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Hershey's Simulation Systems uses virtual reality to train microsurgeons

Just as pilots train on flight simulators before taking control of a real aircraft, doctors who perform delicate microsurgery require a training tool that allows them to learn and practice complex techniques without risking harm to patients or animals.

Simulation Systems is developing just such a tool: a simulator that uses virtual reality for microsurgical training.

The company’s device "combines proprietary computer hardware and software to enable virtual microsurgical suturing," explains CEO Brian Smith. "Highly specialized input devices that look, feel and respond like actual microsurgical forceps are used to control virtual forceps in a simulated three-dimensional environment. The virtual forceps can be used, as in real microsurgery, to tie surgical knots. Ultimately, the simulation will allow the user to pass sutures through simulated anatomy in order to practice closing wounds with realistic complexity."

Company founder Dr. Joseph Sassani, an eye surgeon and professor of ophthalmology at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, began research on the simulator five years ago. Simulation Systems was spun out of Penn State in 2013 after winning the TechCelerator @ Hershey Boot Camp  for promising entrepreneurs. The company, located at the Hershey Center for Applied Research, has since received two rounds of investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania. 

Microsurgery is performed on the smallest and most delicate anatomy, such as blood vessels, nerves and structures of the eye.

"As with any fine motor activity, acquiring and retaining mastery requires frequent repetition, and this is where our simulator will have an immediate impact," says Smith.

Virtual reality microsurgical training will also be time and cost effective, and ethically responsible, eliminating the need for lab animals. And it will provide quantifiable data, such as hand motion analysis, to guide assessment of a trainee's skill level.

The company's current focus is on developing and implementing the physics required to simulate suturing interactions.

"At this point we have a functional prototype," explains Smith, "and we are improving the integration between software and hardware components." 

To date, most of Simulation Systems’ product development has been outsourced. Now the company is preparing to establish both its own software engineering team and a clinical advisory board, helping them establish the quantitative metrics that will be most valuable for skills assessment and validation in preparation for a mid-2016 launch.

Source: Brian Smith, Simulation Systems
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Philly's Curbside Care aims to be the Uber of healthcare

Philadelphia’s Curbside Care has combined an old idea -- doctor house calls -- and a new one -- the Uber model -- to create technology that allows patients to schedule healthcare services when and where they want them.

Inspiration for Curbside Care came to co-founder Scott Ames when he was away from home and experienced a costly and time-consuming visit to an urgent care center. He and Grant Mitchell started the company based on the premise that "there are people out there who don't want to travel, who don't want to wait, and who appreciate transparent pricing," explains Mitchell. 

Located at the Digital Health Accelerator at the University City Science Center, Curbside Care is developing a tech platform and mobile app that allows patients to schedule house (or office or hotel) calls. Using HIPAA compliant, geolocation-based technology, medical practitioners confirm appointments and travel to deliver care, all in real time. 

"It is a bit ironic that advancement in technology is now allowing medicine to be practiced in a way that it was years ago," muses Mitchell. "But developments in technology and logistics allows for house calls to actually be cost effective. On-demand care will come in many forms in the near future, and Curbside Care's particular version addresses the need for a practitioner's physical presence. Interestingly, the home is often the best place to provide quality care as the patient can be treated in their most relevant context."

Curbside Care says its market is technology-enabled consumers, in particular working professionals, young parents and corporations seeking to add attractive employee benefits. On the provider side, the target is shift-based physicians and nurse practitioners who are seeking to supplement their income.

Curbside Care currently has a working, web-based product and is completing its mobile app. The company, which is actively fundraising, is also in discussions with several large hospital systems to utilize their practitioner bases for immediate scale. 

Source: Grant Mitchell, Curbside Care
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Tourism blooms in Southwest Pennsylvania thanks to support from The Progress Fund

As rural southwestern Pennsylvania lost manufacturing jobs in the 1990s, community leaders turned to tourism as a potential economic driver. But access to capital was a major roadblock for the region’s fledgling tourism sector, recalls David Kahley, CEO of The Progress Fund
   
"If we wanted to grow the industry, we needed to start our own bank to fund a new wave of rural-based tourism businesses," he recalls. "In 1997, Karen Post, the other co-founder, and I started The Progress Fund to make those loans. In essence, we took on the mission to grow this industry one business at a time."
   
Since then, The Progress Fund, based in Greensburg, has made 455 loans totaling $56.5 million to 276 small businesses including restaurants, outdoor outfitters, campgrounds, B&Bs, farms, wineries and distilleries. The Fund has also expanded its mission to support local food producers, trails and related real estate initiatives in order to maximize tourism opportunities. 
   
For example, when the Great Allegheny Passage was being built, bicycle tourists were finding and riding it, but visitation was restrained by the lack of high-quality services along the trail. In surveys, riders asked for more B&Bs and inns, restaurants, bike and retail shops.

"Without more of these businesses, the region was losing opportunity," explains Kahley. "So, 10 years ago, we made the trail towns along the Passage a priority. We continue to try to help any entrepreneur that wants to serve this still growing market. We also work to make the towns and trailheads more rider-friendly. We’ve improved directional and business signs, and have purchased and are redeveloping multiple properties that were eyesores at key locations."
   
"The tourism opportunities we saw years ago are still growing," he adds. "We will stay our course and grow so we have resources available for businesses that will take advantage of future opportunities. As for new focus areas, trail groups are working on a new regional network of 1,600 miles of recreational trails running through hundreds of small communities. Think of all those business opportunities and the real estate that needs to be redeveloped to support that growth. We are."
   
Source: David Kahley, The Progress Fund
Writer: Elise Vider
   

'Temple Ventures - Powered by Ben Franklin' is new tech accelerator for Philly-area startups

Temple University and Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) have launched a new initiative to spur technological innovation and entrepreneurship in Greater Philadelphia.

Each partner has contributed $500,000 to Temple Ventures – Powered by Ben Franklin for investment in projects generated from Temple’s discoveries in advanced technologies. Ben Franklin will manage the fund, and provide mentoring and access to networks to assist those early-stage ventures.

"For an inventor in a university, it’s critical to find the right partnership to bring his or her ideas into successful businesses," said Temple Provost Hai-Lung Dai in a statement. "Ben Franklin is an effective venture partner that provides not only investment expertise, but mentorship and strategic advice that can enable technologies developed at Temple to benefit society at large."

Over the past five years, Temple has created 13 startup companies to assist in developing university-created technologies for the marketplace. The university is expecting to significantly increase that number with the help of Temple Ventures.

The collaboration features three main components: a joint Temple/Ben Franklin Seed Fund for prototype and startup funding; new business launch resources to support the formation of the new Temple-created technology ventures; and incubation services including workspace, professional resources, and management and commercialization guidance.

The $1 million commitment is for the initial pilot, the partners say, with intent to commit an additional $1 million annually for up to five years. Temple’s contribution to the initiative will be comprised of royalty revenues obtained from the previous licensing of Temple-created technologies.

Impetus for the initiative comes from a recent report by the region’s CEO Council for Growth that urged a collaborative approach to advocacy and funding of early-stage tech firms.

Source: Temple University and BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

Father/daughter company Upper Desk wins acclaim for innovative smart device mounts

A Hughesville father-and-daughter entrepreneurial team is racking up awards for their line of innovative mounts for smart devices.

Roderick Phillips, an electrician by trade and life-long inventor, and his daughter Stephanie Phillips Taggart launched Upper Desk in 2013. Their first product, a portable cabinet mount, won the first place gold award for new product innovation at the 2014 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, was a finalist at the 2014 International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, and won the new product development award from the Bucknell University Small Business Development Center.

"We have been told that it is very rare for a startup company to receive awards when competing with major, established companies," says Phillips Taggart.

The motivation for the company came from wife-and-mother Debra Phillips who urged her husband to keep inventing before she died six years ago. Phillips’ inspiration was the realization that kitchen cabinets would be a perfect mounting surface if he wanted to use his computer while standing up. The company says its solutions improve ergonomics, provide a safe, study place for devices, reduce the risk of spills, and optimize the use of technology.

The ingenious mount, adds Phillips Taggart, "frees up valuable countertop space while allowing access to the cabinet. It’s perfect for Skyping, researching online recipes or streaming movies in the kitchen." Its quick clamp mechanism allows it to be easily installed or removed without tools and without marring surfaces. Besides home use, the company sees potential applications in medical, dental and industrial settings.

Based on the success of the portable cabinet mount, Upper Desk recently launched a second product, a portable table mount that secures a smart device to a desk, workbench, kitchen island or table.

Both products are made in China, says Phillips Taggart.

"We tried to manufacture in the U.S.," she explains. "However, based on U.S. manufacturing costs, it would have been impossible for a startup to remain competitive in the marketplace."

Upper Desk continues to promote itself at large trade shows; this week the team will appear in Las Vegas. And the company has several new ideas in development. 

Upper Desk products are available online through the company's own website, Amazon and other e-retailers and at select Walmart locations in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, South Carolina, Michigan and Illinois.  

Source: Stephanie Phillips Taggart, Upper Desk
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Go Green IT, and their young CEO, build mobile platform for human services sector

Only in his early 20s, Nick Mudgett is already a serial entrepreneur. Now the Shippensburg University student is running Littlestown's Go Green IT, developer of a mobile-based platform for human services that boosts efficiency and eliminates paper.

"My father owns a human service company and came to me, knowing my programming experience, and expressed the need for a platform like the one I developed," recalls Mudgett.

Mudgett worked with the Small Business Development Center at Shippensburg to establish the company in July 2013. Go Green IT quickly got traction from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania, winning first-place for its business plan at BFTP’s TechCelerator Boot Camp in Carlisle, and, four months later, winning a $25,000 cash prize and other spoils as winner of Ben Franklin's BIG IDEA contest

Go Green IT’s platform is intended to replace paper-based systems, which are notoriously cumbersome and often lead to billing errors, lost documentation and a high level of employee frustration.

"Our product specifically accommodates human services agencies by providing an HIPPA compliant electronic filing system and data analyzing system that automatically interfaces with state billing systems and payroll companies," explains Mudgett.

A first beta test with Focus Behavioral Health reduced over 80 percent of payroll and billing errors and cut administrative costs by eight percent. A new version of the platform, dubbed "Reliable 0.5," will be tested starting this month with two users who Mudgett expects to purchase the platform. His goal is to have 15 to 20 customers by year’s end.

Looking further ahead, he plans "to continue growing the current platform throughout the state and generate revenue. I hope to expand the platform to other fields within three years."

Source: Nick Mudgett, Go Green IT, Shippensburg University SBDC, BFTP-CNP
Writer: Elise Vider

Game On: Three PA schools collaborating on interactive media consortium

Harrisburg University of Science & Technology, Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and Drexel University in Philadelphia are establishing the PA Interactive Media Consortium, with the goal of growing the high-tech sector of digital entertainment and video gaming. 

The consortium is funded by a $750,000 Discovered in PA – Developed in PA state grant to Harrisburg University.

All three schools are known for their interactive media and gaming programs. Harrisburg has its Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies (CAELT), Drexel its Entrepreneurial Game Studio, and Carnegie Mellon its Integrative Design, Arts & Technology Network.  

The consortium will unite various stakeholders around a strategic marketing and recruitment campaign promoting Pennsylvania to interactive media companies and potential entrepreneurs. It will also enable the universities to expand education, applied research and entrepreneurship programs. Each school will employ unique strategies including awarding of micro-grants to startups, employing a gamer in residence and improving startup mentoring.

According to Charles Palmer, Harrisburg’s CAELT director, the consortium’s mission "is to build a community of higher education partners and interactive development firms which will focus on the cultural, scientific and economic importance of digital media across the Commonwealth. By creating robust mentoring networks we will assist in the incubation of new companies grown from Pennsylvania’s rich pool of talented innovators."

At Drexel in Philadelphia, "this grant will help the Entrepreneurial Game Studio fulfill its mission of being a place where students can take risks as game developers and as entrepreneurs,” adds Professor Frank Lee.

Source: PA Department of Community & Economic Development; Drexel University
Writer: Elise Vider

Health care tech startups and cancer drug developer come to Philadelphia incubator

Two health care IT companies and a biotech startup are the newest members of the entrepreneurial community at the University City Science Center’s Port business incubator. 

Denovo Health (de novo is Latin for a new beginning) is an engagement platform targeting chronic diseases that have a high annual cost per patient and where even marginal improvements in patient engagement drive significant health and financial benefits.

According to their website, the company incorporates "design thinking with behavioral psychology and [uses] advanced technologies to make prescribed activity easy, enjoyable and rewarding." Using mobile apps, digital and physical world interactions and behavioral change tactics, Denovo’s products target glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes, assisting users with tracking their medication, monitoring their condition and communicating with care providers. Competitive game dynamics, rewards and social reinforcement are incorporated to boost compliance. 

Smart Activities of Daily Living (Smart ADL) is developing a digital health technology called Smart Cup that enables patients and clinicians to unobtrusively record and monitor fluid intake for effective clinical and self-care management.
 
Oncoceutics, Inc. is a drug discovery and development company targeting the most potent natural suppressor pathways in human cancer. The company’s lead compound is ONC201, a novel small molecule that promises strong anti-cancer activity in the most challenging indications in oncology. 

Oncoceutics' application to initiate clinical trials with ONC201 was accepted by the FDA in February 2014 and a series of clinical studies at leading cancer centers is being activated. Oncoceutics has development ties with Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania.
 
Source: University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

New Malvern marker space aims to develop novel products using plasma and 3D printing technologies

Malvern's AmpTech Makerspace is preparing to open its doors. The plan is to focus on high-tech product development using plasma and 3D printing technologies.

"Collaborative work environments like the AmpTech Makerspace are proving to be highly productive environments for doing business in the high-tech world," says Michael Antonucci, managing partner of the 3D Printing Alliance, a sponsor. "AmpTech adds a twist -- this one involves the use of plasma and 3D printing technologies used together."

AmpTech’s primary sponsor is Advanced Plasma Solutions (APS), which specializes in non-thermal plasma technology to create products and solutions for a variety of applications. When paired with 3D printing, the two advanced manufacturing technologies have potential in a wide array of applications, including health care and medicine, energy and power, and environmental controls, says AmpTech’s organizers.

The 20,000-square-foot space at APS' headquarters houses offices, collaborative workspace, laboratories and a machine shop. AmpTech offers education, training and a wide range of support for R&D, prototyping, testing, business operations and ultimately, product commercialization. Equipment includes plasma power supplies, plasmatrons, 3D printers and plasma cutters.

Antonucci says that AmpTech is unique as "the only non academic environment where you can get access to plasma expertise, plasma devices, labs, equipment and a variety of projects ready for being commercialized.

"Amptech has hundreds of industry-focused solutions and product ideas that are well researched and represent truly game-changing new product ideas," he adds. "Most maker spaces or incubators allow you to experiment with your own ideas but AmpTech brings years of research, some patents and expertise, that together with your industry domain knowledge represent amazing possibilities."

AmpTech will also offer programming and workshops for schools and businesses, and will service as a "great place for…internal engineers, high-tech internships and vo-tech classes as well," explains Antonucci. 

Antonucci anticipates that AmpTech could run about 50 projects simultaneously; they are actively seeking investors and sponsors.

Source: Michael Antonucci, 3D Printing Alliance
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Startup Santa: BFTP-SEP brings $2.8M to 16 companies

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, aka "Startup Santa," is closing 2014 with $2.8 million in investments to 16 companies. The largest dollar share, $1.5 million, is allocated to the life sciences sector; $925,000 is going to IT companies and $400,000 to the physical sciences.

Advent Therapeutics in Bucks County focuses on providing therapies for micro-orphan applications. The company is currently working on its first product, which will address a serious disorder in newborn infants in the ICU.
 
AlphaPoint is the leading exchange technology platform provider to support digital currencies. Working with some of the top Bitcoin and altcoin exchanges in the world, AlphaPoint’s platform is faster than traditional digital currency exchanges with the ability to process nearly one million transactions per second. The company has offices in Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco.
 
Philadelphia’s Edify Investment Technologies has the potential to radically alter how typical new home construction is built, marketed and financed. Edify’s software shifts the financing responsibility of purchasing land and constructing homes from the land developer to the home buyer in exchange for a discount on the home’s purchase price, offering significant advantages for all parties within the transaction.

Montgomery County’s Core Solutions is transforming the health and human services experience by improving the provider, client and payer relationship. Its technology has the ability to simplify the end-to-end behavioral health experience, deliver integrated care coordination, improve consumer engagement and streamline accurate provider reimbursement.

Fischer Block in Montgomery County is at the forefront of the Industrial Internet, bringing an unprecedented value proposition to the electrical power industry. With a unique solution to embed millions of advanced high-speed sensors throughout the electrical grid, this widely deployed platform will become the industry standard for applying data analytics and predictive analysis techniques, and will improve energy reliability and prevent power outages at a fraction of the cost of traditional alternatives.

In Philadelphia, Infarct Reduction Technologies is developing a device, the LifeCuff, to deliver an ischemic pre-conditioning protocol. Ischemic preconditioning has been found to improve outcomes in heart attack, stroke, sepsis and other conditions. Currently the only other method of providing this protocol is manually via intensive care, surgical or emergency medical staff.

Opertech Bio in Philadelphia has developed a revolutionary approach to taste testing, a multi-billion dollar market covering the food and beverage, flavor ingredients, pet food and pharmaceutical industries. Opertech Bio’s technology can be used to discover new flavor ingredients, measure palatability and optimize flavor formulations. Opertech’s proprietary technology accomplishes the task of taste testing on hundreds of samples in an afternoon, using far fewer subjects and samples at a fraction of the cost, with greater accuracy and consistency than previously possible.

Bucks County’s OrthogenRx is a late-stage, product-development company focused on the commercialization of class-III orthopedic medical devices. Its business model is to obtain exclusive licenses for products currently on the market outside the United States and seek FDA regulatory approval through a novel regulatory pathway. OrthogenRx is positioned to be the first company to obtain approval for a generic Class III medical device using this pathway by the end of 2014. The company will launch its first product in early 2015 and file for several additional product approvals by the end of 2015.

In Montgomery County, PhotoSonix Medical is developing a treatment for dermal diseases generated by bacterial biofilm, such as acne. Biofilms, which make treatment extremely difficult, shield bacteria from attack by both drugs and the immune system, often inducing a chronic inflammatory response. Photosonix’s product, CLENS™, cuts through biofilm by combining both ultrasound and violet light, killing underlying bacteria.

Polynetworks in Montgomery Count has developed a secure, open architecture PaaS (platform-as-a-service), which allows multiple types of sensor data to be captured, processed and transmitted to multiple users in real time using any communication media. This "any data, any device, anywhere" solution is scalable to multiple applications. Potential markets include defense and law enforcement; emergency response; heavy industries such as energy, mining and construction; infrastructure security such as city, schools and hospitals; and information gathering such as news media, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and robotics.

In Chester County, Stabiliz Orthopaedics focuses on developing, refining and bringing to market innovative orthopaedic medical devices. The company has crafted a proprietary plate and screw system used for the treatment of traumatic bone fracture. By integrating biocompatible metals with bioabsorbable polymers, Stabiliz’s technology allows clinicians to customize the repair process for every patient, eliminating the need for future surgeries and reducing costs to burdened healthcare systems.

Squareknot in Philadelphia has the simple goal of allowing everyone to do more with its interactive outlet for making how-to-guides. The Squareknot platform allows users to generate step-by-step guides from scratch, or contribute to someone else’s project, or branch off in a new whole direction. 

Developed in Montgomery County, Superior Solar Design’s "SolarPower Table" is a collaboration of world class engineering and photo-voltaic science. The SolarPower Table is a highly reliable, year-round, off-grid solar energy charging station for cell phones, mobile devices and small electronic equipment.

Montgomery County's Telefactor Robotics is a research and development company focused on commercializing advanced vision systems and dexterous manipulation solutions for the first responder and military explosive ordnance disposal markets. The company’s suite of integrated technologies components add value to military and security robots, and enable new forward-looking industrial and manufacturing applications.
 
In Philadelphia, TowerView Health’s mission is to ensure that patients never miss a dose of critical medication. The company has developed a smart pill box and accompanying pre-filled medication trays that fit into the pill box like a k-cup fits into a Keurig. The pill box senses the presence or absence of medication and automatically reminds patients via text message or phone reminder when they’ve forgotten a dose. The data generated by the pill box will be accessible to clinical staff, allowing them to efficiently monitor patients.

Philadelphia’s Yorn is a unique, closed-loop platform for healthcare, business and hospitality settings, enabling patients/consumers and participants to provide feedback, in the moment, on any experience. Utilizing a unique URL through a smartphone, tablet or any web-enabled device, participants can submit comments or ask questions. 

Writer: Elise Vider
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania 

 

Bucks County biotech incubator adding capacity thanks to federal grant

The Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Pennsylvania in Doylestown is expanding its space and its capacity to support more startups thanks to a new $4.2 million federal grant.

The Center, which opened in 2006 in an abandoned warehouse as a partnership between the Hepatitis B Foundation and Delaware Valley College, will add 15 laboratories, office space, increased emergency power capacity and new, high-tech freezer capacity. 

Five companies have already committed to locating in the expanded incubator space, and even more life sciences companies can be accommodated, says Operating Officer Lou Kassa. 

Those new tenants include Flow Metric, a provider of state-of-the-art flow cytometry and cell sorting services; Novira Therapeutics, a company working on a cure for Hepatitis B; Fox Chase Chemical Diversity Center, an organization that works to translate biomedical research into commercial opportunities; Synergy Pharmaceuticals, an enterprise developing treatment for gastrointestinal disease; and Cross Current Corp., a software developer that serves the healthcare market.

"We are extremely excited about the project and the growth is very beneficial for life sciences companies and the surrounding community," says Kassa.

The grant comes from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and is expected to generate 90 jobs and more than $450,000 in private investment.

"Recent changes and downsizing in the sciences and pharmaceutical industries in the Bucks County area, coupled with industry mergers and consolidation, have resulted in mid- and late-career separations for highly educated professionals and have created a nexus for entrepreneurship to flourish," explained the EDA in a statement announcing the grant. "The Center is recognized as a significant regional resource for biotechnology incubation and has reached capacity. It needs to expand in order to continue supporting entrepreneurs emerging from the life sciences and academic environments that are advancing innovations in pharmaceutical discovery and green sectors."

Source: US EDA and Lou Kassa, Bucks County Biotechnology Center
Writer: Elise Vider

State College's Green Towers creates aquaponics-inspired home decor

Green Towers of State College is sprouting with a suite of designs intended to "reconnect people to nature and to their food."

The startup grew from a Penn State undergraduate project -- the plan was to convert old shipping containers into vertical aquaponic greenhouses (a sustainable method for raising plants and fish) that could be shipped internationally and fit tight urban locations. Unfortunately, after building a prototype, the team determined that the market demand just wasn’t there.

Instead, Mike Zaengle, who is finishing a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree at Penn State, and partners Dustin Betz, Jared Yarnall-Schane and Jon Gumble, "pivoted by shrinking the science of aquaponics to a scale consumers could manage and afford," explains Zaengle.

Today Green Towers offers "Living Furniture" comprised of self-contained ecosystems of plants and aquarium life. The Living Table, available at the company’s website and on Houzz.com, is handcrafted from Pennsylvania cherry hardwood and arrives fully assembled. Just add water, fish and seeds.

Green Towers also offers "Living Interiors," customized, aquaponic-focused interior design services, and "Rotating Living Walls," a space-saving system for greenhouses that promises to double per-square-foot yields.

According to Zaengle, the company already has several commercial interior design customers, has built a large-scale aquaponic greenhouse for private use, and sold several Living Tables.

"We see a huge value in our custom interior design work," he adds. "Businesses and retirement homes have shown great interest in our work and reached out... Interior designers and architects bring us on as design consultants and have us do a custom piece around their initial design."

Green Towers expects to hire an engineer in the next six months and another designer if its custom interiors work continues to grow. And the company is developing two new products: a "Living Wall" and an urban beehive. 

Source: Mike Zaengle, Green Towers
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Pittsburgh's PieceMaker brings Santa's (3D printing) workshop to big-box retail

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, a Pittsburgh startup has brought Santa's workshop to two regional Toys “R” Us locations, installing 3D printing kiosks that create custom gifts on the spot.

PieceMaker Technologies has placed its PieceMaker Factory™ 3D printing system at Toys “R” Us stores in Cranberry Township and Totowa, N.J.

"The pilot program with Toys "R" Us marks a progression for 3D printing into big box retailing," says CEO and co-founder Arden Rosenblatt. "For the first time, a national retailer will offer custom 3D printing, on demand, in store."

The kiosks allow shoppers to design and fabricate customized items, including jewelry, key chains and toys, in mere minutes. Rosenblatt says it’s too early to report on how the pilot is performing, but the thrill of seeing the prototypes in action is undeniable.

"Seeing young kids, some under 10, creating their own designs and products, and then staring wide-eyed into the printer as it’s created [is] exactly the reaction we set out to create when we started all this," he adds. "Simply put, the families that make a piece love it, and that never ceases to bring us joy."

An AlphaLab Gear graduate, Piecemaker moved into shared office space in East Liberty earlier this year and hired its first two full-time employees, with four more hires contracted for early next year. The company has continued to tweak the printers, which are built and assembled in-house, so that they are fully automated and easy for shoppers and retail staff to operate. 

In addition, PieceMaker continues to build its product library, which now offers over 100 items that can be personalized in a variety of ways from color, to adding a personal message to including built-in symbols and emojis. 

Looking ahead, Rosenblatt says, "We will incorporate new technologies, new materials and new personalization tools to expand into various industries and increase the degree of freedom that consumers have in creating their world."

Source: Arden Rosenblatt, PieceMaker Technologies
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Call for Ideas: 4th Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest accepting entries

Are you a researcher, entrepreneur or small business in Pennsylvania (or West Virginia) focused on developing a new product or service for the shale energy space? If so, the Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center has an offer you can't refuse.

Entries are now being accepted for the 4th Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest. Once again, the four best shale energy-oriented innovations, new product ideas or service concepts will win $25,000 cash and other support.

The organizers are looking for innovations that are either in the development stage or recently launched. Any idea or already commercialized product or service related to the shale energy space is eligible. Examples include natural gas or NGL utilization products and services; novel materials or chemicals to enhance performance, prevent corrosion or improve product yield; remote site monitoring technologies; well pad EH&S products or services; natural gas or NGL conversion technologies; and water management or remediation technologies.

"We continue to be amazed by the rapid pace of innovation adoption across the shale energy play," says SGICC Director Bill Hall. "Entrepreneurs along with many small businesses are playing a significant role, developing new technologies or offering existing products or services already in use in other areas. Through the contest, SGICC shines a light on the best new innovations being developed in our region."

Hall reports that last year's Pennsylvania winners are thriving.

"Optimum Pumping is continuing with mid-stream trial demonstrations and early indications are that they are going very well," he says. "KCF Technologies has had a rather significant penetration in the shale gas industry and made at least one large project sale to a field services company. TM Industrial Supply, as a result of the contest, made manufacturing changes to reduce the time required to produce their filtration product and has at least one major sale, and anticipates more."
 
The contest attracted 70 entries last year. Expecting even more this year, Hall urges applicants to submit ahead of the February 1 deadline. A panel of industry experts will choose the finalists. 

Source: Bill Hall, Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center
Writer: Elise Vider

Wilkes-Barre's EthosGen is the 2015 BFTP Venture Idol winner!

Wilkes-Barre's EthosGen, maker of an innovative power generator that produces electricity from sustainable and renewable sources, is the 2015 Ben Franklin Venture Idol champion.

Sponsor Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania describes Venture Idol as "a cross between Shark Tank and American Idol, but with entrepreneurs and investors instead of vocalists and celebrities."

Jim Abrams of EthosGen took the top prize with this pitch: "Our product, the CraftEngine, can convert waste heat into renewable electricity on-site. This presents a huge market as the largest waste heat producers are also the largest electricity consumers -- such as manufacturing and industrial facilities, hospitals, database centers and other energy systems like solar thermal and geothermal.

"Our win," he adds, "really comes from having a great group of strategic partners including BE Aerospace, Viking Development Group and AVL Schrick."

"EthosGen has developed and commercialized a renewable energy technology that leverages one of the most abundant resources available: waste heat," explains Kenneth G. Okrepkie, regional manager of the Pocono Northeast Region for BFTP-NEP. "EthosGen’s prestigious industrial partners…strategically position the company to ramp up production and sales."

About 250 guests attended the November 20 event, which started with eight finalists (all profiled in Keystone Edge in recent weeks). Besides EthosGen, JUJAMA of Scranton, which provides technology tools for events, and TSG Software of Bethlehem, a maker of software for commercial cleaning concerns, advanced to the final round to pitch their ventures to the audience.

In addition to a cash investment based on audience votes, EthosGen will receive a start-up package from Altitude Marketing of Emmaus that includes a revamped website, and a branding and messaging upgrade. (BFTP-NEP has already invested a total of $314,500 in EthosGen.)

Abrams reports that EthosGen recently won another honor, making the top 25 out of 2,500 companies worldwide in the Extreme Tech Challenge; judging will happen in January.

Source: Jim Abrams, EthosGen; Kenneth G. Okrepkie, BFTP-NEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 
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