Early stage firms took center stage Tuesday night in Bethlehem as a regional organization awarded startups for their achievements in innovation and growth.
With the theme of bold optimism, this year’s Ben Franklin iXchange attracted more than 450 people for an event hosted by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University. The program started with two clips of the success startups such as OraSure and Texas Instruments have experienced; companies that have grown significantly over the years but started as early stage firms supported by Ben Franklin.
“OraSure and Texas Instruments are outstanding examples of the bold optimism we see in our clients,” said R. Chadwick Paul Jr, president and CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“Few endeavors require more optimism than starting a new company,” Paul said. “The possibility of success is really exhilarating. It’s exciting and challenging but also fraught with tribulations.”
The business incubator system that Ben Franklin provides offers a setting and a culture that creates the manufacturers of the future, Paul said.
Paul presented Innovation Awards to six startups that achieved business success through Ben Franklin funding and assistance.
Rea.deeming Beauty Inc. of Bethlehem, a manufacturer of elliptical-shaped makeup applicator, earned the Entrepreneurial Achievement award. The company recently completed work with Ben Franklin and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center to enhance its production and fulfillment capabilities to meet increases in demand.
The company’s founder and CEO, Catherine Bailey, accepted the award.
“We are a family and that in part has made us what we are today,” Bailey said. “The belief they [Ben Franklin] had in us helped us achieve it. We plan to stay here in the Lehigh Valley.”
She said her company had recently been awarded two patents for new products it will launch.
Custom Processing Services in Exeter earned the Innovation Application of Technology Award, given to a startup that has a groundbreaking approach to integrating new or existing technology into its business.
The company reduces larger particles into ultra-fine and nano-sized particles for chemicals, polymers, pigments, pharmaceuticals and other applications. The company employs 138 and plans to expand its workforce by 50 before the end of the year. It’s also experienced strong revenue growth each year and has three manufacturing facilities in the Greater Reading area.
“We are humbled, grateful and pleased to accept the award,” said Gregory J. Shemanski, president.
Vigon International Inc. of East Stroudsburg earned the Manufacturing Achievement award, given to a company that best exemplifies achievement in the manufacturing arena, showing a proven track record of success.
The firm leveraged Ben Franklin’s investment to work with Lehigh University and Enterprise Systems Center to develop and implement a system that increased workflow efficiency, enhanced profitability and positioned the company for continued growth.
The company increased revenue nearly 30 percent over the last three years and employs almost 70.
Other startups that earned awards were Crew Systems Corp., Carbondale Technology Transfer Center in Carbondale, which earned the Incubator Graduate award; Hydro Recovery LP of Blossburg, which won the Innovative Application of Technology award; and Navigant Ventures of Glen Mills, which won the Partnership award.
The event’s guest speaker, Byron Reese, CEO of Knowingly, a venture-backed startup he launched in 2014, spoke about the power of technology to change the world. He said it was notable that in the Lehigh Valley, educational institutions and the private sector appear to work well together to drive success.
“It’s an inspiring thing, and you don’t need me to tell you that there’s an enormous amount of innovation,” Reese said.
While some are concerned about the future of technology and how it would affect their businesses, Reese said he was optimistic.
“I believe deeply in something called progress,” Reese said. “For the most part, I think we are moving forward. Things always get better.”
Since technology doubles over a fixed period of time, it has the power to solve many technical problems, particularly over the next 25 years, he said.