The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP_NEPA) presented its annual iXchange virtually at 3:30 PM on Wednesday afternoon, May 18, 2022. This year’s iXchange theme was Innovators: Past, Present, and Future. It included the presentation of six innovation awards to early-stage technology companies, established manufacturers, and individuals who have helped Ben Franklin to advance the technology economy of northeastern Pennsylvania. Nearly 200 guests registered for the event.
The 2022 Ben Franklin Technology Partners innovation award winners are:
The Entrepreneurial Achievement Award – 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.
MXTR Automation, Williamsport – Mickey Locey, Co-founder, President and Joe Mauro, Founder, Director of Product Development
MXTR Automation provides marketing automation and lead-management software solutions to multi-location organizations world-wide. Specializing in the manufacturing and franchise spaces, MXTR focuses on helping customers turn more leads into sales while maximizing the consumer experience. The company’s cloud-based marketing platform enables users to develop lead routing and lead nurturing strategies that bring consistency to the consumer experience. The platform streamlines cumbersome, time-consuming processes with custom pre-programmed, automated lead-nurturing solutions, enabling enterprises to “syndicate” lead nurturing and customer engagement across their entire dealer or franchise network. The MXTR platform also tightens lead attribution down to the local market and provides roll-up reporting and first-party consumer data throughout the organization.
BFTP invested $100,000 in MXTR in 2018. Leveraging that investment, the firm raised $1 million in venture capital follow-on funding. The company has increased its revenue year-over-year and engaged new trusted channel partners. The firm, which is based in Williamsport, regularly hires graduates from nearby Pennsylvania College of Technology and Lycoming College. Even during the pandemic, MXTR grew revenue and increased staff last year. Starting with three workers, MXTR now employs 18 and is growing.
The R. Chadwick Paul, Jr. Incubator Graduate Award – 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.
Millions of Americans require specialized and custom-manufactured drugs, and the current infrastructure is insufficient to support their therapies. US Specialty Formulations (USSF) manufactures sterile injectable pharmaceuticals used by healthcare providers. These specially prepared drugs are U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications combined together or with other approved substances in order to avoid allergenic issues for patients, adjust dosages, and/or change the form of medication for optimum effect.
USSF, in conjunction with Ben Franklin client Vaxform, LLC, is developing an oral COVID-19 vaccine that will allow greater worldwide vaccine access and possibly protect patients better than injections. USSF currently employs 21 and plans more hiring. The company launched and located its first clean room in Ben Franklin TechVentures in 2014, received two Ben Franklin investments totaling $150,000, then graduated from the incubator and purchased a 41,000 ft2 (3,800 m2) building in Allentown in which to scale manufacturing.
The Product Innovation Award – The company that best demonstrates the commercialization of a unique, innovative product that creatively and effectively meets a market need.
Retail paper bags have not been updated in more than 100 years. American Paper Bag (APB) is revolutionizing how paper shopping bags and mailers are manufactured, while providing unmatched customization options. The company’s new bags offer greater strength, reduce storage space by more than 50%, are far more efficient and produce less carbon emissions to manufacture, and use fewer raw materials — and the raw materials are ethically sourced.
In 2016, Ben Franklin teamed with the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber and the Governor’s Action Team to attract APB’s founder to start his company in northeastern Pennsylvania. They were successful. BFTP provided seed funding, which the company leveraged to raise more than $7 million in follow-on funding. Today, American Paper Bag occupies 100,000 sq. ft.in Sugar Notch, with plans to double capacity over the next two years. The firm employs 46 Pennsylvanians, and has a customer roster including Walmart, Amazon, GoPuff, and Eataly.
The Innovative Application of Technology Award – The company that strongly demonstrates a “break-the-mold” approach to integrating new or existing technology into its business.
Tower Products distinguishes itself by manufacturing offset and flexographic pressroom chemistry products that are both environmentally sensitive and cost-competitive. The company is the recognized industry leader in supplying printers with pressroom chemistry aimed at increasing worker safety, improving the printing process, and being environmental compliant. From low emissions washes to world-class fountain solution technology, Tower Products manufactures a complete line to meet multiple printing requirements.
Ben Franklin invested four times in the firm to select and implement an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system in partnership with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center and Center for Supply Chain Research. The ERP system allowed Tower Products to improve its manufacturing processes and the data and information flow, reduce manufacturing costs, and enhance customer services/sales processes to better serve existing clients and attract new ones worldwide. Further, ERP improvements helped the company add new offerings to its product line and facilitate growth.
The Manufacturing Achievement Award – 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.
United Gilsonite Laboratories (UGL) combines the efficient manufacturing of high-quality, innovative products with attention to sustainability and worker safety as a leading manufacturer in the masonry care and repair and wood finishing products industry for commercial and residential applications.
All products meet or go beyond green standards by exceeding VOC requirements, featuring low-odor and water-based cleanup formulas, and reducing/recycling waste, among others. The UGL product development team weighs human health and environmental impact heavily in new formulations.
UGL’s brand of products includes DRYLOK®, America’s number one selling masonry paint, and ZAR® stains and finishes for interior and exterior wood care. All are high-performing and popular among both professionals and do-it-yourselfers.
During the pandemic, the dramatic increase in home improvement projects substantially increased demand at UGL, while COVID concurrently created worker shortages. With the support of two Ben Franklin investments in partnership with Wilkes University, and astute execution by UGL leadership, the 140-employee firm successfully managed the challenge.
The Frederick J. Beste III Partnership Award – 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.
Pete Molinaro, CEO and Chairman, Adhezion Biomedical, LLC, Wyomissing
In every aspect of his 18-year relationship with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Pete Molinaro has been a productive, ardent, and generous resource. He has served on the Ben Franklin board since 2003, and helped form, host, and presented to Ben Franklin’s Greater Reading Medical Device Group, which seeks to build a synergy in Berks County to grow this lucrative sector.
With both entrepreneurial and corporate experience, Molinaro brings deep experience in medical devices and biotechnology, having led Surgical Specialties Corporation and Adhezion Biomedical, both of Reading. He selflessly volunteers his time, energy, and expertise to advise and guide Ben Franklin clients and other entrepreneurs, and supports Ben Franklin’s due diligence with prospective clients. He has served as the Ben Franklin representative on the Greater Reading Economic Partnership Steering Committee, on the boards of Tower Health and Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, and on a variety of boards and committees with Alvernia, Albright, and Penn State universities. A selfless leader in the Berks County innovation ecosystem, Pete Molinaro demonstrates a sincere desire to see the region thrive and continuously embodies the spirit of partnership.
After the award presentations, concurrent live chat rooms provided guests with an opportunity to talk with innovators past, present, and future. Three Ben Franklin clients, including two former innovation award winners, hosted each separate chat room:
Jeff Teschke, , Founder and CEO, Forge3, Ltd., Bethlehem
Chris Ciesielka, CEO and Tony Powell, CTO, Orbweaver Sourcing, LLC, Bethlehem
On-line guests at the iXchange were high-level and diverse, and included technology entrepreneurs, businesspeople, economic developers, venture capitalists, regional influencers, political leaders, educators, students, bankers, lawyers, and accountants from Ben Franklin’s 21-county region.