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Founder Profile: Sherry Bender

For those who hire and supervise employees, drug testing can be a touchy — and clusmy — process, particularly when it comes to tried-and-true methods like urine tests.
So when Affiniton founder and CEO Sherry Bender talks to those running companies who place a premium on a drug-free workplace, it’s a stunner when she shows them how easy it can be to perform a drug test, like wiping a surface such as a computer keyboard to detect illegal drug residue.
The Williamsport company offers various threat detection products and training certification on its DrugWipe and DrugID products. It also provides the service of conducting surface tests for agencies, workplaces, schools or homeowners and can even assist with drafting a drug and alcohol policy. The company grew revenue by 50 percent after its first year and more than tripled its staff, now boasting seven full-timers and 15 distributors across the U.S.

Last December, Affiniton was a finalist for the Cygnus Law Enforcement Group Innovation Award. Founded in 1997, Affiniton maintains a premium on a creativity, and as such is launching three new products in the coming months.

What was the biggest challenge in getting Affiniton off the ground?
Getting the word out was a challenge. First, simply educating agencies on the products and services we do offer was time consuming. Many individuals are stunned when they hear you can simply wipe a surface such as a computer keyboard and are able to detect illegal drug residue. Also, in this down economy, getting agencies to look past the bottom line has been challenging. For example, on the drug testing side, urine tests have a long history and are known as the ‘gold standard’, pardon the pun. Therefore, they have a very low price point.  However, when you factor in the staff time involved in collecting a specimen, any wait time involved — which can be up to two hours –when a client cannot produce a specimen, if they suspect someone is trafficking drugs vs. consuming them, or times when urine tests are just not an option, like a male officer testing a female client, the time savings involved then makes surface, sweat or saliva testing an economical option.
What resources did you take advantage of to grow Affiniton? 
We developed a relationship with our local IMC (Industrial Modernization Center) as a resource.  They have been extremely helpful in assisting us create connections with local resources when we have a need.  The IMC also holds seminars on topics such as sales and marketing, pulling in experts who speak about various topics.  Even if the speaker is talking about say the grocery industry, we can always glean something from the discussion.
What key partnerships in your region or state have helped Affiniton grow?
We became a member of the Williamsport Business Association which has helped introduce us to other local businesses in the area.  We are also a designated KIZ (Keystone Innovation Zone) company.
What advantages does being in your region hold for entrepreneurs?  
We are in a unique position here in Williamsport as there are three local colleges with various expertise to draw from.  We try to work with area resources as much as possible.
Where does your region need to improve in terms of support for entrepreneurs?
Some of the areas we are expanding into we have not been able to locate local resources to assist us, so we’re having to search further outside the area or state to find such expertise.  When we contact local resources, they simply tell us they do not have the expertise and there is not a referral system in place for agencies outside the region, so such a system would be helpful.
What’s the big differentiator for Affiniton?
Affiniton is a very lean company, we provide personalized service and create long-lasting relationships with our customers long after the sale.  We also have an in-house graphic design team, dubbed ‘a Creative Suite’ that has intimate knowledge of the products and services we provide which allows us to create very ‘relevant’ marketing pieces and keeps our design costs down.  In addition, we ‘rent out’ our design team to area businesses that do not have a design team or agency.  This has allowed area businesses to create a unique look at costs that don’t break their budget.
What’s next for Affiniton?
In the area of ‘threat detection’, we have recently released an on-site tick test for Lyme Disease.  Our Lymealyzer test kit for pets and another for people allows an individual to test a tick, once removed from either themselves or their pet, and find out in less than 10 min. whether the tick carries the bacteria which causes Lyme Disease.  Immediate results means immediate treatment can be sought, if necessary.  Typical blood-based tests require a 4-6 week wait time before the bacteria can be detected in the blood and they are typically only 50-60% reliable as the bacteria can ‘hide’ in the body and remain ‘undetectable’.
We have also recently launched a surface ‘meth’ test for homeowners.  Our M(eth)-series DrugWipe allows a potential home buyer or someone moving into a new apartment or trailer, to test surface areas such as walls, carpeting, furnace filter, etc. to detect any methamphetamine residue.  Many people are becoming victims of meth contamination when they unknowingly move into a property that was formerly used as a meth lab.  The DEA states that for every property that is ‘busted’, another 9-10 go unreported, which means a lot of properties are contaminated.  If a home buyer purchases a home and learns months or years later that the property is contaminated, they are then responsible for any clean-up costs. With an easy, 10 min test, they can be assured prior to purchase or moving, whether or not meth residue is present. This is especially valuable when children are involved.  Meth residue does not go away, but can create serious health issues such as breathing problems, heart palpitations, skin sores, and various other symptoms.
We are also creating a publication, called notafied, which is a safety awareness magazine geared to inform the public on various safety-related issues. Each issue will include relevant articles in areas such as ‘Living’, ‘Working’, ‘Community’ and ‘Recreation.’ Another product in the pipeline is a cholinesterase test (aChEckUp), which is a blood-based test to detect exposure to pesticides and/or nerve agents. 

— by Joe Petrucci
49 E. Fourth St. #201 Williamsport, PA 17701

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