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Out of the Office, into the Kitchen: Allentown's Sarbari provides restaurant-purchasing software

Restaurants and food service providers, from small family-owned eateries to large restaurant groups, all devote significant resources to purchasing food and supplies. 

Sarbari, based in Allentown, aims to get restaurant personnel out of the office and into the kitchen, with a software solution that organizes supplier data, streamlines the ordering process, boosts productivity, and saves money on food and labor costs.

Founder and CEO Sebastian Serra started his career as a produce supplier in the North End of Boston, eventually starting his own company.

"After selling that company to a larger competitor, I saw a need for restaurant owners to have the ability to organize the pricing and product information from all the suppliers they were using," he recalls. "By starting with an Excel spreadsheet and creating formulas that helped them shop more intelligently, the restaurants saw savings in both time and money immediately."

That spreadsheet eventually led Serra to Allentown's Trifecta Technologies, which developed Sarbari’s web-based software program, and, most recently, to a new headquarters in downtown Allentown.

"We're excited to be part the amazing revitalization going on here," he says. "With our new space we now have plenty of room to operate. We're currently working to add new members to our operations team, and the sales team will expand into New York and Boston in the coming months. We expect to add five to 10 new jobs in the next six months."

Working with its clients, Sarbari has identified several new features for the next software update, scheduled for this summer. 

Source: Sebastian Serra, Sarbari  
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Wash Cycle Laundry forges a new path for socially conscious investing

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia startup Wash Cycle Laundry (WCL) closed on a major new loan from the Distinguished Social Ventures Foundation (DSVF) which may help the company create hundreds of new jobs and nab new contracts on the way to major expansion.

According to founder and CEO Gabriel Mandujano, the $450,000 loan isn’t just important for what it will help WCL achieve, but also in the new model it will help forge for foundations who want to invest in mission-based businesses.

WCL, now operating in Austin and Washington, D.C., as well as Philly, was founded here in 2010. The company provides laundry and linen rental services for institutions, businesses and residents, with environmentally-friendly high-efficiency machines and powerful bike trailers for hauling. The company also focuses on hiring its employees from vulnerable populations such as formerly incarcerated people and longtime welfare recipients. The company currently employs almost 50 people, with a retention rate topping 80 percent in workers' first six months.

"What [this] capital allows us to do is come to the table as a ready partner," explains Mandujano. When WCL negotiates with potential clients like a hospital system or university, whether or not the company has the capacity to handle the contract in terms of staffing and inventory has always been a big question. "What this investment has allowed us to do is…go out and close more of these institutional contracts."

The terms of the loan are unique, and give WCL a powerful incentive to expand its socially conscious mission. The current interest rate on the loan is 5 percent, but WCL has five years to reduce that interest rate drastically.

"We’re talking about the net number of jobs that we create," says Mandujano of the loan’s "five-year time clock" from its January 21 closing date. If WCL can create 200 jobs with the help of the new capital, interest on the loan will drop to three percent, and if it can create 500 new jobs within five years, the interest rate will go down to just one percent.

"I’m really excited that this financing aligns our financial interests with our mission interests," he enthuses. "If we’re better at achieving our mission, we’re also financially rewarded for that."

And for both WCL and DSVF, a bigger goal is creating a model that will work for other "purpose-driven businesses" and the foundations who might be interested in similar "impact investing," but do not know how to select the right company, set the right goals, and hammer out the paperwork.

According to Mandujano, "we wanted to create an instrument that that we thought could be copied both by other foundations that want to invest in Wash Cycle, but also just by foundations interested in this type of investing in general."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gabriel Mandujano, Wash Cycle Laundry

Eleven Southeast PA companies share $1.9 million in new funding

Eleven early-stage companies -- everything from a bagel bakery to a company that prints living tissue -- are recipients of $1.9 million in new investments from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Philadelphia's BioBots expects that within 20 years its 3-D bioprinters will allow patients with organ failure to receive custom replacement organs built by and constructed out of their own cells.

Another Philadelphia company, EnviroKure Inc., uses proprietary technology to produce liquid organic fertilizers. Their unique product upcycles chicken manure in a fully sustainable, highly efficient process to meet the needs of the fastest growing fertilizer markets in the United States: large-scale organic farming and natural turf management.

In Chester County, Essential Medical is developing X-SealTM and MANTATM, two innovative vascular closure devices for both small bore and large bore femoral closure. Vascular closure devices (VCDs) are used to close incisions in the leg artery after cardiac catheterizations.

Philadelphia's Fitly is a Digital Health Accelerator company. Fitly’s mission is to empower anyone who needs to eat healthy by making cooking easy, delicious and affordable. 

LifeVest, a Philadelphia company, sits at the intersection of physical and financial health. Using evidence-based science and behavioral economics, LifeVest motivates users to invest in their own wellbeing by rewarding them for learning about, tracking and improving their health.

Livegenic in Philadelphia delivers technology to enhance the customer service environment. It provides an easy way to gain a real-time video from the customer’s point of view through something most customers already have: a smartphone. Livegenic helps organizations reduce support costs, improve customer and employee satisfaction, and minimize business-related risks.

Mitochon Pharmaceuticals is a Delaware County biotech startup that focuses on developing drugs targeting the mitochondria for a host of serious diseases. The company’s development programs are primarily focused on neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases including Huntington’s, Batten Disease, Stroke, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson Disease and severe burns, and secondarily on metabolic disorders due to over-nutrition (diabetes, obesity and NASH). Ongoing research has linked these diseases to various malfunctions of the mitochondria. By correcting them, Mitochon aims to open the way for a broad range of disease modifying therapies.

Montgomery County’s NETMINDER produces a unique protective coating, offering an environmentally acceptable way to protect aquatic gear such as salmon, cobia, and bluefin tuna nets; oyster cages; trays and bags; crab pots and other gear from the high costs of fouling.

Also based in Montgomery County, PAST offers its Software as a Service (SaaS) to help doctors efficiently distinguish patients who can safely use controlled substance prescription medication from those who require more complex care or additional safety considerations.
 
Locating in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood, Sweet Note Bakery is a gluten-free and allergen-free bagel manufacturer.

Montgomery County’s Zuppler is a global Internet commerce solution for restaurants and caterers. Zuppler powers millions of mobile and web food-ordering transactions using their proprietary SaaS platform. This enables consumers to order food from their preferred restaurants and caterers using any device via the restaurant’s branded website or mobile app.

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

Pittsburgh's Idea Foundry adds advanced materials to its mission

Idea Foundry, a nonprofit Pittsburgh acceleration and commercialization organization, is adding a new arm focused on advanced materials. Expected to launch its first round in May, the program joins other Idea Foundry accelerators in healthcare and life sciences, social enterprise, entertainment and education technology, and water. Participants will be eligible for financial support, hands-on business development services and market collaboration opportunities with industry players.
 
"The new accelerator’s focus is fairly broad," says Director of Innovation Nehal Bhojak. "We will consider innovations in all areas of material science."

Initially those will include bioengineered materials, advanced materials such as synthetic engineered materials or super alloys, coatings and polymers. As the accelerator becomes established, Bhojak envisions an even more expanded focus.

Concurrent with the launch announcement comes the dissolution of the PA NanoMaterials Commercialization Center.

"The PA Nano Board agreed that nanotechnology ventures were more accurately defined as part of the large advanced materials field, which led to the new program to be administered by Idea Foundry," explains Robert Kumpf, a former PA Nano board member. The organization ceased to exist as of January 1.

Bhojak says Idea Foundry will "carry forward the original mission of the PA Nano Center through our tried and tested accelerator model." Besides managing the dissolution, Idea Foundry will use its own financial and team resources towards the new accelerator.

"Idea Foundry has always supported material science innovations and we have quite a few advanced materials companies in our portfolio," she adds. "The new accelerator will enable us to continue that support with more sector-specific focus."
 
Source: Nehal Bhojak, Idea Foundry
Writer: Elise Vider
 

With a big NSF grant and new accelerator, UPenn takes technology from lab to market

The University of Pennsylvania's new Penn Center for Innovation, described as "a dedicated, one-stop shop for commercial partnering with Penn," has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to foster entrepreneurship and commercialization.

Under the three-year grant, Penn is launching the Penn I-Corps Site, a new business accelerator, in collaboration with Wharton's Mack Institute for Innovation Management, Penn Medicine’s Center for Healthcare InnovationBen Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) and the City of Philadelphia.

In its grant announcement, Penn said the Penn I-Corps Site will "support translation of research areas into the marketplace by providing educational programming, financial advice and strategic guidance."

The accelerator gets underway this summer with 30 faculty-student interdisciplinary teams creating commercialization plans for their early-stage technology. The goal is to help the teams launch new ventures by the end of 2015 with well-developed business models that position them to apply for further NSF funding.

The Summer Accelerator Program is open to Penn faculty and students as well as local entrepreneurs. An organizational meeting is set for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 24 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia).

A committee comprised of investors, experienced entrepreneurs and industry experts will select the participants; the program will launch in May. The teams will have access to lectures and hands-on activities, guidance on developing and testing their business models, up to $2,500 in NSF funding for prototyping and other expenses, and connections to an extensive entrepreneurial network.

"We’re excited to work together to build a network of mentors and advisors to help the teams gain real-world experience in bringing technology from the lab to the market," explains RoseAnn Rosenthal, president and CEO of BFTP/SEP, "and to build a pipeline of investable enterprises that can creative economic value in our region."

Source: The Penn Center for Innovation
Writer: Elise Vider

 

Seven BIG IDEAS compete for $200,000 in prizes from Ben Franklin Technology Parnters

Seven startups in Northwestern Pennsylvania are gearing up to pitch their innovations at the annual BIG IDEA competition sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania (BFTP/CNP).  

"Many people don’t realize that Ben Franklin makes investments in small manufacturers," said BFTP/CNP in announcing the competition. "This year, in order to remind companies to think about Ben Franklin as a resource when planning to introduce new or improved products to the market, our BIG IDEA Contest will focus on helping small manufacturers and entrepreneurs turn their ideas into real business opportunities."

The finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of independent judges in April, with the winner announced in May. The winner’s prize package is valued at $200,000 and includes $50,000 in cash, an Innovation Adoption Grant up to $25,000 to work with a PA-based research university, priority access to a low-interest $100,000 loan from BFTP, 60 hours of Innovation Engineering project time from the NW Industrial Resource Center as well as access to an Advanced Manufacturing Apprentice to assist in prototype development or pre-commercialization services, a one-year pass to seminars offered by BFTP's eMarketing Learning Center  and a free consult (and proposal prep) on how to access federal R&D grant money from the Innovation Partnership.

BFTP/CNP President and CEO Stephen Brawley says the response to the 2015 BIG IDEA competition was overwhelming.

"There’s a lot of entrepreneurial energy in this area," he enthuses. "We had so many great applications, it was difficult to choose just a few finalists. It takes guts to put your ideas out there to be judged by strangers, and we applaud all who did. Those who did not make it into the finals, should feel free to contact Ben Franklin's Erie office if they want to pursue other options."

This year’s finalists are:Source: Liz Wilson, BFTP/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Dynamic marketing campaign pushes innovation on the I-99 corridor

Economic development officials in Centre, Blair and Bedford counties are at work on a fresh marketing campaign touting the I-99 corridor as a prime location for business growth.

"With the largest concentration of Keystone Innovation Zones and Penn State University’s leadership status in materials science, life sciences and information technologies, the I-99 corridor region is poised to take its marketing efforts to the next level to support local companies and attract new investment," says Lesley Kistner of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County.

The campaign is aimed at site selectors, corporate decision makers and economic development officials; it includes an annual print publication scheduled to launch this summer and a revamped website. Besides CBICC, the partners are the Altoona-Blair County Development Corporation and the Bedford County Development Association.

The three counties began collaborating in 2001 on economic growth along I-99, which runs north-south, linking I-76 and I-80. From the outset, a key objective was to leverage the strengths of Penn State.

“So while work to promote the economic development assets of the corridor is not new, the effort has been re-energized at a time when its most recognizable asset -- Penn State University -- has made economic development a focal point," explains Kistner. "Under President Barron, [the school] has made dramatic improvements in its intellectual property policy -- all strong selling points that make the region attractive to business."

Adding to its appeal, the I-99 corridor has 10 Keystone Innovation Zone locations designed to link technology-based companies with university faculty and research support, and numerous Keystone Opportunity Zones, which feature a greatly reduced tax burden.

The corridor also offers easy access to "Penn State University and its world-class research across many fields of study, including a leadership in metallic materials additive manufacturing," adds Kistner. "Low-cost energy, a skilled workforce, a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, a strategic location to Marcellus and Utica natural gas shale plays, and an efficient transportation system all combine to make the corridor and this region of central Pennsylvania attractive to business and industry."

Source: Lesley Kistner, Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County
Writer: Elise Vider

 

Second Time Around: LightLab International Allentown reunites two veteran entrepreneurs

Two of the entrepreneurs behind the first client at Allentown’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center are back a quarter-century later with a new venture, LightLab International Allentown.

Mike Grather and Tracy Silvert managed Luminaire Testing Labs (LTL) when it launched in 1989. Grather joined LTL as one of its first employees and purchased the company from its founder three years later. By the time LTL was sold 12 years later it had grown to $2 million in annual revenue with nine employees. Along the way, Grather hired Silvert to manage operations. 

Now the two are back together with an eye towards the expanding market for LED lighting.

"As we were growing LTL, we were able to fuel it by taking advantage of the expanding use of compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and the subsequent introduction of LED lamps," says Grather. "Because of their energy efficiency, we are seeing that LED bulbs are proliferating in the market much like CFL bulbs did. It’s a market that we know well and are very excited to re-enter."

LightLab International Allentown, which plans to be operational by April, will be an ISO-accredited photometric testing laboratory providing testing services for the lighting industry (primarily the North American market). Typical products for testing would include bulbs (replacement lamps) and lighting fixtures (luminaires) for use in interior, outdoor, parking-area, roadway and floodlighting applications.

"There is an industry-wide need for technical customer support to help lighting manufacturers navigate the many new standards, specifications and regulations that have arisen in the past five to 10 years," explains Grather. "We also have the experience needed to work with manufacturers’ engineering departments to help customize testing to fit their research and development needs."
 
LightLab International is based in Australia, where they manufacture testing equipment, and perform testing and calibration services. LightLab opened a testing laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011. The Allentown operation will operate under the LightLab name, but will be its own entity with its own management.

"Like any other startup, we raised our own funding, operate on our own finances, and will proceed with business without any managerial or financial involvement from the other labs," insists Grather.

Hence the location in a business incubator.

"This is the story every business incubator looks for," says Anthony Durante, program manager for Allentown Economic Development Corporation. "We are bringing back an entrepreneur who had successfully grown and exited a company that originated in our program. The team is back because they know firsthand the benefits of being part of a program like ours."

Sources: AEDC and Mike Grather, LightLab International Allentown
Writer: Elise Vider

 

Girl Power: DreamIt Athena announces its first class of female entrepreneurs

Philadelphia’s DreamIt Athena, a new accelerator track aimed at female entrepreneurs, has announced its first cohort. The selected companies will take up residence at DreamIt Ventures HQ, housed at the Innovation Center @3401, through May. They will each receive $25,000 in seed money, along with female-centric guidance on raising capital, developing mentors and networks, and self-promoting.

"Female entrepreneurs face a level of scrutiny that places them at a disadvantage from the start," says Karen Griffith Gryga, DreamIt’s managing partner. "For all the talk about the unique challenges female founders face, there's been little action in how to solve such issues. DreamIt took the lead by being the first top-tier accelerator to solve the problem. We’re going beyond typical platforms of discussion and networking [and hope to] change the dynamic of what’s been the startup norm for far too long. 

"DreamIt Athena aims to make a significant difference by providing specific, dedicated resources that help remove the all-too-common barriers," she continues. "[That way] female founders can develop the required skill sets to build sustainable, competitive businesses. Without a doubt, we expect to see significant personal development and company milestones throughout the cycle."

The Athena companies are:

Captain Planner (Boston) streamlines the process of trip-planning by aggregating information on attractions, restaurants and events, while providing reviews and map-centric itineraries. 

Forecastr (Detroit) provides ready-made analytics and predictive recommendations specifically tailored for television executives available via the cloud. 

LIA Diagnostics (Philadelphia) is developing a flushable pregnancy test, helping women address the challenges surrounding privacy, usability and sustainability in current at-home diagnostics. 

Ohneka Farms (Mount Laurel, N.J.) is a social enterprise focusing on urban farming products and services. They are developing ROOT, a smart countertop planter that enables users to grow organic edible plants at home with minimal maintenance.
 
Roar For Good (Philadelphia) is a social impact company with the mission of reducing assaults against women through wearable technology, empowerment and education. The initial product line combines fashionable self-defense jewelry and mobile technology to reduce the incidences of assault against women. 

The Athena companies will work alongside these other startups at DreamIt:

Bungalow Insurance (San Diego) is building the first online, independent, renters’ insurance platform to improve insurance experiences for millennials. 
  
Commit Analytics (King of Prussia) optimizes human performance using machine learning algorithms to design data-driven solutions for athletes and health-conscious consumers. 
 
IglooHome (Singapore) is developing smart home technologies that offer Airbnb hosts a novel way to welcome guests; they focus on convenience, safety and cost savings. 
 
LocoRobo (Philadelphia) is a non-profit robotics company whose mission is to provide educational and scientific training using high-quality robotics platforms, promoting STEM education and workforce development. 
 
Whose Your Landlord (Elliott City, Maryland) is a website and mobile app enabling renters to rate their landlords and housing complexes, and giving them the ability to find their next home. 

Source: Karen Griffith Gryga, DreamIt Ventures
Writer: Elise Vider
 

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
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