, GIAA will actively pursue commercialization. Moore sees potential early wins in data and informatics and clinical innovations.  GIAA also hosts a streamlined portal for outside companies to pursue technology trials at Geisinger.
 
Source: Dr. Gregory Moore, Geisinger Institute of Advanced Application

Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Itís always sunny for Philadelphia's growing Solar Grid Storage

A young Philadelphia company is growing fast with an innovative technology and business model. 
 
Solar Grid Storage, established in 2011, brought its solar photovoltaic energy storage system to market a year ago, says CEO Thomas Leyden, with help from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania.  So far it has installed its "batteries" at four large-scale, commercial projects: two in New Jersey, one in Maryland and one at the microgrid at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where the company is located.
 
Solar Grid's batteries serve as a source of emergency power when electricity fails, reduce the cost of photovoltaic systems by eliminating the need for solar inverters and help maintain grid stability by allowing grid operators to temporarily charge or discharge the batteries as needed. That last feature is a built-in revenue source.
 
Under its proprietary business model, the company can retain ownership and maintenance of its batteries, financing their installation through investors and from revenue streams including grid operators. That, says Leyden, "lowers the overall cost of solar dramatically. This is a financial model to get this asset in place that benefits multiple partners."
 
With the cost of solar nearly equal to utility-generated power and projections of 30% annual growth for solar, Leyden anticipates strong demand. "Large power plants are not being built much. That model is in the past," he says. "For new power generation, solar is the cheapest, fastest and best way to do it."
 
Solar Grid just added three employees, bringing its workforce to nine, and continues to hire. Leyden expects his staff to triple by the end of the year, with most of the employees in Philadelphia. (The company also has offices in New Jersey and Maryland.)
 
Source: Thomas Leyden, Solar Grid Storage
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Entrepreneurs and startups will be eligible for Innovate in PA funding

The state has officially launched its new Innovate in PA program to accelerate high-wage job growth by supporting entrepreneurs and startups.
 
At a recent visit to Innovation Works' Alpha Lab, Gov. Corbett said, “With 98 percent of new jobs in Pennsylvania coming from startups and small emerging growth companies, Innovate in PA is a common-sense approach to economic growth. Innovate in PA’s investments will help forward-thinking companies inspired with vision to become household names, turning Pennsylvania into the next Silicon Valley.”
 
Innovate in PA, effective as of October 1, will offer $100 million in deferred tax credits to insurance companies in the state to raise funds over multiple years. The funds raised will be directed to the Ben Franklin Technology Development Partners, three Life Sciences Greenhouses and the Venture Capital investment program.
 
The governor's office said Innovate in PA is projected to create a minimum of 1,850 technology jobs, nearly 3,500 indirect jobs and more than double the return-on-investment back to the state. For every dollar invested via Innovate in PA in early-stage businesses, it is projected that $2.37 will be returned to the state in additional tax revenues.
 
“With Innovate in PA we offer new ways to support creative thinking and business know-how with vital investment,” Corbett said. “Every great business begins with a bold idea and we are here to give you that initial boost to propel your startups from a plan on paper to a thriving company that embodies the American dream.”
 
The legislature created the new tax credit program this summer to address the seed capital needs of startup companies and small businesses with the goal of supporting growth and expansion in Pennsylvania, facilitating job growth, new patents and products and increasing tax revenues for the Commonwealth. 
 
Source: Governor's Office
Writer: Elise Vider
 

No language barriers, Green Tree's WeSpeke gets the world talking

In his 30-year career as a tech entrepreneur, Mike Elchik has traveled extensively around the world. But no matter how many tapes, CDs and foreign phrase books he would pore over on those long flights, "being in a café in Paris is a completely different experience," he says. "There is a social aspect to learning language. There is a human interaction."
 
With the realization, too, that billions worldwide were chattering in their native languages on multiple social networks and that global perspective and language skills are prized in today's economy, Elchik and Dr. Jaime Carbonell, director of the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon  founded WeSpeke in 2010. 
 
The platform allows participants around the world to connect with others who share their interests, to learn languages and grow cultural awareness. Elchik describes it as "Skype meets Rosetta Stone meets Wikipedia meets EHarmony meets Facebook."
 
WeSpeke launched its site in February, supporting French and English. Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian came online in June and next up are Mandarin, Russian and Arabic. 
 
The service is free to its users. WeSpeke's revenues come from ads targeted to users' shared interests. So a conversation between an English speaking soccer fan and his Italian counterpart will display sports-related advertising.  Clothing and accessory ads will appear in interactions between fashionistas from around the world.
 
Elchik says the global footprint for WeSpeke is growing fast. The company currently has eight full-timers at its headquarters in Green Tree and a network of about 20 consultants around the world. If WeSpeke continues to grow at its current pace, he adds, its workforce could double within a year. 
 
Source: Mike Elchik, WeSpeke
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Philly's Urban Outfitters' huge expansion means 1000s of jobs in PA

From hippies to hipsters, Urban Outfitters has capitalized on the style proclivities of youth. Now the Philadelphia-based retail behemoth has announced a series of expansion projects worth hundreds of millions in investment and, eventually, thousands of new jobs in Pennsylvania.
 
Urban will build a new East Coast, direct-to-consumer fulfillment center in Gap, creating "at least 500 new jobs." Press reports indicated that the company will break ground in November for the 1.2 million-square-foot distribution facility, with completion in summer 2015.
 
Urban is also planning to expand its multi-building Philadelphia Navy Yard headquarters with the refurbishment of a 250,000-square foot building that will eventually bring 2,000 new jobs. The company is investing more than $200 million for both. And both projects will be eligible to receive Keystone Opportunity Zone tax breaks.
 
Separately, the company has unveiled plans to develop a large "lifestyle center" on the site of a former nursery in Devon. Main Line Suburban Life  reported that the company has leased 6.5 acres for the planned "Devon Yard" project to include a Terrain garden center and Anthropologie retail store (both Urban brands), along with a boutique hotel, restaurants and other shops and amenities. 
 
Urban Outfitters started in 1970 as a small retailer on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus. Today the company describes itself as "an innovative specialty retail company which offers a variety of lifestyle merchandise to highly defined customer niches." Its bricks-and-mortar and online brands include Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain and BHLDN. The company has 20,000 employees worldwide, 2,400 of them in Pennsylvania.
 
Source: Team PA
Writer: Elise Vider

A new food distribution center is on its way in Imperial, bringing 300 jobs

Gordon Food Service, a giant, Michigan-based foodservice distributor, is bringing a large new distribution center and 300 jobs to Allegheny County.
 
The company broke ground in September on a 470,000-square-foot facility at the Findley Industrial Park  in Imperial. It will go into operation in spring 2015 and Gordon expects to employ about 300 there within three to five years. The new jobs will include warehousing, transportation, sales and administration.
 
"The Greater Pittsburgh market was the right place to be for Gordon Food Service to meet our customer needs," says spokesman Andy Maier. "Imperial was the location of choice due to its proximity to Pittsburgh, the great road network and the people in the area."
 
The new center represents a significant expansion of Gordon's presence in Pennsylvania. The company already has a distribution center in Pottsville, where it employs about 100. And it runs four GFS Marketplace retail stores in the western part of the state. 
 
Gordon was founded in 1897 as a butter and egg delivery service. Today the company employs 14,000 in North America and claims to be the largest family-owned broadline foodservice distributor in North America—and one of the largest privately held companies in the United States.
 
Altogether, Gordon has 22 centers, distributing food through the Midwest, Northeast and Southeastern United States and coast-to-coast in Canada.
 
 
Source: Andy Maier, Gordon Food Service
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Malvern's Zonoff gets connected with Staples

Staples,  the world's largest office products company and second largest Internet retailer, is launching an exclusive new product for the "connected" home or office. 
 
And every Staples Connect sold will bear the name of the company that developed the platform, Malvern's Zonoff .
 
"This is a big announcement for us," says Zonoff chief marketing officer Bob Cooper with considerable understatement. 
 
Staples Connect is a multi-platform app and universal hub that allows residential and business customers to control lights, window blinds, thermostats, security systems  -- you name it – from a smartphone or tablet. The product will be available online and in a limited number of Staples stores – including in Pennsylvania – in November.  It will be on public display for the first time later this month in San Francisco at the GigaOM Mobilize show.
 
Cooper says this is the biggest commitment any retailer has made to the connected home market and is Zonoff's largest partner to date. The Zonoff name on the box, much in the way the Dolby name appears on audio equipment, is a first, too. Until now, Zonoff's products have been sold under its partners' names. It's a delicate balance, he adds, "We're not interested in being a consumer brand, but we are a core component of the solution." 
 
With Staples, and several more sector leaders as partners yet to be announced, Zonoff is growing fast. When KeystoneEdge last checked in with the company in May, they had 18 employees. Now the workforce stands at 24 and Cooper says they are on track to double by the end of the year.  
 
Source: Bob Cooper, Zonoff
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Pittsburgh's RE2 designs a dexterous manipulation system to maintain performance aircraft

Take a Pennsylvania firm's core technology and an unaddressed need by the military and you have the formula for the latest research funding awarded to Pittsburgh's RE2
 
"We are known as experts in mobile manipulation, essentially robotic arms on things that move," says CEO Jorgen Pedersen. "And this is another application for our core technology, a custom design that solves this particular problem."
 
That problem is the military's need for a system to recoat damaged or worn air inlets on performance aircraft. Many engine air inlets become worn or damaged by foreign objects while in service. Between overhauls, this damage needs to be repaired, increasing aircraft downtime. And the maintenance requires a person to manually recoat any damaged areas, placing the worker at risk and often yielding unacceptable thickness variability.
 
The possible solution is RE2's Automated Air Inlet Coating (A2IC) system, a robotic manipulation system with the dexterity and accuracy required for the job.
 
RE2 won $150,000 in highly competitive Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding, which will cover A2IC development through February. Meanwhile, the company is preparing to compete for a Phase II award, which could start in spring 2014 and allow RE2 to further pursue the project. 
 
The company has a good track record with SBIR. Of 11 Phase I projects, 10 have gone on to Phase II, Pedersen says, and several have gone on to Phase III and commercial success.
 
The A2IC project has allowed RE2 to maintain its workforce of about 40. Meanwhile, Pedersen is hopeful for a major contract for next-generation robots for disposal of explosive ordnance. That project could mean a doubling of revenues and dozens of new jobs in 2015, Pedersen says.
 
Source: Jorgen Pedersen, RE2
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Carbondale's Gentex wins $86.6M defense contract for state-of-the-art helmets

U.S. armed forces will be wearing lighter and more comfortable, high-tech helmets made by the Carbondale-based Gentex Corporation. The company has a new $86.6 million multi-year contract to provide lightweight advanced combat helmets (ACH) to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. 
 
Gentex has been a helmet supplier to the U.S. government for more than 60 years. Gentex uses advanced technology and manufacturing resources to deliver a helmet that is eight percent lighter than previous ACH helmets and provides "added stability comfort and performance capability for the soldier," the company said.
 
"The award represents our long-standing relationship with the U.S. government and our commitment to continually advance the capabilities of our advanced protective helmet solutions for defense and security forces around the world," said L.P. Frieder III, the company's president, in a statement.
 
Gentex has a long history in Carbondale. It started as the Klots Throwing Company, which relocated its silk processing plant to Carbondale after an 1894 fire in order to engage an untapped workforce – the wives and daughters of coal miners. Later, as General Silk, it became of the largest silk fiber processors in the world. During World War II, the company, again renamed as General Textile Mills, produced parachutes for the military. It began manufacturing helmets in 1948. Today, as "a leading provider of personal protection and situational awareness solutions for global defense and security forces," Gentex has operations around the country.
 
Thetimes-tribune.com reports that Gentex employs about 425 people in Fell Twp. who also manufacture flight-crew helmets, fire-resistant garments and optical products. 
 
Source: Gentex Corporation
Writer: Elise Vider
 

The dermatologist will see you now: McMurray's DermatologistOnCall offers virtual skin care

By their very nature, skin conditions are highly visible and so lend themselves to virtual healthcare. Tele-dermatology – among doctors – has been around for many years. But that hasn't made it any easier for patients to see skin specialists; the wait in some places is measured in months.
 
In practice for 20 years, Dr. Mark Seraly, a McMurray-based dermatologist, figured there had to be a better way, that "the future would be direct patient-to-doctor. We have all the tools and the technology platforms."
 
Now his startup, Iagnosis  is doing just that, with a pioneering online dermatology care site, DermatologistOnCall
 
With a network of 10-plus board-certified dermatologists and growing, DermatologistOnCall makes it possible for patients to get a diagnosis, treatment plan, disease-specific information and even prescriptions within three business days. Clients can specify the doctor they want or be served first-come, first-served from a virtual waiting room. The $69 service, Seraly emphasizes, is private, safe, secure and confidential and even includes secure, follow-up messaging between doctor and patient for 30 days. 
 
Diagnoses are just as reliable, Seraly says, as with an in-office visit and the service, launched in 2012, has already caught many skin cancers and even melanomas.
 
Predicting that half of all skin care will be delivered through a virtual platform within 10 years, Seraly is actively ramping up to take the service national. DermatologistOnCall just added West Virginia as its second state after Pennsylvania and other states are green lit,  he says. The young company is actively marketing at medical events and meetings. And this summer it launched a mobile app developed by Newton Consulting  of Claysville. 
 
Iagnosis already employs 13 and Seraly expects to double the number of employees over the next year. 
 
Source: Dr. Mark Seraly, Iagnosis
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

With millions in new venture capital, Conshohocken's NextDocs poised for further growth

Conshohocken's NextDocs is in the money, with a new round of venture capital and funding commitments worth $13.5 million.
 
"Since its inception, NextDocs has primarily funded its operations and growth through revenue generation. Of course, this has only been possible because of the extremely strong reception our solutions have received in the market,"  CEO Zikria Syed said in a statement. "These additional equity investments and funding commitments will allow us to escalate the investment in our solutions, services and global organization – positioning the company to capture even greater market share."
 
NextDocs says that demand is rapidly expanding for its regulated content management solutions to the life sciences industry. Its research found that nearly 37% of life sciences companies have reported replacing or beginning to replace their legacy document management technologies in favor of regulated content management software and the trend is accelerating.
 
OpenView Venture Partners of Boston led the new funding round with participation by Eastward Capital and Bridgebank Capital.
 
OpenView was already NextDocs' largest investor and its first institutional investor, having provided a $10 million Series A round of investment in 2011. "We see NextDocs growing aggressively and becoming a much larger company over the next few years," said Firas Raouf of OpenView.
 
Founded in 2006, NextDocs today counts more than 100 life sciences companies among its clients, including five of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies and two of the largest clinical research organizations.
 
In a separate announcement, NextDocs also reported that it has been named as Microsoft's Life Sciences Partner of the Year for 2013, the fourth consecutive year it has received the award.
 
Source: NextDocs
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Penn State funds agricultural research with an eye to commercialization

Innovative and potentially marketable research projects to develop a new fertilizer, anti-bed bug pesticide, farm equipment and waste-to-fuel technology have received grants from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
 
The Research Applications for Innovation (RAIN) Grants aim to stimulate economic development through transfer of technologies to the marketplace, says Gary Thompson, associate dean for research and graduate education.
 
Nina Jenkins, a senior research associate in entomology, is leading a research group developing a biopesticide for long-term control and prevention of bed bug infestations. Jenkins has filed patent applications for the technology, which has garnered strong interest from the hotel industry. The grant will be used to collect data needed for eventual approval of the project for in-home use.
 
Corey Dillon and Agronomy Professor Greg Roth are working to commercialize "the Penn State Interseeder" developed by research technologist Chris Houser. The equipment  can seed a cover crop into no-till corn, while also applying fertilizer and post-emergent herbicide, saving growers time and money and making cover crops more economically feasible. 
 
Cover crops are gaining favor for their ability to reduce soil erosion, take up excess nutrients, suppress weeds and provide forage and biofuel feedstock.
The grant will be used to market the equipment for licensing to potential suppliers and manufacturers. 
 
Nicole Brown, associate professor of wood chemistry, is investigating a value-added use for lignin and silica-rich rice hull ash, which are wastes from bioenergy, and pulp and paper production. Brown's team has applied for a patent for technology that incorporates these low-value products into bricks that substitute for coke, the fuel source in the metal casting industry.
 
Industry trials have shown that these innovative solid-fuel bricks can reduce the energy and carbon dioxide footprints of steel and iron foundries by 20 to 25 percent, while providing additional value for several waste or low-value materials. 
 
Another team, led by Associate Professor Mary Ann Bruns, is studying cyanobacterial biofertilizers and will work with a company that plans to produce low-carbon liquid fuels by capturing carbon dioxide to grow cyanobacteria.
 
Source: Penn State
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Six startups share $740,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA

Six entrepreneurs, technology startups and small manufacturers are beneficiaries of  the latest investments announced by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA
 
FairTech Labs, located in State College and a graduate of the BF TechCelerator@State College, provides an online solution for personalized household inventory management.  Shelf Scouter effectively organizes, manages and purchases household goods and eliminates the inefficiencies associated with paper grocery lists.  
 
Also located in State College, Ascent Bio-Nano Technologies, a graduate of the BF TechCelerator@State College, has developed patented, low-cost flow cytometer cell sorters that analyze and sort without damaging the cells.
 
Arctic Blast Covers in Indiana has introduced a line of thermal covers that are designed to insulate and warm bank branch offices that maintain ATMs, cash drawers and night deposit slots.   
 
Located in York, UniSeal  has introduced FloorEverDri® into the global moisture mitigation and concrete curing market. UniSeal’s green, user-friendly product meets or exceeds all ASTM moisture and alkalinity testing standards and also acts as a primer for flooring adhesives.   
 
Netrepid  in Harrisburg, is an IT services company which is building on a nine-year legacy.  The BFTP investment helps complete a company restructure and will also be used to hire support and sales personnel. The company offers co-location, hosting and infrastructure management. 
 
Conduit Technology, housed in the Erie Technology Incubator on the campus of Gannon University, has developed and launched a cloud-based software product that automates the current manual, paper-based process used to collect medical device documentation required by insurance companies.  
 
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA
Writer: Elise Vider
 
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