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Philadelphia's Shenandoah Studio grows thanks to mobile gaming

On a Friday in 2010, Eric Lee Smith got his first iPad. By Monday, he was ready to quit his day job and launch a studio to develop mobile games.
 
Smith, along with Jeff Dougherty, Pat Ward and Nick Karp, founded Philadelphia's Shenandoah Studio in 2011. In 2012, Shenandoah launched "Battle of the Bulge." The game was an instant hit, both in terms of sales and critical reception, and remains a strong seller. "Drive on Moscow" followed in 2013.
 
Today, Shenandoah is located in Philadelphia's Good Company incubator, employs 13 and is preparing to launch a new game, "Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein," next month. "Gettysburg: The Tide Turns" is halfway through the development process; they hope to launch it by July, the 151st anniversary of the battle.
 
Smith comes from a long background in startups and game development, both old-fashioned board and electronic, and says that everyone at Shenandoah is a gamer.

"It’s a small market, but it’s kind of us," he says. "We know how to reach these people."

Besides the games it has developed, Shenandoah has another 12 games in its portfolio as a publisher.
 
Demand for mobile gaming continues to explode. The challenge is keeping up with constant change, a situation Smith compares to the early days of the Internet itself. Shenandoah specializes in so-called turn-based games, as opposed to real-time games where the action never stops.

"Real time games focus on tactics, coordination and skill," he explains. "Turn-based games focus on strategy. You have time to think and play. And you can play without being on the clock or online."
 
All of Shenandoah's games so far are for Apple products, but the company is planning to expand to other platforms. Smith also hopes to expand to three development teams by the end of the year, adding another five positions, and to follow up with a fourth team, essentially doubling the size of the company.
 
Source: Eric Lee Smith, Shenandoah Studio

Writer: Elise Vider
 

Allentown's Gonzo Pockets offers modern material for an ancient sport

Lacrosse, an ancient game, is getting a high-tech boost from a specialized material developed by a pair of LAX-playing brothers in Allentown, Pa. The sport is a fast-growing phenomenon with ancient origins, tracing back to Native American culture; some accounts date it back as far as 1100 AD. 
 
Lou and Desi Gonzalez founded Gonzo Pockets in 2013. Their Gonzo Mesh, which makes it easier to string lacrosse sticks and overcome the inconsistencies created by weather, is sold at more than 100 specialty shops across the United States and Canada. 
 
"We collected a lot of feedback from people," says Lou. "Changes in the weather, such as what happens when the mesh is wet, what happens when the weather is really hot and dry, affect the accuracy of the player's throws. We invented a product that takes away all of that. It gives you the consistency you want regardless of conditions."
 
The Gonzalez brothers were high school and collegiate lacrosse stars and Lou represented Spain in the World Games in 2006. Lou founded the Lehigh Valley Skyhawks Academy where the brothers provide coaching, training and development for youth lacrosse.  
 
Gonzo Pockets is a tenant at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center (the incubator was recently profiled in Keystone Edge). The young company has already generated $150,000 in revenue over an eight-month period. Gonzo partner Tom Schmitt estimates that they should reach the $400,000-to-$450,000 range over the next year or so, based on demand and current performance.
 
"We expect to be able to help Gonzo Pockets think through the process of adding additional products to their offerings over the next few years that will help them continue along a strong growth path," says Anthony Durante, economic development specialist for the Allentown Economic Development Corporation.
 
Source: Anthony Durante, AEDC
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Bigger and better Pittsburgh Public Market reopens

Pittsburgh significantly upped its creative city cred last week with the official re-opening of the Pittsburgh Public Market
 
Pittsburgh had been without a public market house since 1965 when the last one was demolished. In 2003, Neighbors in the Strip began planning for a new indoor year-round market in the city's historic market district, The Strip.
 
The new market supports local businesses by allowing them to thrive without the high overhead of a traditional storefront.

"The idea behind the market is to give food-based entrepreneurs the opportunity to focus on building their businesses," says market manager Tiffani Emig. "We envision it as a third space away from work and home where people can feel comfortable hanging out -- a place for education, a place for social interaction."
 
The market opened in 2010 in a smaller, temporary location. It had a "soft opening" in October at its new 25,000-square-foot home, a vacant telecom equipment building that was re-purposed by the city's Indovina Associates. Emig estimates the capital investment at $1.2 million.
 
The new facility hosts 20 small businesses, mostly food based; many of them do their food preparation on-site. Eliza’s Oven, for example, is a full-scale bakery operating out of only 100 square feet. Work on the project continues, with a shared-use commercial kitchen scheduled to open by summer, and more signage and streetscape improvements on the way.
 
The Pittsburgh Public Market is a non-profit entity under the auspices of Neighbors in the Strip, a non-profit organization established in 1999 to promote economic development opportunities while preserving the personality, integrity and character of the Strip, a one-time shantytown and wholesale produce market northeast of downtown.
 
Source: Tiffani Emig, Pittsburgh Public Market
Writer: Elise Vider
 

CMU seniors launch Fabricate.IO with an array of inventions and ingenuity

With the realization that a traditional 40-hour work week can quash creativity -- and that inventors aren't always the best businesspeople -- two Carnegie Mellon seniors have created Fabricate.IO Invention Studio. It's part start-up (though just now being incorporated), part business incubator, part co-working space, part hackathon and all imagination.
 
With what co-founder Todd Medema calls "a bunch of wildly different products" in various stages of development and commercialization, Fabricate "finds these individual inventors, brings them on board and mashes together all these different skill sets."
 
The promising products include:
 
* The World View Clock, says Medema, is "an artistic yet functional item" that shows photographs of locations (Grand Teton National Park, Austin Texas and Pittsburgh to date) that match current time, then change slowly to mark time's passage. Fabricate sells a clock for $299 and has developed an app for Android (1,000 downloaded) and now for Apple.
 
* Litmus, a b-to-b service launched this week, crowdsources market research. Starting at $25 for a single test, users can upload marketing pitches and materials for polling and results from Litmus.
 
* Runner Lighting is motion-activated floor lighting invented by Medema's roommate and co-founder Scott Martin. The pair plans a Kickstarter campaign to fund production.
 
* Sendery, built during a hackathon event, is a free, seamless, ultra-fast file-sharing service.
 
* Bagpipe is a guide to building your own, well, bagpipes. If it looks like PVC pipe and duct tape, that's what it is. Martin is a bagpiper and real bagpipes can cost thousands. Fabricate posted free DIY instructions.
 
* Minecraft Lamp is another DIY project with free instructions.
 
Medema says he and Martin plan to stay and grow Fabricate in Pittsburgh. "We have strong roots at Carnegie Mellon," he says. "Pittsburgh is a great place to find new talent and promote new products."
 
Source: Todd Medema, Fabricate.IO
Writer: Elise Vider
 

BFTP/SEP and NextFab partner to help advanced manufacturing startups

For an emerging manufacturer on the road to commercialization, developing a product prototype can be an expensive speed bump. Now, under a new partnership, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA (BFTP/SEP) will match up to $5,000 to provide startups access to facilities, equipment and services at NextFab Studio.
 
NextFab, which bills itself as a "gym for innovators," offers cutting-edge hardware and software tools, technical training, consulting and, most recently, incubator services. Its 21,000-square-foot space in Philadelphia houses a wet lab, 3-D printers and scanners, laser engravers and cutters, and electronics, wood and metal shops.  
 
Evan Malone, NextFab’s founder and president, says that while $10,000 is not usually enough to fully fund the prototyping process, it enables emerging manufacturers to refine or make incremental progress. 
 
The first startup benefiting from the collaboration is Biomeme, a maker of mobile systems for advanced DNA diagnostics and one of five nascent companies in residence at NextFab. The funding will enable Biomeme to use NextFab’s 3-D printers, robotic circuit board assembly technology and computer-numerical-control machine tools to refine their design and begin pilot manufacturing. 
 
Companies don’t need to be NextFab members to apply. The focus is on medical technologies, alternative energy and new consumer products. According to Malone, this program should "help the Philadelphia region and the Commonwealth become even more attractive as a destination for the brightest young entrepreneurs."
 
Source: Evan Malone, NextFab Studio
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Taffy Activewear joins Reading's Jump Start Incubator

While working as a trainer at a Philadelphia gym, Katie Kozloff Banks was struck by how frustrating it was for her female clients sized 12-and-up to find stylish, comfortable and flattering activewear. 
 
She knew the market potential was huge. According to a recent piece in the Washington Post, plus-size fashion is one of the fastest-growing segments of the apparel industry with over $17 billion spent in 2012.
 
In 2010, Banks launched Taffy Activewear, exclusively for women sizes 14 to 24.  

"The concept is simple," she says. "When you feel good about how you look, you work out harder. Our mission is to help plus-size women feel confident about the way they look in activewear. Whatever their goal, curvy women can look stylish and attractive as they lead healthier, more active lives."
 
Banks works with contract designers to create products that meet her specifications; the garments are manufactured in China. With a national team of sales representatives and a contract fulfillment center in Pennsylvania, Taffy’s sales have nearly doubled every year. The clothes are sold at national retailers including Burlington Coat Factory, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. Sales via Amazon are imminent.
 
Now Banks is launching a companion line, Katie K Active, with an extended size range (small through 24) aimed at a higher-end market. Online pre-sales will start next month and Katie K will be available starting in March at specialty retailers, boutiques, yoga studios and department stores, including Canyon Ranch resorts. 
 
Banks recently moved her company into the Jump Start Incubator in Reading. For now, she is a company of one, but her goal is to build a location where she can have in-house design, sales, warehousing and shipping under one roof. 
 
Source: Katie Kozloff Banks, Taffy Activewear/Katie K Active
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 

Going Electric: Tesla powers up in Pennsylvania

Tesla, maker of super high-end electric cars (base price $70,000), has powered up in Pennsylvania with a new King of Prussia store and a "supercharger" station off the PA turnpike.
 
The charging station at Somerset, which opened a few weeks ago, is part of Tesla's efforts to provide its drivers with a jolt of electricity along well-traveled corridors, enabling them to travel long distances for free. (Teslas can go about 300 miles on a single charge.) According to spokesperson Alexis Georgeson, Tesla chose Somerset to service travel between Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. 
 
With about 65 superchargers nationwide, Tesla is nearing its goal of enabling travel from Boston to Miami and coast to coast. 
 
Tesla's store at the King of Prussia Mall (which opened in June) exemplifies the car maker’s retail concept which is as revolutionary as the automobiles themselves. Think more Apple Store -- Tesla's nextdoor neighbor at the mall -- than Buick dealership.
 
Tesla chooses its retail sites -- 80 so far, with 24 coming soon -- based on foot not automotive traffic. In lieu of a freestanding building on a busy suburban roadway featuring a giant lot, Tesla opts for small (about 3,000 square feet) storefronts packed with interactive touchscreens. The goal, says Georgeson, is to create a no-pressure environment where prospective buyers can hang out, become educated about electric driving and create their own model with the features and functionality they want. 
 
Every Tesla is built to order so there is no need for a vast lot filled with inventory. Tesla maintains a few vehicles in the King of Prussia parking lot for test drives.
 
Tesla sold about 22,000 cars in 2013. Georgeson won’t reveal exact sales data for the King of Prussia store, but says the location is a "testament to the strength of that market."
 
Source: Alexis Georgeson, Tesla Motors
Writer: Elise Vider


Pittsburgh’s GiftCards.com is growing by spreading cheer

For Jason Wolfe, it’s all about gifting. He recalls a Christmas in 1977 when his family, on welfare and with no heat, heard a knock at the door and found a box of gifts left by strangers. Soon after, Wolfe starting attending the Milton Hershey School, founded in 1909 for orphaned boys. “As I’ve been given gifts, I want to gift back,” he says.
 
Today, as CEO and founder of Pittsburgh’s GiftCards.com, Wolfe has sold 5.5 million gift cards. This is the busiest time of year, and Wolfe reckons GiftCards.com will finish 2013 with 1.5 million in sales; 2012 closed with one million cards sold.
 
Wolfe founded his company in 1999 and through a circuitous route, launched GiftCards.com in its present form in 2008. “An online rack for gift cards,” GiftCards.com offers Visa, MasterCard and Discover gift cards, national and local brands. Buyers can upload photos, add personalized messages and choose from thousands of designs to craft unique gift cards. The consumer pays $3.95 for the gift card and a greeting card; the merchants pay a back end percentage.
 
GiftCards.com does it own printing and manufacturing, operates offices and a fulfillment center and employs about 100 in Pittsburgh. 
 
Looking to 2014, the company is in the final stages of an acquisition that will likely add up to 20 more employees, in Pittsburgh and out-of-state. (Earlier this year, GiftCards.com acquired San Francisco-based mobile gift app, Giftly.)
 
Through GiftYa, a spinoff company, Wolfe is developing a digital, mobile gift card app. And GiftCards.com is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University on fraud prevention and on developing online bidding auctions for unwanted gift cards.
 
But Wolfe’s primary New Year’s resolution is to continue to build gift card offerings.  “We want to be to gift cards what hotels.com is to hotels or cars.com to cars,” he says. “We want [our customers] to find gift cards for any merchant, anywhere.”

Source: Jason Wolfe, GiftCards.com
Writer: Elise Vider

Philly's new Creative Café @ Replica serves coffee and print

Need a cup of coffee and 500 postcards printed fast? Yearning for a pastry and wedding invitations? 
 
Philadelphia’s brand-new Creative Café @ Replica is part café, part lounge, part print shop and part co-work space. Owner Keith Leaphart describes it as a mash up of Kinkos and Starbucks, -- only much better, he is quick to add.
 
Replica was founded in 1979 as a small, black-and-white copy shop. The printing industry has changed dramatically since then, notably with the emergence of superfast, digital, color printing. Leaphart acquired Replica four years ago and has been pushing innovation, both in print technology and the manner of doing business, ever since. 
 
“We don’t want to be transactional,” he says. “We want to be relationship driven and what better way to get to know a client than over a cup of coffee.”
 
The café opened earlier this month on the first floor of the University City Science Center, giving Replica a high-visibility retail presence at a location rife with innovators and early-adopter types. Daily walk-in traffic, which might average 18-20 customers a day at a typical print shop, is instead up to 200 or more.
 
Leaphart views the café as a pilot and hopes to expand the concept locally and eventually nationally, possibly using a franchise model. Replica currently employs 18, at its new location and in Center City, where it maintains a retail shop and printing plant. 
 
The mayor’s office has twice recognized the company, in 2005 and 2011, as one of Philadelphia’s best small businesses.
 
Source: Keith Leaphart, Replica Creative
Writer: Elise Vider
 

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

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

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

Rainwear, pure air, advanced batteries and more: Innovative companies receive Ben Franklin $$$

Makers of green electrical generators, hospital air purification systems, rainproof materials and advanced batteries are among the innovative companies that have received a total of almost $325,000 in new investments from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania
 
Four early-stage companies received loans. They are:
 
EthosGen LLC in Wilkes-Barre received $115,000 to continue commercialization efforts for its proprietary on-site, alternative-energy, waste-heat-to-electrical-power generator that produces electricity from sustainable and renewable sources. 
 
LifeAire Systems, LLC  of Allentown got $40,000 to conduct a series of test programs to validate the effectiveness of its air purification technology in a hospital setting, and expand marketing efforts for selling the units to in vitro fertilization laboratories. 
 
Map Decisions, a resident at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem, received $13,200 to identify resources for marketing and sales support to help commercialize its field information management software system. Map Decisions’ software platform replaces outdated methods of data collection such as paper forms, cameras, video, spreadsheets and hard-to-use, expensive professional GPS units.
 
Zero Rain, LLC in Mildred received $50,000 to begin operations to apply a new, proprietary chemical to natural fabrics and finished apparel that makes them water-repellant and resistant to stains and odors. The treatment works on all natural fabrics, including cotton, silk, wool, and cashmere. 
 
In addition, these established manufacturers were awarded 1:1 matching funding for work with a college or university partner on technology-based manufacturing innovation:
 
Alpha Packaging of Bethlehem, a maker of plastic bottles and jars primarily for the nutritional, pharmaceutical, personal care, housewares, consumer chemical and food and beverage markets, was awarded $48,000?to work with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center to implement practices and install equipment to reduce its energy consumption by 20%.

East Penn Manufacturing Company in Lyon Station received $48,000 to develop a complete analysis of front-end considerations in support of the company’s new advanced battery products. Partnering with The Emerging Technologies Application Center at Northampton Community College, East Penn, the largest manufacturing employer in Berks County, will address packaging, transport, storage, safety and precautions in materials handling.
 
Precise Graphix of Emmaus, a designer, fabricator, and installer of interior décor, signage and store fixtures, was awarded $10,300 to work with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center to improve its production layout and optimize its job cost analysis process. The analysis will lead to more effective scheduling utilization and increased profitability, as well as an improved layout of the manufacturing operations to streamline process flow.
 
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Erie's reCAP shakes up some growth

Making her homemade salad dressing requires a whole lot of shaking and Karen Rzepecki had had it with leaky Mason jar lids. So she went online to buy some leak-proof, shake-and-pour caps. "That," she says, "was my aha moment. I couldn't believe it didn't exist."
 
With an already-instilled entrepreneurial spirit and small-business experience, she quickly saw the business potential. "I wanted it for myself, but I immediately saw the commercial opportunities," she says.
 
Rzepecki entered and won the 2011 Innovation Erie Design Competition. Using those funds, along with a successful Kickstarter campaign, she commissioned a designer and a tool-and-dye maker (a neighbor) to create molds for two standard-sized Mason jars and found a contract manufacturer, Erie Molded Plastics, to make the lids of BPA-free plastic. reCAP Mason Jars was launched.
 
Since then, Rzepecki reports, sales are up 200%. reCAP started selling on Amazon last September; by the end of the year it was among the online retailer's top 25% sellers.
 
The young company recently won $10,000 as a winner of the BIG IDEA business plan contest, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA
 
Rzepecki plans to continue building her successful e-commerce platform, but is also moving into sales in bricks-and-mortar retailers. The product is already available at some hardware and general stores.
 
And she is relocating what till now has been a home-based business to the Erie Technology Incubator and expects to upgrade her four part-timers to full-time within six months. 
 
Source: Karen Rzepecki, reCAP Mason Jars
Writer: Elise Vider

From backyard to backcountry: Lewisburg’s Vargo introduces new backpacking grill

 
Next time you feel the urge to head into the wilderness,  pack a grill – not the propane-powered monster in your backyard, but an ultralight, folding grill, a new product by Lewisurg’s Vargo Outdoor Products
 
The Fire Box Grill is a spinoff of Vargo’s most popular item, the Hexagon Wood Stove, and like all of Vargo’s products -- stoves, pots, mugs, campware, water bottles, and lifestyle products -- it is made of titanium, which is light, strong and durable.  Brian Vargo, the company’s founder, says his line of gear is not mass market, but rather serves a niche market of serious outdoors people. “They are designed and intended for people who are into backpacking and hiking and recognize the value of products that weigh practically nothing,” he says.
 
The new grill weights only 4.1 ounces, folds up to a compact eight-by-4.25-inches and safely burns any type of biomass fuel. “We wanted to create a product for those who wanted to cook over an open fire without weighing down their pack, taking up much space or charring the Earth,” says Vargo.
 
Vargo, who founded the company in 2002 in his garage, designs the products and the company owns the molds; the line is manufactured in China. The gear is sold worldwide and Vargo reports that sales, currently at about $1 million, have doubled every three years.
 
Vargo is “pretty aggressively adding new products,” he says, with three in the works for launch within a year. The company has two full time and two part time employees and he foresees adding more part timers as sales continue to grow.
 
Source: Brian Vargo, Vargo Outdoor Products
Writer: Elise Vider

TekRidge in Jessup joins ranks of PA tech incubators

The Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Company (SLIBCO) cut the ribbon earlier this month at the state's newest technology incubator, the $8.3 million TekRidge Center, located at the Jessup Small Business Center.
 
The new facility will house technology-related companies and provide incubator space to startup and expanding small business ventures in northeastern Pennsylvania.
 
Bedrock Technology, an IT consulting firm, is the first signed tenant and SLIBCO is in negotiations with a biotech company, says Kathryn McDermott of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. Altogether, the 45,000-square-foot building can house 11 startups in its incubator space and up to eight anchor tenants.
 
"TekRidge Center is a testament to our commitment to investing in projects that support and foster entrepreneurism," said SLIBCO vice president Andy Skrip in a statement.
 
Besides locating to the brand-new, glass-and-steel building, designed by Hemmler & Camayd of Scranton, tenants are eligible for Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone (KOEZ) and Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) tax benefits through 2020, McDermott says.
 
Source: Kathryn McDermott, Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Elise Vider
 

TechVentures2 in Bethlehem scores LEED Gold certification

With its emphasis on technological innovation, it seems most fitting that Ben Franklin TechVentures 2, the 2011 expansion of the business technology incubator/post incubator, has won a coveted gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED provides third-party verification of sustainability in building design, construction and operation.
 
The $17 million, 47,000-square-foot building expansion, located on the Lehigh University campus in Bethlehem, saves 28% more energy than is required by building code, says Christa Duelberg-Kraftician of Spillman Farmer Architects of Bethlehem. Among its green features: recycled building and interior materials, solar panels, day lit rooms and a system of glazing and shades to augment heating and cooling. Coopersburg-based Lutron Electronics supplied the photovoltaic solar array on the rooftop and other energy-management and light-harvesting technologies in the building.
 
The goal, the architect says, was to boost productivity and comfort by creating a healthy work environment for the startups housed at the expansion, which includes offices, wet labs and meeting rooms.
 
“Ben Franklin TechVentures combines award-winning, technology-based business incubation with energy conservation and environmental design,” says R. Chadwick Paul, Jr., president and CEO of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which owns and operates TechVentures. “We are delighted that our job creation factory is now a LEED Gold-recognized model of green building.”
 
Sources: Christa Duelberg-Kraftician, Frederick Allerton, Christie Jephson, Spillman Farmer Architects; R. Chadwick Paul, BFTP/NEP

Writer: Elise Vider
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