Ben Franklin News

450+ Attend Ben Franklin iXchange

Bold Optimism was the theme of the 2016 Ben Franklin iXchange. The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) hosted its annual event on Tuesday, May 17th at the Zoellner Arts Center on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem. More than 450 technology entrepreneurs, business people, venture capitalists, economic developers, political leaders, and regional influencers from Ben Franklin’s 21-county service area attended.

Chadwick Paul, Jr., President and CEO of BFTP/NEP, began by sharing the results of a study that shows that the Ben Franklin Technology Partners statewide network has returned $3.60 in state tax revenue for every $1 invested in the program. The northeastern center recently released new information on its regional impacts since 1983, including the creation or retention of more than 40,000 jobs since 1983 and the creation of 482 new companies.

“This year’s iXchange theme of Bold Optimism is very appropriate to Ben Franklin’s work with early-stage firms,” said Paul. “Few endeavors require more optimism than starting a new company. It’s exciting and challenging, and also fraught with tribulations.”

Paul went on to describe BFTP/NEP’s work in business incubation. The organization launched one of the first business incubators in the nation in 1983 and relocated it in 2007 to Ben Franklin TechVentures®. TechVentures earned national acclaim, filled quickly, and expanded in 2011. Since 1983, Ben Franklin’s incubator has graduated 64 successful companies, together grossing more than $1.2 billion in recurring annual revenue and creating more than 6,400 jobs. Forty-one firms, employing more than 170 people, are currently located in Ben Franklin TechVentures. Ben Franklin is currently seeking funding to expand TechVentures again.

Applying the experience garnered over more than 30 years of business incubation and two National Business Incubator of the Year awards, BFTP/NEP leads a ten-member business incubator network in northeastern Pennsylvania, which is among the largest in the U.S. The network provides a venue for member incubator managers to exchange ideas and information, and receive guidelines and training that are in accordance with national incubation standards. Paul announced an initiative to expand the Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network at the iXchange.

“Over three decades, we’ve seen first-hand the enormous difference that business incubation can make to the success of early-stage firms, “said Paul. “We’re leveraging that achievement and synergy to grow our network. These efforts fuel innovation, catalyze the regional technology economy, and create the jobs of the future.”

The iXchange combined the presentation of Ben Franklin’s twenty-second annual Innovation Awards and executive networking sessions with a keynote by Byron Reese. An accomplished high-tech trailblazer, author, inventor, entrepreneur, and eternal optimist, Reese employs his profound understanding of technical data to illuminate how the technology of today can solve some of our most daunting global challenges.

Reese’s presentation addressed how to spot key technologies and identify the macro factors that will drive innovation. He identified which sectors will be massively disrupted and how businesspeople can best build their companies in a world where things change so rapidly. He also emphasized the power of technology to transform the world.

Chad Paul presented Innovation Awards to six recipients who have achieved business success through Ben Franklin funding and assistance, have helped others to achieve success, or have improved their companies through innovation. The 2016 Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania Innovation Awards are:

Entrepreneurial Achievement
The company that best exemplifies the quintessential entrepreneurial spirit: a combination of ingenuity, hard work, and innovation that has resulted in the creation of a successful and growing business venture.
Rea.deeming Beauty, Inc., Bethlehem
Rea Ann Silva, Founder and CEO and Catherine Bailey, Chief Operating Officer
Rea.deeming Beauty manufactures the award-winning elliptical-shaped beautyblender® makeup applicator. Combining an innovative design and material, the applicator allows for line- and streak-free makeup application. It has gained wide market acceptance in both the professional and consumer markets. Rea.deeming recently completed work with Ben Franklin and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center to enhance its production and fulfillment capabilities to meet steep increases in demand. The result was a productivity increase of more than 28%. Relocating to the Lehigh Valley in 2007 with two founders, the company now employs 76. It won the 2015 Fastest Growing Company in the Lehigh Valley and has more than tripled revenue over the past three years.

Incubator Graduate
The company that best demonstrates successful Ben Franklin business incubation. The business has been operated skillfully and confidently, meeting all challenges, from the development of the product concept, execution of the business and technical plan, successful start-up and operation, to graduation from the incubator.
Crew Systems Corporation, Carbondale Technology Transfer Center, Carbondale
Gary Piorkowski, President
Crew Systems designs and manufactures military life support equipment – helmets and breathing systems for military aircrew. The company specializes in chemical and biological protective gear that is flexible enough to be used by military pilots as well as homeland security personnel. Crew Systems, with only two years lead time, designed and manufactured a special helmet and respirator system used by pilots involved with security for the 2012 London Olympics. The firm was among the first resident companies in the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center, which is a member of the Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network.  Crew Systems is now an anchor tenant in the incubator and employs 12 people.

Innovative Application of Technology
A company that strongly demonstrates a “break-the-mold” approach to integrating new or existing technology into its business.
Custom Processing Services, Reading
Gregory J. Shemanski, President and Jeffrey A. Klinger, Vice President
Custom Processing Services (CPS) reduces larger particles into ultra-fine and nano-sized particles for chemicals, polymers, pigments, pharmaceuticals, and other applications. CPS has earned successive Ben Franklin investments, first as an early-stage firm and then as an established manufacturer, in work ranging from refining the business plan to substantial process and energy improvements. The company has three manufacturing facilities in Greater Reading, the newest of which is for food-grade and pharmaceutical processing. A new warehouse at CPS’s East Greenville facility allows enhanced material handling and storage capabilities. The company constantly innovates to develop creative solutions to meet client needs. The firm can now perform contract manufacturing on-site at clients’ plants. Since its inception, CPS has achieved double-digit revenue growth each year. The company now employs 138 and plans to expand its workforce by 50 by the end of 2016.

Innovative Application of Technology
A company that strongly demonstrates a “break-the-mold” approach to integrating new or existing technology into its business.
Hydro Recovery, LP, Blossburg
Chris Wunz, CEO and Sam Gorton, Senior Engineer
Hydro Recovery is developing and optimizing a process for the economic extraction of valuable materials from residual frac water from natural gas wells. Hydro Recovery’s process recycles the used water for treatment and reclamation. Recycling frac water saves millions of gallons of freshwater each year and eliminates the discharge of treated water into waterways. With Ben Franklin investments, Hydro Recovery worked with Penn State on basic R&D associated with the new process. The company now employs more than 50 people. 

Manufacturing Achievement
The company that best exemplifies achievement in the manufacturing arena, showing a proven track record of success and an unbending commitment to achieving and maintaining excellence in manufacturing.
Vigon International, Inc., East Stroudsburg
Stephen Somers, President
Vigon International is a supplier of high-quality specialty ingredients, providing more than 2,000 different products to clients in the flavor, fragrance, and cosmetic markets. Comprehensive manufacturing and distribution capabilities coupled with key strategic partnerships with major global ingredient manufacturers has established Vigon as one of the most progressive companies in the industry. The firm leveraged Ben Franklin’s investment to work with Lehigh University and the Enterprise Systems Partners to develop and implement a system that dramatically increased workflow efficiency, enhanced profitability, and positioned the company for continued growth. The company has increased revenue nearly 30% over the last three years and now employs 69.

An individual whose strong vision, dedication, and commitment have helped the Ben Franklin Technology Partners accomplish its goals. This support demonstrates a sincere desire to see the region thrive.
Douglas R. Petillo, Managing Partner
Navigant Ventures, Glen Mills
Navigant Ventures works with high-potential technology and business services companies to accelerate profitable growth. Doug Petillo, as founder and managing partner, guides each client’s strategy, capital plans, product development, and sales execution. Petillo has served as a Ben Franklin resource for more than a decade and has completed 14 business plan reviews, participated in nine tiger sessions, and advised many early-stage clients, frequently on a pro-bono basis. He has referred promising companies to Ben Franklin and has worked with clients to prepare them for funding, including repeatedly as a Ben Franklin Venture Idol panelist. With deep experience in venture capital, Doug Petillo provides valuable insight to young technology firms and is an avid supporter of Ben Franklin’s mission.  — Coverage via Morning Call; via Lehigh Valley Business; via Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.