Ben Franklin News

Ben Franklin Announces Innovation Award Winners

Winners to be Honored at May 8th i xchange Event

 The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania has announced the winners of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Innovation Awards. Winners will be honored at the Ben Franklin i xchange event, scheduled for 5:30 PM on Tuesday, May 8th at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University.

 Awards will be presented in six categories, to companies or individuals who have achieved business success through Ben Franklin funding and assistance, have helped others to achieve success, or have improved their businesses through innovation. Each award recipient represents a company or person that exemplifies achievement in that particular category.

 The purposes of the innovation awards are to congratulate winners on their success and achievement, to highlight the effectiveness of the Ben Franklin program, and to inform entrepreneurs and established manufacturers about the resources that are available to them in northeastern Pennsylvania.

 The 2012 Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania Innovation Awards winners are:

 Entrepreneurial Achievement

Individuals who best exemplify 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.

Patrick Clasen, Justin Lawyer, and Timothy Marks, Founders and Principals
EcoTech Marine, LLC, Bethlehem
Reef aquarium ownership is a sizeable and growing hobby. To properly care for expensive fish and corals within an aquarium ecosystem, adequate water circulation is required. Conventional pumps located within the tank are large and generate considerable heat, which can harm or kill sensitive aquarium inhabitants. EcoTech’s patented VorTech propeller pump provides a gentle, controlled flow, which enhances the aquarium ecosystem. EcoTech’s new Radion LED lighting unit features 34 energy-efficient LEDs with a five-color spectrum for improving aquarium growth, wider coverage, better energy efficiency, and a customizable spectral output. EcoTech also adapted the pump for use in the spa/pedicure market.

EcoTech’s principals founded the company while still undergraduate students, and built it into a multi-million dollar enterprise with the help of several regional economic development partners. In addition to Ben Franklin, the company received support from the City of Bethlehem; Lehigh University through its Integrated Product Development Program, Small Business Development Center, and Enterprise Systems Center; Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation through its Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone; the Manufacturers’ Resource Center; and Northampton County. EcoTech has grown substantially over the past three years and is on track for more than 12 million in revenue for 2012, almost doubling its 2011 sales. Beginning with three founders, the company now employs 30, plans to add 10 more full-time team members this year, and is seeking new space that quadruples its current area.

 Incubator Graduate

The company that has best demonstrated 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.  
Net Driven, Scranton
Patrick Sandone, Founder and President
Seventy eight percent of consumers in the U.S. and Canada have access to the Internet. Yet three years ago, when Net Driven began marketing its service, most tire dealers and auto repair shops had nothing more than a static website, if they had any online presence at all. Despite the growing necessity for Internet marketing in this sector, developing an effective website and internet marketing solution was too costly for most companies and outside of their skill set and expertise.

 A graduate of the Scranton Enterprise Center, Net Driven has become the leading provider of websites and Internet marketing solutions to the automotive industry. In 2007, founders recognized that a growing number of consumers were shopping online for automotive repair, body work, parts, used cars, and tires, but the dealers did not have an effective way to market their products and services on the Internet. Net Driven responds to this niche market need by providing an effective yet economical website and Internet marketing solution to independent automotive dealers. In just three years, this profitable company has increased revenue 800% and added 25 new employees.

 Product Innovation

The company that best demonstrates the commercialization of a unique, innovative product that creatively and effectively meets a market need.

RantNetwork, Inc., Bloomsburg
Kenneth Volet, Chief Executive Officer and Elisa Grandizio, Chief Administrative OfficerRantNetwork’s Communilator™ is the most advanced mobile phone language translation application in the world. It is capable of recognizing and translating foreign text, including books, newspapers, and menus in 44 languages and dialects captured with the host’s mobile phone camera. The application also delivers translations to the host’s mobile phone in 3,000 language pairs, provides high-quality (HQ) voice for translations in 21 foreign languages, offers voice recognition for translation of text input, and seamlessly integrates with the mobile phone’s SMS and email systems.

 Ben Franklin has invested three times in RantNetwork and introduced the company to follow-on funding opportunities. Despite considerable initial setbacks, RantNetwork’s tenacity has paid off with a contract with Etihad-Etisalat (Mobily), the second largest telecom carrier in Saudi Arabia, to launch an Arabic version of the Communilator. The company recently launched its iPhone/iPad, Android, and Blackberry app versions of the product. Communilator combines state-of-the-art technology into a single comprehensive system that is not offered by any current competitor.

 Innovative Application of Technology
The company that best demonstrates a “break the mold” approach to integrating new or existing technology into a manufacturing environment.
AMETEK Specialty Metal Products – Reading Alloys, Robesonia
Dr. Colin McCracken, Director of Product and Market Development
AMETEK Special Metal Products – Reading Alloys produces master and specialty alloys and high-purity powders used in the aerospace and medical industries. Recently, the company has focused on applications in metal powders for the medical industry. Its products can be spray coated onto implants, which are ultimately used in the human body to provide an ideal surface for bone ingrowth. This application will substantially enhance the recovery of patients receiving medical implants.

AMETEK Special Metal Products – Reading Alloys recently opened a new manufacturing facility to support the growth in the metal powder market. Ben Franklin, with Lehigh University, supported the firm with plant layout studies, materials reviews, and productivity improvements, as well as an introduction to a key resource to manage the new operation. With 140 current employees, up 12% from last year, this company is a significant Greater Reading employer that is well-positioned for growth.

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.
Appeeling Fruit, Inc., Reading, PA
Steve Cygan, President and Owner
Tripling revenue and increasing staff from 10 to 100 people over the last two years would be a notable accomplishment at any time, and is even more impressive during an economic recession. Appeeling Fruit is a producer of fresh-sliced apple products for both food service and retail clients. Ben Franklin invested in the company four times to improve production efficiency, support facility planning, and manage manufacturing capacity for sustained growth. Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center and the Greater Berks Development Fund partnered with Ben Franklin to support Appeeling’s improvements.

 Appeeling employs a number of people from the City of Reading, which is particularly impactful because the City has experienced greater than average unemployment difficulties. The new facility adheres to Good Manufacturing Practices and FDA requirements, and is a showcase plant for food processing. Appeeling Fruit is a tremendously successful manufacturer and a valuable business asset to Greater Reading.


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.

Tom Garrity, Managing Partner
Compass Point Consulting, LLC, Bethlehem
As Managing Partner of Compass Point Consulting, Tom Garrity provides strategy, execution, and ownership transition services to middle-market family and closely held businesses. Compass Point’s mission is simple:  build high-performance companies that can run without the owner.  Serving meritoriously on the Ben Franklin Solutions Network, Garrity has been a supporter of Ben Franklin clients for many years. He has provided pro bono business plan reviews since 2004, and recently completed his eleventh review. He participated in three company “Tiger Sessions,” also pro bono, during which clients are reviewed comprehensively and constructively criticized to their long-term benefit. He worked with seven Ben Franklin clients to develop their business plans. He taught two classes on strategy and sales for Ben Franklin clients, and followed up with individual client sales coaching.

 Ben Franklin engages Garrity frequently and often without remuneration to provide feedback to in-house staff, assistance to clients, and support to entrepreneurs and businesspeople throughout the region. In addition, Garrity has served on Originate Ventures’ Open Court, critiquing early-stage firms and as a judge for Lehigh University students’ Integrated Business and Engineering program presentations. Garrity’s continuous worthwhile contributions model selfless service and demonstrate his heartfelt desire to give back to the regional economy.

 The i xchange is the premier business technology networking event in northeastern Pennsylvania. Last year, more than 500 technology entrepreneurs, business people, economic developers, venture capitalists, political leaders, educators, students, bankers, lawyers, and accountants from Ben Franklin’s 21-county service area attended, and even more are expected this year.

 The i xchange will combine the presentation of Ben Franklin’s seventeenth annual Innovation Awards with a keynote address by Leonard Brody. Brody is a highly respected entrepreneur, venture capitalist, best-selling author, and a two-time Emmy-nominated media visionary. He has helped raise millions of dollars for start-up companies, played a role in one of the largest Internet IPOs in history, and has participated in the building, financing, and/or sale of five companies. His keynote presentation, This Monumental Shift – Exploring the Future of Behavior, Technology, and Innovation, will address how major technological and behavioral changes over the last 15 years have brought us to what is arguably the most reformative time in history.

 The entrance fee for the i xchange is $65 in advance or $75 the day of the event. To learn more or to register, go to, e-mail, or call 610-758-5200.


About the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania:

The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania links companies with experts, universities, funding, and other resources to help them prosper through innovation.  The Center strategy encompasses three key areas: developing early-stage, technology-based companies; helping established manufacturers creatively apply new technologies and business practices; and promoting an innovative community-wide infrastructure that fosters a favorable business environment for high-growth companies. The northeastern center is headquartered at Ben Franklin TechVentures® on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem and is part of a four-center, state-funded economic development initiative.