Entrepreneurs who successfully launch unconventional products, empower their customers and help grow the local economy never face an easy path to getting started, let alone meeting or exceeding their goals.
But on Tuesday night, more than 400 guests got the chance to see several regional startups earn awards for their various accomplishments at the iXchange, hosted by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.
The annual event has become a showcase for the successes of entrepreneurs from across the region, followed by a keynote speaker who discusses a timely topic and shares insightful business tips that startups of all stripes can put to use.
R. Chad Paul Jr., president and CEO of Ben Franklin, announced the award-winners, and three out of six are from the Greater Lehigh Valley.
Kevin Rhodes, CEO and founder of FMI of Hanover Township, Lehigh County, earned the Entrepreneurial Achievement award. This award goes to the company leader who “best exemplifies the quintessential entrepreneurial spirit; a combination of ingenuity, hard work and innovation that resulted in a successful and growing business venture,” Paul said.
FMI provides contract manufacturing for clients in the skin care, personal care, hair care, home care and pet care markets.
Rhodes and his wife and partner, Cheryl Rhodes, accepted the award and Kevin Rhodes acknowledged seven employees who have been with the company for 10 years, during what he described as the dark times of the Great Recession.
“Thank you very much for sticking with us,” Rhodes said.
Orbweaver Sourcing LLC of Bethlehem earned the Incubator Graduate award, which is for the company that best demonstrates successful Ben Franklin business incubation.
T. Christopher Ciesielka, CEO and Tony Powell, chief technology officer, accepted the award. Orbweaver offers a suite of software solutions to help distributors and manufacturers transfer and use critical supply chain data to increase efficiency, reduce cost and improve customer service, Paul said.
The firm began at Ben Franklin’s TechVentures building in 2013 with two employees and Ben Franklin invested $400,000 in the company over four years, Paul said. By 2016, Orbweaver outgrew the incubator with 13 full-time employees and three contractors. The company now occupies space on East Broad Street in Bethlehem.
“Being an entrepreneur is not easy,” said Ciesielka as he accepted the award. “Ben Franklin plays a very critical role in the entrepreneur community.”
With many long nights and difficulties, being an entrepreneur also requires strong spousal support, which Ciesielka and Powell said they both have.
Ben Franklin awarded East Coast Erosion Control of Upper Tulpehocken, Berks County, with the Innovative Application of Technology award. This award goes to the company that strongly demonstrates a “break the mold” approach to integrating new or existing technology into its business, Paul said.
East Coast Erosion Control is one the largest manufacturers of erosion and sediment control products and turf reinforcement mats for the construction industry in the U.S., Paul said.
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. The company is planning a major expansion of its physical plant and equipment that will allow it to increase production by 46 percent, Paul said.
With Ben Franklin’s help, East Coast Erosion Control created an innovative product that is helping the company stay a leader in the industry, said Diane Smith, president, who accepted the award.
Play Impossible of Lewisburg, Union County, earned the Product Innovation award, while the Manufacturing Award went to Pleasant Mount Welding of Carbondale, Lackawanna County.
Lampire Biological Laboratories Inc. of Pipersville, Bucks County earned the Partnership award.
At various points in the program, an animation of a fidget spinner with sound effects flashed across the screen on stage, representing the many distractions business people face each day.
“Focus yields incredible results,” Paul said, in his introduction to the speaker. “You can probably guess why fidgets spinners were flashing across the screen. We flash the spinners to show how easy it is to be distracted. Were you distracted by my distractions?”
Curt Steinhorst, this year’s keynote speaker, gave a talk on “Thriving in the Age of Distraction,” aimed at exploring the impact of technology in the workplace and how to help entrepreneurs control digital distractions.