Three minutes. That’s the average amount of time we work uninterrupted by email, social media, colleagues, phone calls, and other distractions, according to Ben Franklin iXchange keynote speaker Curt Steinhorst.
The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) hosted its annual iXchange at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem on Tuesday evening, May 22. More than 375 technology entrepreneurs, business people, venture capitalists, economic developers, political leaders, and regional influencers from Ben Franklin’s 21-county service area attended. The iXchange included two executive networking sessions, a keynote by a nationally known speaker, and the presentation of six Innovation Awards.
In following with the keynote theme of “Thriving in the Age of Distraction,” BFTP/NEP presented fidget spinners as gifts to guests at the receptions. The toy spinners were originally designed to help children focus. It is believed that fidgeting may occupy parts of our brain that would otherwise distract the rest of our brain with random thoughts.
During the program, an animation of a spinner with sound effects arbitrarily flashed across the screen. Emcee R. Chadwick Paul, Jr., President and CEO of BFTP/NEP, stopped abruptly, reacted to the interruptions, then went back to the program as if nothing happened. The fidget spinner interruptions represented the myriad distractions each of us endures every day.
“You may wonder why we have been flashing a photo of fidget spinners at random times,” said Paul in his introduction of keynote presenter Curt Steinhorst. “Were you distracted by my distractions?”
The event began with a new video presenting the award-winning Ben Franklin TechVentures® business incubator/post incubator. The West Wing expansion of TechVentures was completed in fall 2017, and the facility now has a total of 129,000 square feet of space for companies to start and grow. BFTP/NEP also leads the Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network, which includes member incubators throughout its 21-county service area. The network just expanded to 15 members; it is among the largest networks in the nation.
Business incubation encourages focus and mentorship among entrepreneurs who lead the resident companies. “Innovating, persisting, and succeeding against the odds embody the American Dream,” said Paul. “We at Ben Franklin Technology Partners have learned that an entrepreneurial disposition must be focused. Avoiding distraction is a challenge now more than ever.”
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 2018 Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania Innovation Awards are:
The company leader who 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.
Kevin Rhodes, CEO and Founder
FMI provides contract manufacturing for a wide range of clients in the skin care, personal care, hair care, home care and pet care markets. Its materials are sold throughout the world and comprise products in most major domestic retailers. The road to success was challenging for founder Kevin Rhodes, with slow initial growth exacerbated by the economic crisis of 2008. When FMI then lost a client that represented 60% of its business, it was in danger of closing. But the FMI team persevered, and their tenacity was rewarded. In 2000 through 2002, Ben Franklin invested $267,000 in the company as an early-stage firm to work with Lehigh University to develop a strategic information systems plan. In 2015 and 2016, Ben Franklin invested $53,000 in FMI as an established manufacturer to, again with Lehigh, upgrade its Enterprise Resource Planning system to improve operational efficiency and provide scalability and flexibility of operation. Beginning with a single founder, the company now employs 100 in Allentown and increased revenue by 87% last year.
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, and successful start-up and operation, to graduation from the incubator.
Orbweaver Sourcing, LLC, Bethlehem
Christopher Ciesielka, CEO and Tony Powell, CTO
Orbweaver Sourcing is the first and only provider of complete, real-time supply chain integration solutions for the electronics manufacturing industry. Orbweaver’s suite of software solutions empowers distributors and manufacturers to instantly and securely transfer and use critical supply chain data to dramatically increase efficiency, reduce cost, and improve customer service. The firm started in Ben Franklin TechVentures in 2013 with two employees. Ben Franklin invested $400,000 in the company over four years. By 2016, Orbweaver had outgrown the incubator with 13 full-time employees and three contractors. The company now has a significant client roster that includes industry leaders, and has raised substantial follow-on funding to complement the Ben Franklin investment.
The company that best demonstrates the commercialization of a unique, innovative product that creatively and effectively meets a market need.
Play Impossible, Lewisburg
Brian Monnin, Co-founder and CEO
The Play Impossible Gameball™ is a multi-sport “smart ball” that provides connected games designed to keep five- to 15-year-old boys and girls challenged, entertained, and moving with active play. The 5-inch-diameter ball is for indoor and outdoor recreation and contains sensors, a microcontroller, Bluetooth radio, and ultra-capacitor. The ball uses a battery-powered, hand-held charger and connects via Bluetooth to Android and iOS applications. The mobile applications contain fun, addicting games for physical digital play. Play Impossible has developed an innovative way to utilize technology to encourage children to engage in active play, building on a new category of toys. Ben Franklin invested $138,000 in the company in 2016. The Gameball successfully launched at Target and on Amazon in the 2017 holiday season, and was nominated for a prestigious Webby Award, the leading international competition honoring excellence on the internet. The company is currently in negotiations with an additional major channel for international distribution.
Innovative Application of Technology
The company that strongly demonstrates a “break-the-mold” approach to integrating new or existing technology into its business.
East Coast Erosion Control, Bernville
Diane Smith, President
East Coast Erosion Control is one of the largest manufacturers of erosion and sediment control products, and turf reinforcement mats for the construction industry in the U.S. Ben Franklin invested $75,000 in the company over three years, linking it with Lehigh University and the Enterprise Systems Partners, Inc. to develop and implement an Enterprise Resource Planning system. Operational process improvements enhanced customer delivery performance, reduced cost-of-goods sold, increased efficiency, and maximized production capacity. The upgrades allowed East Coast Erosion Control to lead its industry in production capacity, providing a competitive advantage and facilitating continued growth. The company is planning a major expansion of its physical plant and equipment that will allow it to increase production by 46 percent.
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.
Pleasant Mount Welding, Inc., Carbondale
Robert Non, CEO
Pleasant Mount Welding is a specialty metals fabricator that primarily serves the water/wastewater treatment and environmental industries, manufacturing and engineering products including flood control equipment and SBR wastewater equipment. Ben Franklin has been working with Pleasant Mount Welding since 1988, supporting the company’s information technology infrastructure. Most recently, BFTP engaged Johnson College to help the firm build a machine controlled by PLC software to manufacture grating that drove an annual revenue increase of more than $3 million. A current Ben Franklin project for a proprietary water treatment facility promises to create 10 more jobs. A classic entrepreneurial success story, founder Robert Non started his firm from his garage while still in high school. He moved his company to Carbondale, and worked on several major projects, including the downtown Wilkes-Barre floodgates. Today, the company has four manufacturing facilities and employs 161 Pennsylvanians.
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.
Gregory F. Krug
Lampire Biological Laboratories, Inc., Pipersville
Gregory F. Krug has been working with Ben Franklin since 1989, when his company received three successive investments. Since then, he has built Lampire into a substantial firm that employs more than 130 in six Pennsylvania facilities. He has successfully encouraged companies such as Arista Biologicals and Saladax Biomedical to become Ben Franklin incubator residents and clients. Gregory introduced Ben Franklin to numerous prospective clients, and was a significant partner to other TechVentures life sciences companies. He acquired Ben Franklin client HB Custom Media, and continued to advance its technology while also assuming much of its financial obligation to Ben Franklin. He has advocated for Ben Franklin with elected officials, the media, and other community leaders. For nearly three decades as an entrepreneur, mentor, and proponent, Gregory Krug has substantially advanced Ben Franklin Technology Partners and the northeastern Pennsylvania business technology ecosystem.
Coverage via Lehigh Valley Business.
Photo credit: Ryan Hulvat