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Pittsburgh's Astrobotic prepares for 2015 moon launch

From an old metal stamping building in Pittsburgh's Strip District, Astrobotic Technology is preparing to launch a mission to the moon on October 16, 2015.
The company is actively selling "payload" or cargo space at a price of $500,000 per pound to fly aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, along with an Astrobotic robotic lander and rover.
"It’s a little bit like UPS or FedEx delivery to the moon," says CEO John Thornton. Astrobotic has capacity for 600 pounds of payload; so far, they have been contracted to carry human ashes and a Japanese soft drink, in addition to a multi-million contract with NASA for data collection.
Paid space exploration is not new -- the International Space Station is the model -- but this will be the first private concern ever to land on the moon. (So far only three governments, the United States, the former USSR and, more recently, China, have reached the lunar surface.)
"It’s a game changer for space exploration," says Thornton. Potential markets include scientific and research organizations who want to conduct experiments or deliver instruments, governments interested in boosting national pride ("We’re selling Apollo moments") and marketing concerns, like the Japanese company who will promote itself as the first soft drink on the moon.
The flight will launch from Florida, but mission control will revert to Pittsburgh. The landing site is Lacus Mortis, a lunar "skylight" or 300-foot-deep pit that may lead to an underground cave formed by lava flow. The Astrobotic rover will drive around and look down with an eye towards a future mission exploring the slopes.
Since the last time Keystone Edge checked in with Astrobotic in 2012, the company has made significant progress towards winning the Google Lunar XPrize, worth millions. The company, founded in 2008 as a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, currently employs 14 and is planning to hire another four as it prepares to move to an expanded 5,200-square-foot space that will accommodate offices and construction of its spacecraft.
Source: John Thornton, Astrobotic Technology
Writer: Elise Vider

A robotics 'wow' for West Chester's ONExia

It’s been less than two years since Boston’s Rethink Robotics launched its game-changing Baxter Robot, and West Chester’s ONExia became the region’s exclusive distributor.
A few weeks ago, ONExia blogged about a "wow!" moment as it tested a beta version of the latest Baxter software. Founder and CEO Greg Selke is still psyched. Software updates for most industrial robots, Selke explains, are for small tweaks and bug fixes. What distinguishes Baxter is that its software "has continued to evolve, and that’s been the plan from the beginning." Baxter’s periodic software updates are a strong selling point for ONExia -- they can assure customers that the robot’s performance and potential will continue to grow. 
The "wow” moment came when ONExia’s tests found that a move that used to take as long as 15 seconds now takes six or six-and-one-half seconds, with improved accuracy.

"Baxter will now be able to work at a true human cadence, especially over sustained time," explains the blog post. 
Selke estimates that the new software, expected to be officially released later this month, boosts the robot's output by more than 50 percent by providing "a much more fluid and smooth motion so Baxter can perform repetitive tasks more quickly." 
Next for Baxter, says Selke, is software that enables it to "see," so that it can find and recognize particular objects. That upgrade is likely later this year. The Baxter Research Robot is also being sold to universities and research institutions that are developing their own software for the robot -- the ultimate vision is for a kind of iTunes store where Baxter owners can customize their robots.
Source: Greg Selke, ONExia
Writer: Elise Vider

Latest Pittsburgh scorecard tallies 302 deals worth of investment and job growth

Between new facilities, company expansions, attraction and retention of companies and startups, there were 302 economic development deals in the Pittsburgh region in 2013; that's a 12 percent increase. 
In its annual scorecard, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) reported that regional economic development deals totaled $2.4 billion in capital investment. PRA projected that 2013 activity will retain 1,669 jobs and create 6,983 new ones as announced deals come to fruition.
Financial and business services continued to be the backbone of the regional economy, but the big news was the growth in the region’s information and communications sector, which assumed second place for number of deals, growing from 33 in 2012 to 51 in 2013, its biggest spike since 2008. 
Jim Futrell, PRA’s vice president of market research, predicts continued growth in the IT sector. "Considering the presence of Carnegie Mellon and the 2,000 IT graduates coming from the region’s colleges and universities each year, the region is well positioned to become a major technology hub in the foreseeable future," he says.
The region also remains true to its industrial roots, with advanced manufacturing the most active sector for deals in 2013.

"The Pittsburgh region still makes things: specialty metals, medical devices, robots and turbines, to name a few," says PRA President Dewitt Peart. "We’re a manufacturer to the world, capitalizing on technology to make processes precise, sophisticated and efficient."
"While employment growth seems to have plateaued, the outlook for the region is still sound," adds Futrell. "We should continue to experience growth in critical sectors like financial and business services, and energy.  And manufacturing -- which has fueled our economy for some 200 years -- has been a very active sector in terms of business investment deals and activity.  
"What is critical for the region’s future is making sure that individuals entering the workforce have the skills needed to fill the 20,000-plus jobs open in the region right now," he continues. "More than half of these currently open jobs require tech skills, and that requisite won’t be changing any time soon. Tech is driving a 'new workforce order' in the Pittsburgh region. The demand for tech-savvy employees -- across all industries -- is only going to increase."
Source: Jim Futrell, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
Writer: Elise Vider 

With new venture capital, Pittsburgh's Aethon grows its market for healthcare logistics

It’s a happy new year for Aethon, maker of the TUG, a mobile robot that transports and delivers supplies in hospitals. The Pittsburgh company reports that it grew its customer base for TUG in 2013 with 21 new sites. It just announced a new $3 million investment from Mitsui USA, augmenting an initial $4 million investment in 2012. And late last year, Aethon unveiled a new product, MedEx Tube Track, a patent-pending system that secures and tracks deliveries sent through the pneumatic tube systems used to deliver medications in hospitals. 
Introduced to the commercial market 10 years ago, TUG is Aethon’s core product. Today, over 400 of the chest-high robots prowl hospital corridors, making 50,000 deliveries per week, transporting medications, meals, linens, equipment and other supplies. Altogether, TUGs have traveled over one million miles, monitored 24/7 by Aethon’s command center in Pittsburgh. 
"Robots are becoming more common in the workplace," says CEO Aldo Zini. "With healthcare organizations required to serve an increasingly aging population, yet respond to the pressure on costs, they need to do more with their current staff. This means each person must spend more time doing the highest-value aspects of their job.”
And that, he adds, means more time on clinical duties, less on logistical tasks. Zini cites a recent Harvard Business School study of nursing workflow indicating that nearly half of operational breakdowns are a result of supply problems and inefficient processes.
Aethon will use its new capital for expanded sales and marketing, and to move into international markets.

"Mitsui USA’s add-on investment is a sign of their confidence in the worldwide interest for Aethon’s solutions in healthcare logistics and the potential for applications outside of healthcare," says Zini. "We have an opportunity to grow the company rapidly, and this additional investment provides the resources necessary to accelerate our growth.”
Source: Tony Melanson, Aethon
Writer: Elise Vider

Palmyra's Robometrix starting production and sales of its consumer-market robots

Imagine remotely checking in on elderly loved ones with a mini-robot that you move around using your smartphone.  Or playing with your dog while you’re at work. 
Robometrix, a startup in Palmyra, is introducing its VisitorBot Mini, a compact telepresence device that can be operated on a tabletop or floor and sells for only $300. The larger VisitorBot Max stands four-feet-tall and, for example, can move around a factory floor to monitor overseas manufacturing from your Pennsylvania workplace. It sells for about $1,200.
George Keller, who founded Robometrix in 2010 with his son, Tyler, says the company has spent the last few years doing R&D, building and tweaking prototypes to create “telepresence robots that are as simple and inexpensive as possible. We think we’re pretty much there.”
Keller, who has a PhD in biochemistry and whose day job is at the National Institutes of Health, says that telepresence robots are widely used in medical applications. Robometrix’s aim is to bring the technology to consumer markets. 
The company is now moving into sales for its hand-built robots. Eventually, Keller says, they expect to go to more conventional manufacturing but “we don’t want to mass produce something that may not be what the market wants.”
Robometrix currently has three full-timers and Keller hopes to add a few more part-time positions as the company continues to ramp up production and sales. It helps that Robometrix won first prize recently at the eight-week business mentoring program sponsored by the Ben Franklin TechCelerator@ Hershey, a partnership of the Office of Technology Development at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania and the economic development arm of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber
Source: George Keller, Robometrix
Writer: Elise Vider

Hey! What's the big idea? (There's $25K and more for tech innovation.)

Do you live in Central or South Central Pennsylvania? Do you have an idea for a new, technology-based product or process? Get busy, because your idea could win one of two $25,000 cash prizes in Ben Franklin’s BIG IDEA Business Plan Contest
This year’s competition, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA  (BFTP/CNP) and the BF Venture Investment Forum, targets 25 counties in Central and South Central Pennsylvania.  

To be eligible, you must live in one of the 25 counties; have developed or be developing, a new, innovative tech product or process; have had no significant sales if a product has already been developed; have fewer than 50 employees if a company has been formed and have never received previous BFTP funding.

Preferred industry sectors include (but are not limited to):  nanotechnology; green technologies; alternative energy; advanced manufacturing; advanced materials; medical devices; information technology and software.
The application deadline is December 9; final judging is set for February 20, 2014.
In addition to the $25,000 in cash, the two grand-prize winners will also receive:

  • One-year website hosting offered by Netrepid;
  • The opportunity to participate in a BF TechCelerator Boot Camp for Startups;
  • Six months free rent in the BF TechCelerator @ Carlisle (for a winner from that area);
  • Assistance from the Innovation Partnership in preparing a proposal to receive a federal research (SBIR) grant;
  • Access to all Ben Franklin’s business support services at no charge.
“We had a huge response to last year’s contest. Nearly 2,000 people came to the BIG IDEA landing page to check out the easy application process.  We believe that anyone with the courage, energy and enthusiasm to apply to a business plan contest is already a winner,” says Stephen Brawley, President/CEO of Ben Franklin.

Full details, a list of the eligible counties and an application forms are online
Source: BFTP/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider

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

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

Nine young Philly-area companies share $1.5M+ from Ben Franklin

Fans of raw foods, sports, coupon savings and more, rejoice. Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP), celebrating its 30th anniversary, recently approved $1,550,000 in funding for nine early-stage companies.
They are:
AgileSwitch, LLC,  Philadelphia, $250,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $300,000)
AgileSwitch develops power converter technology to produce useful energy from renewable energy technologies, including solar panels and wind turbines. AgileSwitch's products can be fully customized to meet the needs and demands of virtually any customer application, and are better able to monitor and prevent problems such as overheating.
Brad's Raw Foods, Pipersville, $100,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $100,000) 
Brad's Raw Foods, manufactured with an advanced dehydration technology, offers a line of healthy, crunchy snacks made from dehydrated raw, healthy foods such as fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds. The company is developing other raw food products, including dog treats, onion rings, and zucchini sticks.
Cocurrent BioEnergy,  Doylestown, $250,000
Cocurrent BioEnergy is creating alternative solutions to landfills that produce renewable energy at competitive rates. The company's plan is to develop and operate renewable energy assets (which repurpose solid waste into sources of fuel) throughout North America over the next 20-30 years.
OneTwoSee (Mobile Reactor, LLC),Philadelphia, $75,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $300,000)
The OneTwoSee platform is a state-of-the-art suite of technologies that augments sports fans' experiences through any screen. The business-to-business platform is licensed to television broadcasters, online publishers, sports arena owners and smart TV manufactures, allowing them to deliver a rich interactive experience to their audience via their connected devices.
Real Food Works, Philadelphia, $175,000
Real Food Works provides customers with a subscription plan of meals that are cooked by local partners, restaurants, caterers and personal chefs and delivered fresh. The meals are mostly plant-based and are targeted to those who want to lose weight, enhance their energy levels or improve their overall health or have special dietary restrictions.
Smart Structures, Southampton,$150,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $230,000)
Smart Structures has developed a system that tests and monitors the health of the nation's physical infrastructure, such as highways, bridges, tunnels and buildings. Its technology can also dramatically alter the cost and time dynamics of traditional evaluation programs, by enabling real-time testing of all foundation elements.
SnipSnap App, LLC,  Philadelphia, $100,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $100,000)
SnipSnap is a mobile phone app for scanning, saving and redeeming printed coupons. The technology allows users to more efficiently and effectively organize their coupons, maximize their savings, and be reminded to use their coupons before expiration dates. They are also able to share their coupons both within their own social networks and with all other SnipSnap users.
Telefactor Corp., West Conshohocken, $400,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $230,450)
An offshoot of Chatten Associates, Telefactor is continuing its growth in explosive ordnance disposal, the process of rendering explosive devices safe. Telefactor is procuring the next-generation advanced robotic systems for the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology division.
TicketLeap, Inc., Philadelphia, $50,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $525,000)
TicketLeap is an e-commerce, do-it-yourself system for ticketing and registration that enables event organizers to sell tickets to their events online. Services include event registration, event promotion, virtual box office software, and social network integration. The company also provides barcode scanning, instant credit card swiping, customized ticket design and ticket tracking services.
Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh’s AlphaLab Gear proclaims hardware’s turn

Ten or 15 years ago, market forces and tech innovation made it possible for software companies to readily establish themselves. Now, says Ilana Diamond, director of Pittsburgh’s new AlphaLab Gear, it’s hardware’s turn.
The new hardware and robotics startup accelerator, one of only a few in the country, is aimed at providing physical product companies (“something you can touch and feel,” says Diamond) with investment, equipment, mentoring and more, all in service of boosting manufacturing, ideally in or around Pittsburgh.
Part of the impetus for AlphaLab Gear comes from the changing forces that make it possible, for example, to produce a prototype, which used to take thousands of dollars and months, for pennies and in minutes using a 3D printer. Add access to high-tech equipment in shared workspaces like Pittsburgh’s Tech Shop and crowdfunding, and the potential for hardware startups is significantly altered.
AlphaLab Gear will work on the same model at its parent startup accelerator, Innovation Works’ AlphaLab. Companies can choose to receive $25,000 or $50,000 in investment in exchange for 5% or 9%  equity. And AlphaLab Gear companies with a robotics focus will receive investment and help from Startbot, an investment firm specializing in early-stage robotics companies. “Their participation is a recognition that private capital thinks this is a successful model,” says Diamond.
AlphaLab Gear is accepting applications for its first cycle and is hearing interest from a wide range of companies that make everything, Diamond says, from medical devices to consumer products to sensors to games.
Source: AlphaLab Gear, Ilana Diamond
Writer: Elise Vider

Roboticists and engineers from Carnegie Mellon, Penn State making moves

Hear that buzz? It's news about robotics and engineering innovation in Pennsylvania.
In recent weeks:
A robotic paint-stripping system, being developed for the Air Force by Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center  and Concurrent Technologies Corporation of Johnstown, was named gold winner in the material science category of the 2013 Edison Awards. The system uses high-powered lasers mounted on mobile robotic platforms to remove paint and coatings from aircraft.
NREC is building six autonomous mobile robots, each equipped with a high-power-laser coating remover developed by CTC. As part of a two-year project, the robots will be deployed in teams to remove paint and other coatings from aircraft at Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah. The lasers eliminate the needs for abrasives or chemical paint removers; the robots make it possible to automate and precisely control the stripping process.
Carnegie Mellon researchers are also at work on the Lifelong Robotic Object Discovery Process, which helps robots augment their "vision" with other information – an object's location, size, and shape and even whether it can be lifted – to recognize and understand objects. The team enabled a two-armed, mobile robot to use color video, a Kinect depth camera and non-visual information to discover more than 100 objects in a home-like laboratory, such as computer monitors, plants and food items. Eventually the technology could help people accomplish tasks of daily living as part of the Home-Exploring Robot Butler, with the quaint acronym HERB, being developed in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh.
Thirteen Penn State teams took honors in semester-long, industry-sponsored engineering projects. Altogether, 163 projects by engineering undergraduates were judged at the 2013 Student Design Project Showcase. Three teams won first place in the Lockheed Martin Design Awards: "Project Assignment/Algorithm," "Maximum Allowable Gasket Seating Surface Degradation Before Seal Failure" and "Robotic Parallel Bars Walking Device." Six other teams took second and third-place honors. The Boeing Systems Engineering Award went to "Rotor Wake Survey."
Sources: Carnegie Mellon; Penn State
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh defies national slump in venture capital with a 54% jump in 2012 deals

More evidence that Pittsburgh has emerged from the Great Recession: Bucking the national trend, Pittsburgh showed significant growth in venture capital in 2012, according to a new report by Ernst & Young and Innovation Works.  
Nationally, the number of venture deals dropped 6% and dollars invested fell 10% last year. But the number of deals in the Pittsburgh region was up a staggering 54% from 123 to 190 and the investment dollars rose, too, albeit slightly from $326.9 million to $329.1 million, the report found. 
From 2008 through 2012, during the worst of the economic downturn, the region saw $1.3 billion in investments in early-stage technology companies, the report found. "The investment community is recognizing that … Pittsburgh has globally competitive strengths in software, life sciences, robotics and other sectors," said Innovation Works President Rich Lunak in a statement. "If we can maintain the momentum in our pipeline and increase the pool of local investment capital to support the growing number of high-quality startups, Pittsburgh can ascend to being one of the nation's top-tier startup communities."
Meanwhile, early-stage companies, university/company collaborations and established companies anywhere in Pennsylvania with projects in advanced electronics or robotics can apply for the latest funding cycle of the Technology Commercialization Initiative (TCI)
A total of $800,000 is available, with a $100,000 maximum award per project. Innovation Works will host a webinar at 1pm tomorrow on the submission/review process. Initial proposals are due May 24; final applications are due July 26.
Source: Innovation Works
Writer: Elise Vider

Bots & BBQ: Upcoming robotics open house in Lackawanna County aimed at manufacturers, students

Mike Duffy of Keystone Automation in Duryea and John Mele of Jam Works Robotics Solutions in Forest City are both Harley-riding Navy veterans. The companies they founded, Keystone in 1999 for automated machinery, and Jam Works in 2007 for robotics, collaborate frequently. "There's nothing that can't be done with these two systems," says Mele.
Now the two are joining forces on Bots & BBQ, a fun-sounding, two-day robotics open house  with some ambitious goals in mind. From 9-5 on Thursday, April 18 and Friday, April 19, Duffy and Mele hope to make Pennsylvania manufacturers aware of the huge advancements in robotics and automation and generate orders, sure. But equally important, they want to impress upon students and educators the appeal of a job in modern manufacturing.
"There's a major problem with the perception of manufacturing," says Duffy. "We want to showcase that it's not working in a dirty, nasty foundry … You're going to be using your mind, as well as your hands."  Most advanced manufacturing jobs today, he adds, require a two–year degree and they pay far more than most jobs available to those with just a high school diploma.
On both days, the agenda includes plant tours for students, seminars on topics ranging from pneumatics to data collection and seven demonstration robotics work- cells, performing typical operations such as measuring, palletizing and high-speed handling. Fanuc, a major robotics maker for whom Jam Works is an exclusive integrator and distributor, will be on hand, along with Rockwell AutomationPenn-Air & Hydraulics,  Norgren  and Bimba.  

The BBQ part? The organizers will be bringing in roast pig each day for lunch.
Source: Mike Duffy, Keystone Automation, and John Mele, Jam Works Robotics Solutions
Writer: Elise Vider

Desperately seeking America's best unknown business

Ardmore's Gregory FCA,  which bills itself as the largest public relations firm in Pennsylvania, and Safeguard Scientifics  of Wayne are on the hunt for the best unknown business in America.
"Maybe it's that killer technology startup that has yet to make the radar. Or perhaps it's some new wonder drug that will increase life expectancy. Or could it be that new sustainable business that's doing great financially while doing good for the world," said Gregory CEO Greg Matusky in a blog post.
The contest purse comprises $10,000 in cash and a $40,000 PR campaign.
The judges include Matusky, Safeguard CEO Stephen T. Zarrilli, Daniel Roitman of Stroll, a Philadelphia-based education e-commerce platform company, and Miles Spencer, an angel investor and co-creator of the reality show Money Hunt.
Here’s what they say they're looking for:

* The current operating success, recent growth and future viability of the company.
* The story behind the company and its products or services.
* The company’s current visibility and awareness.
* The likely positive impact of the application of a public relations campaign to the company and its products and services.
* The social shares and number of votes received in support of the company’s nomination as outlined in the contest rules. While this contest is not based on votes or Likes, an applicant’s ability to engage and connect with employees and customers will be considered.
* How well the submission explains why the company should be selected as The Best Unknown Business in America and how it can benefit from exposure.  
The contest closes at midnight June 18 and the winner will be announced in July. To learn more and submit an entry, visit Gregory FCA's Facebook page
Source: Alicia Buonanno, Gregory FCA
Writer: Elise Vider

PA is hot among site selectors and a new tool heats things up even more

We may not mess with Texas, but Pennsylvania ranks third in new facilities and expansions – and first in the Northeast – according to the prestigious annual rankings published last week in Site Selection magazine
The 2012 Governor's Cup went to the Lone Star State, which led the nation with 761 projects in 2012. (The publication counts private-sector projects that meet one or more of these criteria: a minimum $1 million investment, creation of 50 or more new jobs or construction of new space of at least 20,000 square feet. Equipment upgrades, additions and construction jobs don't count.)
Ohio was second with 491 projects and Pennsylvania was next with 430 in the national rankings. Ranked by region, the Keystone State's 430 easily beat the number-two state, New York, which came in at 119. In new manufacturing, Pennsylvania had 130 projects, compared to New York's 26; in manufacturing expansion, the Commonwealth's 97 beat the Empire State by 49.
Site Selection was also upbeat about Pennsylvania in a January profile assessing the impact of the energy sector on the state's economy. 
With such fertile ground for new and expanded commercial ventures, new features on Team PA's SiteSearch website are well timed. The site now includes heat maps that provide a visual representation of demographic statistics. The new business search allows for queries of businesses statewide by geography, type, number of employees and annual revenue.
"The enhanced functionalities of PA SiteSearch puts more information at the fingertips of site selectors or company officials looking to locate to, or expand their operations, in PA," says Matt Zeigner of Team PA. 
The race is on for 2013.
Source: Site Selection magazine
Writer: Elise Vider

Hey what's the BIG IDEA? Ben Franklin's business plan contest is open

Got a big idea for a tech-based startup in Northwest Pennsylvania? Here's a chance to win $35,000 to develop it further. 
Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA  is once again sponsoring its BIG IDEA business plan contest,  with the $35,000 grand prize awarded to one entrepreneur or tech-based startup to further develop and grow a business.
To be eligible, you must:
• Be located in Erie, Clarion, Crawford, Mercer, Venango, Warren, or Forest counties;
• Have a new, marketable tech-business idea that includes a commercialization plan;
• Have no significant sales if a product has already been developed;
• Have less than 50 employees if a company has been formed;
• Never received previous BFTP funding.
Examples of applicable industry sectors include, but are not limited to, green technologies, alternative energy, advanced manufacturing and materials, medical devices, information technology, software and nanotechnology. 
Erie's Advanced Insurance Products & Services took the prize last year to further develop an advanced predictive model, developed through a proprietary platform that enables insurance providers to bring usage-based insurance products to market in substantially less time. 
At the time, CEO Jeff Stempora said, “Preparing for this contest really helped us hone our message as we move forward with our sales and marketing efforts."
Time is now to think big: the contest deadline is 5pm, April 19. Final judging is set for June 21.
Source: BFTP/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider
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