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No language barriers, Green Tree's WeSpeke gets the world talking

In his 30-year career as a tech entrepreneur, Mike Elchik has traveled extensively around the world. But no matter how many tapes, CDs and foreign phrase books he would pore over on those long flights, "being in a café in Paris is a completely different experience," he says. "There is a social aspect to learning language. There is a human interaction."
 
With the realization, too, that billions worldwide were chattering in their native languages on multiple social networks and that global perspective and language skills are prized in today's economy, Elchik and Dr. Jaime Carbonell, director of the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon  founded WeSpeke in 2010. 
 
The platform allows participants around the world to connect with others who share their interests, to learn languages and grow cultural awareness. Elchik describes it as "Skype meets Rosetta Stone meets Wikipedia meets EHarmony meets Facebook."
 
WeSpeke launched its site in February, supporting French and English. Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian came online in June and next up are Mandarin, Russian and Arabic. 
 
The service is free to its users. WeSpeke's revenues come from ads targeted to users' shared interests. So a conversation between an English speaking soccer fan and his Italian counterpart will display sports-related advertising.  Clothing and accessory ads will appear in interactions between fashionistas from around the world.
 
Elchik says the global footprint for WeSpeke is growing fast. The company currently has eight full-timers at its headquarters in Green Tree and a network of about 20 consultants around the world. If WeSpeke continues to grow at its current pace, he adds, its workforce could double within a year. 
 
Source: Mike Elchik, WeSpeke
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Philly's Urban Outfitters' huge expansion means 1000s of jobs in PA

From hippies to hipsters, Urban Outfitters has capitalized on the style proclivities of youth. Now the Philadelphia-based retail behemoth has announced a series of expansion projects worth hundreds of millions in investment and, eventually, thousands of new jobs in Pennsylvania.
 
Urban will build a new East Coast, direct-to-consumer fulfillment center in Gap, creating "at least 500 new jobs." Press reports indicated that the company will break ground in November for the 1.2 million-square-foot distribution facility, with completion in summer 2015.
 
Urban is also planning to expand its multi-building Philadelphia Navy Yard headquarters with the refurbishment of a 250,000-square foot building that will eventually bring 2,000 new jobs. The company is investing more than $200 million for both. And both projects will be eligible to receive Keystone Opportunity Zone tax breaks.
 
Separately, the company has unveiled plans to develop a large "lifestyle center" on the site of a former nursery in Devon. Main Line Suburban Life  reported that the company has leased 6.5 acres for the planned "Devon Yard" project to include a Terrain garden center and Anthropologie retail store (both Urban brands), along with a boutique hotel, restaurants and other shops and amenities. 
 
Urban Outfitters started in 1970 as a small retailer on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus. Today the company describes itself as "an innovative specialty retail company which offers a variety of lifestyle merchandise to highly defined customer niches." Its bricks-and-mortar and online brands include Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain and BHLDN. The company has 20,000 employees worldwide, 2,400 of them in Pennsylvania.
 
Source: Team PA
Writer: Elise Vider

A new food distribution center is on its way in Imperial, bringing 300 jobs

Gordon Food Service, a giant, Michigan-based foodservice distributor, is bringing a large new distribution center and 300 jobs to Allegheny County.
 
The company broke ground in September on a 470,000-square-foot facility at the Findley Industrial Park  in Imperial. It will go into operation in spring 2015 and Gordon expects to employ about 300 there within three to five years. The new jobs will include warehousing, transportation, sales and administration.
 
"The Greater Pittsburgh market was the right place to be for Gordon Food Service to meet our customer needs," says spokesman Andy Maier. "Imperial was the location of choice due to its proximity to Pittsburgh, the great road network and the people in the area."
 
The new center represents a significant expansion of Gordon's presence in Pennsylvania. The company already has a distribution center in Pottsville, where it employs about 100. And it runs four GFS Marketplace retail stores in the western part of the state. 
 
Gordon was founded in 1897 as a butter and egg delivery service. Today the company employs 14,000 in North America and claims to be the largest family-owned broadline foodservice distributor in North America—and one of the largest privately held companies in the United States.
 
Altogether, Gordon has 22 centers, distributing food through the Midwest, Northeast and Southeastern United States and coast-to-coast in Canada.
 
 
Source: Andy Maier, Gordon Food Service
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Malvern's Zonoff gets connected with Staples

Staples,  the world's largest office products company and second largest Internet retailer, is launching an exclusive new product for the "connected" home or office. 
 
And every Staples Connect sold will bear the name of the company that developed the platform, Malvern's Zonoff .
 
"This is a big announcement for us," says Zonoff chief marketing officer Bob Cooper with considerable understatement. 
 
Staples Connect is a multi-platform app and universal hub that allows residential and business customers to control lights, window blinds, thermostats, security systems  -- you name it – from a smartphone or tablet. The product will be available online and in a limited number of Staples stores – including in Pennsylvania – in November.  It will be on public display for the first time later this month in San Francisco at the GigaOM Mobilize show.
 
Cooper says this is the biggest commitment any retailer has made to the connected home market and is Zonoff's largest partner to date. The Zonoff name on the box, much in the way the Dolby name appears on audio equipment, is a first, too. Until now, Zonoff's products have been sold under its partners' names. It's a delicate balance, he adds, "We're not interested in being a consumer brand, but we are a core component of the solution." 
 
With Staples, and several more sector leaders as partners yet to be announced, Zonoff is growing fast. When KeystoneEdge last checked in with the company in May, they had 18 employees. Now the workforce stands at 24 and Cooper says they are on track to double by the end of the year.  
 
Source: Bob Cooper, Zonoff
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Pittsburgh's RE2 designs a dexterous manipulation system to maintain performance aircraft

Take a Pennsylvania firm's core technology and an unaddressed need by the military and you have the formula for the latest research funding awarded to Pittsburgh's RE2
 
"We are known as experts in mobile manipulation, essentially robotic arms on things that move," says CEO Jorgen Pedersen. "And this is another application for our core technology, a custom design that solves this particular problem."
 
That problem is the military's need for a system to recoat damaged or worn air inlets on performance aircraft. Many engine air inlets become worn or damaged by foreign objects while in service. Between overhauls, this damage needs to be repaired, increasing aircraft downtime. And the maintenance requires a person to manually recoat any damaged areas, placing the worker at risk and often yielding unacceptable thickness variability.
 
The possible solution is RE2's Automated Air Inlet Coating (A2IC) system, a robotic manipulation system with the dexterity and accuracy required for the job.
 
RE2 won $150,000 in highly competitive Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding, which will cover A2IC development through February. Meanwhile, the company is preparing to compete for a Phase II award, which could start in spring 2014 and allow RE2 to further pursue the project. 
 
The company has a good track record with SBIR. Of 11 Phase I projects, 10 have gone on to Phase II, Pedersen says, and several have gone on to Phase III and commercial success.
 
The A2IC project has allowed RE2 to maintain its workforce of about 40. Meanwhile, Pedersen is hopeful for a major contract for next-generation robots for disposal of explosive ordnance. That project could mean a doubling of revenues and dozens of new jobs in 2015, Pedersen says.
 
Source: Jorgen Pedersen, RE2
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Carbondale's Gentex wins $86.6M defense contract for state-of-the-art helmets

U.S. armed forces will be wearing lighter and more comfortable, high-tech helmets made by the Carbondale-based Gentex Corporation. The company has a new $86.6 million multi-year contract to provide lightweight advanced combat helmets (ACH) to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. 
 
Gentex has been a helmet supplier to the U.S. government for more than 60 years. Gentex uses advanced technology and manufacturing resources to deliver a helmet that is eight percent lighter than previous ACH helmets and provides "added stability comfort and performance capability for the soldier," the company said.
 
"The award represents our long-standing relationship with the U.S. government and our commitment to continually advance the capabilities of our advanced protective helmet solutions for defense and security forces around the world," said L.P. Frieder III, the company's president, in a statement.
 
Gentex has a long history in Carbondale. It started as the Klots Throwing Company, which relocated its silk processing plant to Carbondale after an 1894 fire in order to engage an untapped workforce – the wives and daughters of coal miners. Later, as General Silk, it became of the largest silk fiber processors in the world. During World War II, the company, again renamed as General Textile Mills, produced parachutes for the military. It began manufacturing helmets in 1948. Today, as "a leading provider of personal protection and situational awareness solutions for global defense and security forces," Gentex has operations around the country.
 
Thetimes-tribune.com reports that Gentex employs about 425 people in Fell Twp. who also manufacture flight-crew helmets, fire-resistant garments and optical products. 
 
Source: Gentex Corporation
Writer: Elise Vider
 

The dermatologist will see you now: McMurray's DermatologistOnCall offers virtual skin care

By their very nature, skin conditions are highly visible and so lend themselves to virtual healthcare. Tele-dermatology – among doctors – has been around for many years. But that hasn't made it any easier for patients to see skin specialists; the wait in some places is measured in months.
 
In practice for 20 years, Dr. Mark Seraly, a McMurray-based dermatologist, figured there had to be a better way, that "the future would be direct patient-to-doctor. We have all the tools and the technology platforms."
 
Now his startup, Iagnosis  is doing just that, with a pioneering online dermatology care site, DermatologistOnCall
 
With a network of 10-plus board-certified dermatologists and growing, DermatologistOnCall makes it possible for patients to get a diagnosis, treatment plan, disease-specific information and even prescriptions within three business days. Clients can specify the doctor they want or be served first-come, first-served from a virtual waiting room. The $69 service, Seraly emphasizes, is private, safe, secure and confidential and even includes secure, follow-up messaging between doctor and patient for 30 days. 
 
Diagnoses are just as reliable, Seraly says, as with an in-office visit and the service, launched in 2012, has already caught many skin cancers and even melanomas.
 
Predicting that half of all skin care will be delivered through a virtual platform within 10 years, Seraly is actively ramping up to take the service national. DermatologistOnCall just added West Virginia as its second state after Pennsylvania and other states are green lit,  he says. The young company is actively marketing at medical events and meetings. And this summer it launched a mobile app developed by Newton Consulting  of Claysville. 
 
Iagnosis already employs 13 and Seraly expects to double the number of employees over the next year. 
 
Source: Dr. Mark Seraly, Iagnosis
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

With millions in new venture capital, Conshohocken's NextDocs poised for further growth

Conshohocken's NextDocs is in the money, with a new round of venture capital and funding commitments worth $13.5 million.
 
"Since its inception, NextDocs has primarily funded its operations and growth through revenue generation. Of course, this has only been possible because of the extremely strong reception our solutions have received in the market,"  CEO Zikria Syed said in a statement. "These additional equity investments and funding commitments will allow us to escalate the investment in our solutions, services and global organization – positioning the company to capture even greater market share."
 
NextDocs says that demand is rapidly expanding for its regulated content management solutions to the life sciences industry. Its research found that nearly 37% of life sciences companies have reported replacing or beginning to replace their legacy document management technologies in favor of regulated content management software and the trend is accelerating.
 
OpenView Venture Partners of Boston led the new funding round with participation by Eastward Capital and Bridgebank Capital.
 
OpenView was already NextDocs' largest investor and its first institutional investor, having provided a $10 million Series A round of investment in 2011. "We see NextDocs growing aggressively and becoming a much larger company over the next few years," said Firas Raouf of OpenView.
 
Founded in 2006, NextDocs today counts more than 100 life sciences companies among its clients, including five of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies and two of the largest clinical research organizations.
 
In a separate announcement, NextDocs also reported that it has been named as Microsoft's Life Sciences Partner of the Year for 2013, the fourth consecutive year it has received the award.
 
Source: NextDocs
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Penn State funds agricultural research with an eye to commercialization

Innovative and potentially marketable research projects to develop a new fertilizer, anti-bed bug pesticide, farm equipment and waste-to-fuel technology have received grants from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
 
The Research Applications for Innovation (RAIN) Grants aim to stimulate economic development through transfer of technologies to the marketplace, says Gary Thompson, associate dean for research and graduate education.
 
Nina Jenkins, a senior research associate in entomology, is leading a research group developing a biopesticide for long-term control and prevention of bed bug infestations. Jenkins has filed patent applications for the technology, which has garnered strong interest from the hotel industry. The grant will be used to collect data needed for eventual approval of the project for in-home use.
 
Corey Dillon and Agronomy Professor Greg Roth are working to commercialize "the Penn State Interseeder" developed by research technologist Chris Houser. The equipment  can seed a cover crop into no-till corn, while also applying fertilizer and post-emergent herbicide, saving growers time and money and making cover crops more economically feasible. 
 
Cover crops are gaining favor for their ability to reduce soil erosion, take up excess nutrients, suppress weeds and provide forage and biofuel feedstock.
The grant will be used to market the equipment for licensing to potential suppliers and manufacturers. 
 
Nicole Brown, associate professor of wood chemistry, is investigating a value-added use for lignin and silica-rich rice hull ash, which are wastes from bioenergy, and pulp and paper production. Brown's team has applied for a patent for technology that incorporates these low-value products into bricks that substitute for coke, the fuel source in the metal casting industry.
 
Industry trials have shown that these innovative solid-fuel bricks can reduce the energy and carbon dioxide footprints of steel and iron foundries by 20 to 25 percent, while providing additional value for several waste or low-value materials. 
 
Another team, led by Associate Professor Mary Ann Bruns, is studying cyanobacterial biofertilizers and will work with a company that plans to produce low-carbon liquid fuels by capturing carbon dioxide to grow cyanobacteria.
 
Source: Penn State
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Six startups share $740,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA

Six entrepreneurs, technology startups and small manufacturers are beneficiaries of  the latest investments announced by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA
 
FairTech Labs, located in State College and a graduate of the BF TechCelerator@State College, provides an online solution for personalized household inventory management.  Shelf Scouter effectively organizes, manages and purchases household goods and eliminates the inefficiencies associated with paper grocery lists.  
 
Also located in State College, Ascent Bio-Nano Technologies, a graduate of the BF TechCelerator@State College, has developed patented, low-cost flow cytometer cell sorters that analyze and sort without damaging the cells.
 
Arctic Blast Covers in Indiana has introduced a line of thermal covers that are designed to insulate and warm bank branch offices that maintain ATMs, cash drawers and night deposit slots.   
 
Located in York, UniSeal  has introduced FloorEverDri® into the global moisture mitigation and concrete curing market. UniSeal’s green, user-friendly product meets or exceeds all ASTM moisture and alkalinity testing standards and also acts as a primer for flooring adhesives.   
 
Netrepid  in Harrisburg, is an IT services company which is building on a nine-year legacy.  The BFTP investment helps complete a company restructure and will also be used to hire support and sales personnel. The company offers co-location, hosting and infrastructure management. 
 
Conduit Technology, housed in the Erie Technology Incubator on the campus of Gannon University, has developed and launched a cloud-based software product that automates the current manual, paper-based process used to collect medical device documentation required by insurance companies.  
 
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Erie's Adaptmicrosys getting hardware and software to co-exist

The rapid evolution of handheld computing devices, such as tablets, smartphones, cellphones and game machines, is putting increased pressure on semiconductor and mobile computing device makers to satisfy the demand for both low-power and high-performance computing. 
 
To serve that market, Adaptmicrosys, an Erie startup, is developing technology to enhance performance and energy efficiency of mobile devices and computers. 
 
Founder Kyu Jung explains it like this: "Let's say a smartphone is a house for a family where a mother, father and many children live together." Dad is the hardware, born to run fast. Mom is the software and can create complicated mazes – known as software code fraction. The kids are the memory. Mom and the kids force Dad to "slow down at very corner … In order to resolve or at least alleviate these issues, we offer marriage counseling for this family," Jung says.
 
Adaptmicrosys develops adaptive hardware and software co-technologies to enhance performance and energy efficiency of hardware and software in devices including smartphones tablets, and laptop/desktop PCs so that manufacturers can "seamlessly develop their hardware and software ecosystems," he adds.
 
Jung established the company in 2008 in Texas before relocating to Pennsylvania. He currently teaches computer engineering at Gannon University.  
 
Adaptmicrosys recently won $10,000 at the Ben Franklin Big Idea business plan competition, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania
 
The coaching, mentoring and access to resources in Erie have been invaluable, Jung says, helping the company "sail through a foggy sea of business."
 
Source: Kyu Jung, Adaptmicrosys
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Pharma and Biotech keep Ambler's Precis Engineering growing

Like the little engineering firm that could, Precis Engineering  in Ambler has seen steady growth, through bad times and now good. 
 
Founded in 2005 with two, the company just added five new engineering and administrative positions, bringing its workforce to 42. "Our backlog has us busy and we foresee staying that way," says Principal Robert Dick, making more hiring likely. He anticipates adding another three jobs in the next six months and possibly another five or six within the next year.
 
Precis' focus on the pharmaceutical, biotech, university, utility and research and development markets helped keep the firm busy, even through the worst of the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, says Dick. "Whether they're growing, shrinking or consolidating, [these clients] need engineering services," he says, for maintenance, physical plant and equipment upgrades. 
 
Looking ahead, he sees "a fair amount of still-untapped market share in the area… We see that most companies still have significant capital expenditure budgets looking forward. We think we'll be a key part of that success."
 
Precis offers a range of engineering services including mechanical, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, fire protection, life safety and process automation engineering and commissioning services. Its client list is populated with big names including Teva, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Verizon Wireless, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton. 
 
Precis was on the team behind the award-winning Morphotek  pilot plant in Exton. That project, which included brownfield reclamation and a highly sustainable design, was awarded LEED Gold certification this summer and has received much recognition. "That was a great project for us," says Dick. 
 
Source: Robert Dick, Precis Engineering
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Rainwear, pure air, advanced batteries and more: Innovative companies receive Ben Franklin $$$

Makers of green electrical generators, hospital air purification systems, rainproof materials and advanced batteries are among the innovative companies that have received a total of almost $325,000 in new investments from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania
 
Four early-stage companies received loans. They are:
 
EthosGen LLC in Wilkes-Barre received $115,000 to continue commercialization efforts for its proprietary on-site, alternative-energy, waste-heat-to-electrical-power generator that produces electricity from sustainable and renewable sources. 
 
LifeAire Systems, LLC  of Allentown got $40,000 to conduct a series of test programs to validate the effectiveness of its air purification technology in a hospital setting, and expand marketing efforts for selling the units to in vitro fertilization laboratories. 
 
Map Decisions, a resident at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem, received $13,200 to identify resources for marketing and sales support to help commercialize its field information management software system. Map Decisions’ software platform replaces outdated methods of data collection such as paper forms, cameras, video, spreadsheets and hard-to-use, expensive professional GPS units.
 
Zero Rain, LLC in Mildred received $50,000 to begin operations to apply a new, proprietary chemical to natural fabrics and finished apparel that makes them water-repellant and resistant to stains and odors. The treatment works on all natural fabrics, including cotton, silk, wool, and cashmere. 
 
In addition, these established manufacturers were awarded 1:1 matching funding for work with a college or university partner on technology-based manufacturing innovation:
 
Alpha Packaging of Bethlehem, a maker of plastic bottles and jars primarily for the nutritional, pharmaceutical, personal care, housewares, consumer chemical and food and beverage markets, was awarded $48,000?to work with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center to implement practices and install equipment to reduce its energy consumption by 20%.

East Penn Manufacturing Company in Lyon Station received $48,000 to develop a complete analysis of front-end considerations in support of the company’s new advanced battery products. Partnering with The Emerging Technologies Application Center at Northampton Community College, East Penn, the largest manufacturing employer in Berks County, will address packaging, transport, storage, safety and precautions in materials handling.
 
Precise Graphix of Emmaus, a designer, fabricator, and installer of interior décor, signage and store fixtures, was awarded $10,300 to work with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center to improve its production layout and optimize its job cost analysis process. The analysis will lead to more effective scheduling utilization and increased profitability, as well as an improved layout of the manufacturing operations to streamline process flow.
 
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Bethlehem's Orbweaver Sourcing makes parts search easy for electronics makers

Manufacturers of electronics traditionally have had to endure an inefficient and time-consuming process that can take as long as two weeks to comparison-shop for components. 
 
No longer. Orbweaver Sourcing,  a Bethlehem-based startup, has developed a technology that automatically analyzes and filters parts search results from 265 suppliers, based on nearly a dozen customizable settings. Users are instantly presented with results suited to their unique demands, from supplier preferences to cost/excess strategy. 
 
"We are the Kayak of electronics sourcing decisions," says CEO and co-founder T. Christopher Ciesielka, referring to the travel website aggregator.
 
Ciesielka founded the company in March 2012 with Tony Powell. Working in the electronics manufacturing services industry, Ciesielka had commissioned Powell, a software developer, to build something for his own use. It didn't take long for the pair to realize they had a viable business opportunity.
 
Orbweaver launched its first product, a browser-based app and Excel add-in, in July. They are actively developing and raising capital for their cloud-based product, which they expect to launch in April and which will offer instant quotes, sourcing, inventory management and purchasing functions.
 
The company is one of 10 finalists in the Ben Franklin Venture Idol,  a crowd-funding event hosted by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania in November. 
 
The young company, housed at Ben Franklin TechVentures on the Lehigh University campus, currently has five part-timers. Ciesielka projects creating four jobs in 18 months and 24 jobs over the next three years, mostly programmers and sales support.
 
Source: T. Christopher Ciesielka, Orbweaver Sourcing
Writer: Elise Vider
 

From Kitty Hawk to Bethlehem: Curtiss-Wright lands at a new facility, adding 95 jobs

Curtiss-Wright Corporation (as in Glenn Curtiss, the father of naval aviation; Wright as in the pioneering aviation brothers) is building a new facility in Bethlehem and creating 95 jobs.
 
The PA Department of Community & Economic Development  (DCED) says the company will move its Engineered Pump Division from Phillipsburg, NJ to a new 179,000-square-foot facility in Bethlehem, a more than $7 million capital investment. The division provides a wide range of highly engineered, mission-critical and general-service products for the Navy, Coast Guard and related maritime customers.
 
"We … look forward to supplying our mission-critical products and services from our new, modern manufacturing, testing, warehousing and office facility," Todd Schurra, the division's general manager, said in a statement.
 
Curtiss-Wright received a funding offer from DCED including a $200,000 PA First Program grant, a $42,750 Guaranteed Free Training grant to train its new workforce, and a $2.3 million loan from the Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund.
 
The company was created in 1929 as a merger between Curtiss Aeroplane and Wright Aeronautical Corporation. Based in Parsippany, NJ, Curtiss-Wright is today a global engineering and manufacturing company with 10,000 employees worldwide.  The company already has about 760 employees in Pennsylvania, according to DCED.
 
Source: Lyndsay Frank, DCED
Writer: Elise Vider
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