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Eleven Southeast PA companies share $1.9 million in new funding

Eleven early-stage companies -- everything from a bagel bakery to a company that prints living tissue -- are recipients of $1.9 million in new investments from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Philadelphia's BioBots expects that within 20 years its 3-D bioprinters will allow patients with organ failure to receive custom replacement organs built by and constructed out of their own cells.

Another Philadelphia company, EnviroKure Inc., uses proprietary technology to produce liquid organic fertilizers. Their unique product upcycles chicken manure in a fully sustainable, highly efficient process to meet the needs of the fastest growing fertilizer markets in the United States: large-scale organic farming and natural turf management.

In Chester County, Essential Medical is developing X-SealTM and MANTATM, two innovative vascular closure devices for both small bore and large bore femoral closure. Vascular closure devices (VCDs) are used to close incisions in the leg artery after cardiac catheterizations.

Philadelphia's Fitly is a Digital Health Accelerator company. Fitly’s mission is to empower anyone who needs to eat healthy by making cooking easy, delicious and affordable. 

LifeVest, a Philadelphia nonprofit, sits at the intersection of physical and financial health. Using evidence-based science and behavioral economics, LifeVest motivates users to invest in their own wellbeing by rewarding them for learning about, tracking and improving their health.

Livegenic in Philadelphia delivers technology to enhance the customer service environment. It provides an easy way to gain a real-time video from the customer’s point of view through something most customers already have: a smartphone. Livegenic helps organizations reduce support costs, improve customer and employee satisfaction, and minimize business-related risks.

Mitochon Pharmaceuticals is a Delaware County biotech startup that focuses on developing drugs targeting the mitochondria for a host of serious diseases. The company’s development programs are primarily focused on neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases including Huntington’s, Batten Disease, Stroke, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson Disease and severe burns, and secondarily on metabolic disorders due to over-nutrition (diabetes, obesity and NASH). Ongoing research has linked these diseases to various malfunctions of the mitochondria. By correcting them, Mitochon aims to open the way for a broad range of disease modifying therapies.

Montgomery County’s NETMINDER produces a unique protective coating, offering an environmentally acceptable way to protect aquatic gear such as salmon, cobia, and bluefin tuna nets; oyster cages; trays and bags; crab pots and other gear from the high costs of fouling.

Also based in Montgomery County, PAST offers its Software as a Service (SaaS) to help doctors efficiently distinguish patients who can safely use controlled substance prescription medication from those who require more complex care or additional safety considerations.
Locating in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood, Sweet Note Bakery is a gluten-free and allergen-free bagel manufacturer.

Montgomery County’s Zuppler is a global Internet commerce solution for restaurants and caterers. Zuppler powers millions of mobile and web food-ordering transactions using their proprietary SaaS platform. This enables consumers to order food from their preferred restaurants and caterers using any device via the restaurant’s branded website or mobile app.

Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania 
Writer: Elise Vider

Philadelphia Macaroni to the Rescue: Harrisburg acquisition saves 43 jobs

Philadelphia Macaroni Company, a more than 100-year-old, family-owned company, is operating a new pasta-making plant in Harrisburg, saving 43 jobs in the process.

The company makes dried pasta and noodles at the plant, which was previously operated by Unilever. The Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC recently reported that Unilever had been contemplating vacating the facility. 

"Philadelphia Macaroni Company’s purchase agreement and business plan to operate from this facility effectively saved 43 full-time jobs in the city of Harrisburg," explained the Chamber.

"The Harrisburg plant was recently updated with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment," said Philadelphia Macaroni President Luke Marano, Jr. when announcing the plans last year. "This facility, complemented by its dedicated and professional workforce, is a valuable asset critical to the future development, growth and success of Philadelphia Macaroni Company."

Philadelphia Macaroni Company was founded in 1914 in Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Today, a fifth generation of the founding family runs the company, still headquartered in Bella Vista. In addition to the new Harrisburg plant, the company operates factories in Warminster, North Dakota and Washington State, and mills durum and hard red spring wheat at its Minot Milling division in North Dakota. Besides being one of the country’s oldest pasta makers, the company is one of the largest industrial pasta manufacturers in the U.S.

Company spokeswoman Linda Schalles declined to reveal terms of the sales agreement in Harrisburg, but according to the Capital Region Economic Development Corporation, the chamber’s economic development arm, the company recently closed on a $450,000 Enterprise Zone Loan towards the purchase of machinery and equipment at the facility.

More hiring is expected at the plant, Schalles adds.

Source: Linda Schalles, Philadelphia Macaroni Company
Writer: Elise Vider

'Philadelphia Liberty Trail' raises Philly's national profile

Writer and world traveler Larissa Milne conjures a troubling statistic, based on the years she and her husband Michael have spent in cities across the globe, writing for the Inquirer and their own award-winning "Changes in Longitude" blog.

Outside of Philadelphia, Larissa estimates, "85 percent of people don’t know what a cheesesteak really is."

So their new book, Philadelphia Liberty Trail, published by Globe Pequot Press last month, includes a sidebar on "cheesesteak etiquette," while recommending some favorite local spots for tourists ready to venture beyond the neon lights of Pat’s and Geno’s.

"It’s a little bit different than the average guidebook that’s out there," explains Larissa. "The publisher wanted us to produce a creative book that was similar to…a book they’ve had out for many years on the Boston Freedom Trail."

Despite having more Revolutionary historic sites than Boston, Philadelphia lacks the equivalent of Boston’s famous Freedom Trail route. The couple set out to write the book that might create one.

While Liberty Trail includes advice on visiting slightly more far-flung sites such as Valley Forge, Fort Mifflin, Bartram’s Garden, and historic houses in Germantown, it focuses on the Revolutionary War history of Old City and Society Hill, and invites tourists beyond the usual stops at Independence National Historic Park. Some of the highlights in their book are the Physick HouseChrist Church and Washington Square. There's also advice on where to stay and where to park, how to go on foot or take SEPTA, and info on restaurants that might not otherwise be on the radar for visitors.
Michael, a New York native, and Larissa, who grew up in the Philly suburbs, lived at 11th and Pine Streets before making an unusual decision in 2011. They sold their house, quit their jobs, gave away their stuff, and began traveling the world and writing along the way. They still don’t have a permanent address, but talked with Flying Kite about their new book from their current perch in Arizona.
Larissa, who’s also a consultant with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, loves to fill visitors in on the real story of Pennsylvania Hospital, America’s oldest hospital, which many pass on bus tours, but few actually visit.
"Benjamin Franklin was very instrumental in getting funding for that hospital in the early 1750s," she says, after the local governing bodies declined to support it. Franklin spearheaded an effort to draw contributions for the project from local citizens: "It was like a Kickstarter campaign in 1750."
The Milnes hope their book can help make Philadelphia a worldwide tourist destination, not just for tri-state day-trips, but for visitors who will stay, eat and shop in the city for days.
"I grew up in New York, and the image of Philadelphia back in the old days was, well, it’s kind of a drive-by tourist destination," recalls Michael. "You didn’t stay overnight, you drive down, you see the Liberty Bell, you see Independence Hall, you get back in the car, you leave."
But with major publications like Fast Company magazine and The New York Times recognizing Philadelphia as a top global destination, the Milnes believe it’s a perfect time for a new kind of Philly guidebook. And after seeing the world for the last several years, they still insist there’s nowhere they’d rather settle.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Larissa and Michael Milne,
Philadelphia Liberty Trail 

Wash Cycle Laundry forges a new path for socially conscious investing

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia startup Wash Cycle Laundry (WCL) closed on a major new loan from the Distinguished Social Ventures Foundation (DSVF) which may help the company create hundreds of new jobs and nab new contracts on the way to major expansion.

According to founder and CEO Gabriel Mandujano, the $450,000 loan isn’t just important for what it will help WCL achieve, but also in the new model it will help forge for foundations who want to invest in mission-based businesses.

WCL, now operating in Austin and Washington, D.C., as well as Philly, was founded here in 2010. The company provides laundry and linen rental services for institutions, businesses and residents, with environmentally-friendly high-efficiency machines and powerful bike trailers for hauling. The company also focuses on hiring its employees from vulnerable populations such as formerly incarcerated people and longtime welfare recipients. The company currently employs almost 50 people, with a retention rate topping 80 percent in workers' first six months.

"What [this] capital allows us to do is come to the table as a ready partner," explains Mandujano. When WCL negotiates with potential clients like a hospital system or university, whether or not the company has the capacity to handle the contract in terms of staffing and inventory has always been a big question. "What this investment has allowed us to do is…go out and close more of these institutional contracts."

The terms of the loan are unique, and give WCL a powerful incentive to expand its socially conscious mission. The current interest rate on the loan is 5 percent, but WCL has five years to reduce that interest rate drastically.

"We’re talking about the net number of jobs that we create," says Mandujano of the loan’s "five-year time clock" from its January 21 closing date. If WCL can create 200 jobs with the help of the new capital, interest on the loan will drop to three percent, and if it can create 500 new jobs within five years, the interest rate will go down to just one percent.

"I’m really excited that this financing aligns our financial interests with our mission interests," he enthuses. "If we’re better at achieving our mission, we’re also financially rewarded for that."

And for both WCL and DSVF, a bigger goal is creating a model that will work for other "purpose-driven businesses" and the foundations who might be interested in similar "impact investing," but do not know how to select the right company, set the right goals, and hammer out the paperwork.

According to Mandujano, "we wanted to create an instrument that that we thought could be copied both by other foundations that want to invest in Wash Cycle, but also just by foundations interested in this type of investing in general."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gabriel Mandujano, Wash Cycle Laundry


Girl Power: DreamIt Athena announces its first class of female entrepreneurs

Philadelphia’s DreamIt Athena, a new accelerator track aimed at female entrepreneurs, has announced its first cohort. The selected companies will take up residence at DreamIt Ventures HQ, housed at the Innovation Center @3401, through May. They will each receive $25,000 in seed money, along with female-centric guidance on raising capital, developing mentors and networks, and self-promoting.

"Female entrepreneurs face a level of scrutiny that places them at a disadvantage from the start," says Karen Griffith Gryga, DreamIt’s managing partner. "For all the talk about the unique challenges female founders face, there's been little action in how to solve such issues. DreamIt took the lead by being the first top-tier accelerator to solve the problem. We’re going beyond typical platforms of discussion and networking [and hope to] change the dynamic of what’s been the startup norm for far too long. 

"DreamIt Athena aims to make a significant difference by providing specific, dedicated resources that help remove the all-too-common barriers," she continues. "[That way] female founders can develop the required skill sets to build sustainable, competitive businesses. Without a doubt, we expect to see significant personal development and company milestones throughout the cycle."

The Athena companies are:

Captain Planner (Boston) streamlines the process of trip-planning by aggregating information on attractions, restaurants and events, while providing reviews and map-centric itineraries. 

Forecastr (Detroit) provides ready-made analytics and predictive recommendations specifically tailored for television executives available via the cloud. 

LIA Diagnostics (Philadelphia) is developing a flushable pregnancy test, helping women address the challenges surrounding privacy, usability and sustainability in current at-home diagnostics. 

Ohneka Farms (Mount Laurel, N.J.) is a social enterprise focusing on urban farming products and services. They are developing ROOT, a smart countertop planter that enables users to grow organic edible plants at home with minimal maintenance.
Roar For Good (Philadelphia) is a social impact company with the mission of reducing assaults against women through wearable technology, empowerment and education. The initial product line combines fashionable self-defense jewelry and mobile technology to reduce the incidences of assault against women. 

The Athena companies will work alongside these other startups at DreamIt:

Bungalow Insurance (San Diego) is building the first online, independent, renters’ insurance platform to improve insurance experiences for millennials. 
Commit Analytics (King of Prussia) optimizes human performance using machine learning algorithms to design data-driven solutions for athletes and health-conscious consumers. 
IglooHome (Singapore) is developing smart home technologies that offer Airbnb hosts a novel way to welcome guests; they focus on convenience, safety and cost savings. 
LocoRobo (Philadelphia) is a non-profit robotics company whose mission is to provide educational and scientific training using high-quality robotics platforms, promoting STEM education and workforce development. 
Whose Your Landlord (Elliott City, Maryland) is a website and mobile app enabling renters to rate their landlords and housing complexes, and giving them the ability to find their next home. 

Source: Karen Griffith Gryga, DreamIt Ventures
Writer: Elise Vider

Temple boosts student entrepreneurship with its Blackstone LaunchPad Center

A little over two years ago, Temple University announced that it was partnering with Philadelphia University and the University City Science Center on the $3 million Blackstone LaunchPad grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and now, Temple's Blackstone Launchpad Center is officially open.

"The Center has been up and running in one form or another since spring of 2013, but really most of the activity has been going on since fall of 2014," says Temple Vice Provost for Research Michele Masucci of the facility’s soft launch; the official ribbon-cutting was on January 30.

Before students from across Temple’s many programs could begin to utilize the entrepreneurship resources now available there, the university spent several months focusing on organizing the space on the lower level of the Howard Gittis Student Center (located on Temple’s main campus at 13th Street and Montgomery Avenue). That work included getting a board of directors up and running, adopting a programmatic structure, and allowing faculty to integrate the center’s offerings and their own resources.

Temple's share of the Blackstone grant is $1.2 million. Organizers were excited by a turnout of about one hundred people for Friday’s opening ceremony. The event featured a few of the eleven new companies Temple students have formed since last fall with LaunchPad’s help.

"What the center does is provide a venue where students can take their [ideas] and get feedback on the spot from our venture coaches," explains Masucci. Student can "come with an idea in its infancy, or if they already have a business and want to grow their market share," and get tools for their next steps.

Other programming includes guest speakers, mentoring and networking with like-minded students.

The LaunchPad complements but doesn’t replace Temple’s existing business and entrepreneurship programs, and it’s unique among entrepreneurship centers on Philly campuses, because of its inclusive approach.

"What we’re really trying to do is specifically work with students who fall outside of the traditional entrepreneurship umbrella," says Masucci. That means not just catering students in business or technology, but all kinds of folks considering an independent career.

For example, Tyler School of Art "has a large number of people who may well want to be able to pursue their passion for making and creating…but they don’t necessarily have a set answer upon graduation for how to do that," explains Masucci. Another example might be students interested in an educational or nonprofit venture for social good. The LaunchPad can help.

"A lot of the traditional programs that are there for entrepreneurs are catering to people who are business majors," she adds. "What makes Launchpad unique is really there is no barrier to entry. You do not need to have formulated what comes next before you walk in the door."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michele Masucci, Temple University


An award-winning team at Penn works to make fracking safer

Last week, we took a look at how the graphene technology developed at the University of Pennsylvania is shaping the global marketplace, and now, a pair of Penn students has won the annual Y-Prize contest for applying this rapidly-growing field to the problems of fracking.

Winners Ashwin Amurthur and Teddy Guenin are both fourth-year students of dual-degree programs at Penn Engineering and the Wharton School. Guenin, a Lancaster native, is doing his undergrad work in bioengineering, marketing and management, with a master’s in mechanical engineering on deck after that, and Amurthur, from Princeton Junction, N.J., is majoring in bioengineering and finance.

This year, the Y-Prize contest invited students to develop a new application for existing Penn nanotechnology, and drew a record 19 entries. Four finalists presented their concepts to a panel of judges on January 28, and Guenin and Amurthur nabbed the $5,000 first prize. The funds aren't the only reward: they also receive the framework for a non-exclusive license to the Penn technology, an important first step in commercializing their proposal.

Guenin says the controversy of natural gas drilling's environmental effects loomed large as he grew up in central Pennsylvania. Together, the young men have applied Penn’s graphene field-effect transistor (GFET) technology to the detection of benzene in groundwater.

Currently, drilling companies who suspect leaks in the underground casings of their equipment -- and local governments and consumers worried about water contamination -- don’t have a reliable way to confirm and pinpoint those leaks. Groundwater can be tested for levels of various chemical ions and compounds like chlorides, but since these can occur naturally in some water samples regardless of the side-effects of fracking, the tests don’t offer conclusive answers.

"The oil companies want to know for sure, do we have a leak or not?" Amurthur explains.

The Y-Prize team’s answer is GFETs for detecting benzene, a carcinogenic compound used in fracking fluid that usually does not occur in groundwater naturally.

If the team can develop their benzene GFETs and bring them to market, "you could more conclusively say that you do have a leak," Amurthur continues. It’s vital information for municipalities, drilling companies and consumers alike, and could ensure more rapid and accurate repair of leaking casings, enhanced safety, increased profits and a protected environment.

Though there’s a lot of work yet to be done to bring this concept to market, Guenin is excited about the opportunities for networking and the support the Y-Prize win will bring.

"It’s awesome that we were able to get this," he says. "And we’re really really excited to move forward with it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Ashwin Amurthur and Teddy Guenin, GFET-Frack Technologies


Philly's Curbside Care aims to be the Uber of healthcare

Philadelphia’s Curbside Care has combined an old idea -- doctor house calls -- and a new one -- the Uber model -- to create technology that allows patients to schedule healthcare services when and where they want them.

Inspiration for Curbside Care came to co-founder Scott Ames when he was away from home and experienced a costly and time-consuming visit to an urgent care center. He and Grant Mitchell started the company based on the premise that "there are people out there who don't want to travel, who don't want to wait, and who appreciate transparent pricing," explains Mitchell. 

Located at the Digital Health Accelerator at the University City Science Center, Curbside Care is developing a tech platform and mobile app that allows patients to schedule house (or office or hotel) calls. Using HIPAA compliant, geolocation-based technology, medical practitioners confirm appointments and travel to deliver care, all in real time. 

"It is a bit ironic that advancement in technology is now allowing medicine to be practiced in a way that it was years ago," muses Mitchell. "But developments in technology and logistics allows for house calls to actually be cost effective. On-demand care will come in many forms in the near future, and Curbside Care's particular version addresses the need for a practitioner's physical presence. Interestingly, the home is often the best place to provide quality care as the patient can be treated in their most relevant context."

Curbside Care says its market is technology-enabled consumers, in particular working professionals, young parents and corporations seeking to add attractive employee benefits. On the provider side, the target is shift-based physicians and nurse practitioners who are seeking to supplement their income.

Curbside Care currently has a working, web-based product and is completing its mobile app. The company, which is actively fundraising, is also in discussions with several large hospital systems to utilize their practitioner bases for immediate scale. 

Source: Grant Mitchell, Curbside Care
Writer: Elise Vider

Promising healthcare research gets funding from University City Science Center

Researchers in Greater Philadelphia developing technologies for high-speed eye exams, cancer treatment and healthcare sanitation will receive funding through the seventh round of the University City Science Center's  QED Proof-of-Concept Program

The program, started in 2009, funds novel university technologies with market potential, bridging the gap between academic research and product commercialization. To date, 24 QED projects have attracted $14.8 million in follow-on funding, leading to six licensed technologies.

"QED continues to resonate with both the academic and funding community," says Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang. "The number of submissions continues to increase round over round as academic researchers identify ways to commercialize their emerging technologies. At the same time, the support of our funders enables us to continue to facilitate the development of these exciting technologies and contribute to the robust life science ecosystem in the Greater Philadelphia region."

The new awardees include: 
  • Dr. Chao Zhou of Lehigh University, who is developing a diagnostic instrument that will allow faster, more sensitive eye exams for macular degeneration and glaucoma, improving an approach known as optical coherence tomography (OCT).
  • Dr. William Wuest of Temple University, who is developing the next generation of disinfectants for a variety of commercial industries including healthcare, transportation, water and energy.
  • Dr. Sunday Shoyele of Thomas Jefferson University, who is developing a product for delivering highly-degradable gene inhibitors to cancer and other cells using antibody-based nanoparticles.
The QED grants will also support stem cell research at Rutgers University. The awardees will receive a total of $650,000 in funding, along with guidance from the Science Center's team of business advisors.

Source: University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

'Temple Ventures - Powered by Ben Franklin' is new tech accelerator for Philly-area startups

Temple University and Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) have launched a new initiative to spur technological innovation and entrepreneurship in Greater Philadelphia.

Each partner has contributed $500,000 to Temple Ventures – Powered by Ben Franklin for investment in projects generated from Temple’s discoveries in advanced technologies. Ben Franklin will manage the fund, and provide mentoring and access to networks to assist those early-stage ventures.

"For an inventor in a university, it’s critical to find the right partnership to bring his or her ideas into successful businesses," said Temple Provost Hai-Lung Dai in a statement. "Ben Franklin is an effective venture partner that provides not only investment expertise, but mentorship and strategic advice that can enable technologies developed at Temple to benefit society at large."

Over the past five years, Temple has created 13 startup companies to assist in developing university-created technologies for the marketplace. The university is expecting to significantly increase that number with the help of Temple Ventures.

The collaboration features three main components: a joint Temple/Ben Franklin Seed Fund for prototype and startup funding; new business launch resources to support the formation of the new Temple-created technology ventures; and incubation services including workspace, professional resources, and management and commercialization guidance.

The $1 million commitment is for the initial pilot, the partners say, with intent to commit an additional $1 million annually for up to five years. Temple’s contribution to the initiative will be comprised of royalty revenues obtained from the previous licensing of Temple-created technologies.

Impetus for the initiative comes from a recent report by the region’s CEO Council for Growth that urged a collaborative approach to advocacy and funding of early-stage tech firms.

Source: Temple University and BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

Mt. Airy native Ari Weinstein shakes up the app store with Workflow

When you need to give your loved one an ETA or figure out the quickest way to your next meeting, there are many ways to do it: A peek at the clock, your calendar and maybe Google maps, a bit of mental math, and opening up a messenger app to tap out a quick note.

Wait. Too many steps? 20-year-old Ari Weinstein thought so, and decided to give a new meaning to the word "workflow."

In his new app, released last December with partner Conrad Kramer (an 18-year-old Cherry Hill native), workflow has become a singular, individualized concept. For example, here’s a workflow for you: I have a picture on my phone that I want to share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all at once. I want a button on my home screen that’ll do all that automatically. Or, I'm viewing a website, and I want to make, save and send an instant PDF of it. Thanks to the Workflow app, there’s "a workflow" for that -- in other words, a way to customize and automate multi-step digital tasks you need throughout the day -- and pretty much anything else you want to do on your smartphone.

"One way to describe it would be that Workflow lets you automate different things that you do every day, so you can do them just with a push of a button," explains Weinstein. "You can sort of make these really personalized experiences that automate things that only you do.

You can get creative and make your own workflows or you can engage with an online community sharing the workflows they’ve invented.

Weinstein (son of Philly Office Retail president Ken Weinstein) is a West Mt. Airy native who graduated from Germantown Friends School, took a "gap year" before college to work in California, and then started at MIT in 2013. But in December of that year, he and Kramer applied for a Thiel Fellowship, granted every year to 20 college students under the age of 20 nationwide. The fellowship offers the winners $100,000 over two years to pursue a passion outside of the classroom. (Workflow is Weinstein’s second app launch; he also developed DeskConnect.)

Weinstein and Kramer, now based in San Francisco, found out they’d been selected for the fellowship in May 2014.

Since then, things have moved quickly.

"The launch went incredibly well," recalls Weinstein. Apple selected Workflow as an editor’s choice in the app store, showing it on a banner to everyone who visited the site.  

"It was the no. 1 most downloaded app on the [paid] app store for four days," he continues. "We’ve just been thrilled with the way people have taken advantage of it. People have made hundreds of thousands of workflows, some of which are really cool that we never would have thought of."

There are now three guys on the startup's team: 18-year-old Nick Frey, from Iowa, has joined Weinstein and Kramer.

And this is still just the earliest version of the app -- Weinstein hints at "a big update" they hope to launch by February.

So does he want to go back to school?

"That’s a hard question," he muses. "I’m not sure I can make that call right now."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ari Weinstein, Workflow

A KIZ tax credit helps Philly's Graphene Frontiers pioneer 21st-century diagnostics

Imagine conducting an instantly accurate test for Lyme disease or Syphilis -- or potentially hundreds of other illnesses -- right in your doctor’s office with a single drop of blood. Mike Patterson, a Wharton MBA alum and CEO of the University City Science Center-based Graphene Frontiers, says it’ll happen within a few years.

The company was founded by Dr. Charlie Johnson, Dr. Zhengtang Luo and Patterson in 2010 out of the University of Pennsylvania’s UPstart program. Recently recognized as one of 18 Pennsylvania Companies to Watch in 2015, Graphene Frontiers just landed their first Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) state tax credit.

But what is graphene, and why do we need it?

Put on your science hats.

Researchers at the University of Manchester first isolated this material in 2004, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

"Graphene is simply a single atomic layer of carbon," explains Patterson.

If you’re feeling fancy, call it an allotrope of carbon, like graphite or a diamond. It’s incredibly strong: proportionally 100 times stronger than steel, yet flexible, transparent, and the best conductor of heat and electricity mankind has ever discovered. It has myriad applications, from solar cells to touch screens to desalinization. 

Take your pencil’s core. Imagine cutting it so thin you have a slice of graphite only one atom thick. Bingo: graphene.
But it’s not so easy.

Graphene manufacturers don’t shave carbon down. Instead, they use a carbon-containing gas like methane and a process called chemical vapor deposition to build the graphene literally atom by atom.

What Dr. Luo discovered and patented in a physics lab at Penn was a way to do this at normal atmospheric pressure, instead of in an expensive, unwieldy vacuum chamber, like everyone else has been doing until now.

With the help of a two-step National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant totaling almost $900,000, Graphene Frontiers entered the global market.

Forget little strips of graphene. The company is pioneering a way to grow it in massive rolls on copper foil, and then remove it from that copper with hydrolysis (an electric current that separates the hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyte/water solution) rather than using what Patterson calls "a really nasty bath of chemicals" to dissolve the copper and collect the graphene.  

"We can just bubble off the graphene and re-use the copper," he says. "[It's] very important for cost and environmental concerns."

Right now the company is focused on graphene in biosensor applications, and hopes to partner with a major diagnostics firm. Patterson says the future of point-of-care diagnostics will be the graphene field-effect transistor (GFET). In short, a strip of graphene ten microns wide (one-tenth the width of a human hair, for us mortals). A specific antibody attached to it will, with the help of an electric current, be able to instantly detect bacteria or proteins in a tiny blood sample (instead of testing multiple vials of blood for an immune response).  

In other words, no lab technicians with pipettes and goggles.

So what will Graphene Frontiers do with the new tax credit? It’s not just about physics and chemistry. The money will help the company hire a new production engineer and lab technician to produce more GFET applications and tests.

"It’s all about the people," insists Patterson.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source. Mike Patterson, Graphene Frontiers


Horsham's Clinical Ink selected for international Ebola studies

A Horsham company that provides technology for clinical drug trials has been selected for multiple Ebola studies in West Africa.

Clinical Ink’s "SureSource" platform allows for real-time analysis and remote review, especially important with Ebola research since it limits the number of healthcare workers that come in contact with the virus while speeding up the analysis process.

"Conducting clinical research in this part of the world is always challenging, given the remote location of the research sites and the generally poor quality of Internet connectivity," says Clinical Ink President Doug Pierce. "The Ebola epidemic heightens these difficulties dramatically. Clinical Ink was chosen because our SureSource platform allows sites to capture the data electronically rather than on paper, and seamlessly transmit that data to the pharmaceutical company for analysis -- in real time.

"A process that typically takes weeks takes minutes using SureSource,"  he continues. "Furthermore, those needing to see the information captured by the research sites can do so remotely, wherever and whenever the need arises. With this many lives at stake, saving time has never been as important."

The clinical trials are scheduled to start in several months, Pierce reports. For now, the company is preparing the electronic forms and helping assess Internet connectivity and related IT infrastructure at the sites. Once the sites have been selected, Clinical Ink will train the users and deploy tablets to the research sites.

Clinical Ink launched in 2007 when the only way to capture data in the clinical research market was paper-based, slow and expensive. SureSource, the industry's first purpose-built platform to capture data at the point of care, has been used in close to 60 trials since 2012 for clients ranging from large pharmaceutical companies to small biotech companies to large consumer product companies.

2014 saw Clinical Ink more than double in size, both in terms of revenue and employees, and further growth is projected for this year. Besides its offices in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Philadelphia, Clinical Ink plans to open offices in Boston and at a to-be-determined European location. As for the platform, it continues to evolve and the company plans to introduce what Pierce calls "a whole host of new functionality" early this year.  

Source: Doug Pierce, Clinical Ink
Writer: Elise Vider

Philly's Entrepreneur Works Fund nabs a national grant to help creative clients

With a $100,000 infusion in the form of a special grant from two national foundations, the Philly-based community development financial institution (CDFI) Entrepreneur Works Fund is planning to offer a four-pronged, two-year pilot program to local creative entrepreneurs.
"We’re in great company there," says Entrepreneur Works Fund (EWF) Executive Director Leslie Benoliel. "It’s great to be recognized by national funders and also to be among such a small group."

Nationwide, about 40 CDFIs answered a special joint call from the Kresge and Surdna foundations for their Catalyzing Culture and Community through CDFIs initiative. The foundations selected just seven winners. (Three are in Philadelphia; The Reinvestment Fund and the Enterprise Center also received grants.)
EWF is a nonprofit, mission-based CDFI working for "disinvested neighborhoods," as Benoliel puts it, helping aspiring entrepreneurs launch or expand a small business by offering loans, workshops and other training. They work primarily with low-income, minority or immigrant clients, Benoliel explains: people who "typically do not have access to the same resources as mainstream or larger businesses," or can’t afford or qualify for more traditional sources of support.
The Kresge and Surdna grant goes specifically to EWF’s "Championing Revival, Empowering Artists, Transforming Economies" program (CREATE), and the organization will partner with two others for this pilot program: Chester Arts Alive! and the People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia.
The money will allow EWF to deepen its services for a small group of chosen creative entrepreneurs. The CREATE program has four elements: small loans for artists or other aspiring businesspeople with a creative bent, grants of up to $1000 that will be disbursed alongside the loans, public workshops, and one-on-one business guidance for participants.
Artists have a great ability to activate underutilized spaces or sectors, but because of the often unpredictable nature of their earning power from project to project, they’re not always in a good position to acquire a capital loan.
"We don’t want to put them more at risk, but we also want to help them learn how to use and manage capital," says Benoliel of how pairing disbursement of a grant (recipients can opt to put the grant toward repayment of the loan or use it for another purpose) gives the artists more flexibility and leaves them less financially exposed, while still helping them to build a credit history.
"CDFIs can play an important role in helping artists, arts and culture organizations, and non-arts organizations create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies,” said Surdna Foundation President Phillip Henderson in a statement. He lauds the CREATE program for making communities "healthier, more equitable and sustainable."
Benoliel says the dollars will help their clients "participate in the mainstream economy, access more resources, grow, employ people, [and] contribute to the economic base and vitality of our city’s neighborhoods."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Leslie Benoliel, Entrepreneur Works Fund

Microgrants will launch community anti-litter initiatives in 2015

Last week, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) released a new RFP for community nonprofits looking to nab seed funds for their anti-litter initiatives.

"You can have all the ideas in the world but not secure the funds to do it," explains Michelle Feldman, the organization's director. "At Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, we're not the only ones with good ideas."

The new program consists of three microgrants: two of $1,000 and one of $500. A former CDC employee herself, Feldman knows how far even a small amount of money can go for a community group trying to get a new idea off the ground.

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful "believes that communities know their challenges and opportunities best," says the RFP of working through grantees on litter abatement. "We want to provide community-based organizations with the resources to help solve neighborhood beautification concerns, and the space to experiment and test new ideas."

Successful applicants will need to demonstrate measurable, collaborative, sustainable and scalable impact, says Feldman (she expects at least ten to 15 applicants for the inaugural round). The organization will consider brand-new proposals or expansions of existing programs that meet the criteria.

Empirical data proves that tackling litter can have a direct impact on factors like the growth of small businesses, property values, crime, and perception of the neighborhood both inside and outside the community. According to Feldman, a good example of community innovation on the issue is the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation's $1-A-Day program -- participating businesses each contribute $365 a year toward daily litter clean-up.

It turned into "a great way to help fund the daily cleaning and involve the community, and give them ownership over the cleaning effort," she explains.

The hope is that this year’s participants will be help model best practices, inspiring and informing other groups in the future.

Proposals are due on March 1; the winners will be selected by March 15. The project cycle will run through December 15, 2015.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michelle Feldman, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful
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