The growing business incubator at York College can boast an eclectic mix that includes a company bringing a new kind of activewear bra to the market and another continuing to build on its core business management solutions for roofing contractors.
The J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship launched in 2006 as a way to make the intellectual capital of the college's professors — and the energy and skills of its students — available to the York County business community, said Jeff Vermeulen, the center's executive director.
The center's incubator came online last year at the renovated Kings Mill Depot, which the college acquired as part of the larger purchase of the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. property on the north side of its campus.
Vermeulen said the center's purpose is threefold: To be a catalyst to create a culture of entrepreneurship on campus; to provide a way to deliver the college's resources into the wider community; and to offer incubator space to companies to start up and grow.
When officials cut the ribbon last summer, one client was fully moved in, he said. Today, there are five businesses with a sixth on the way.
"We are truly a mixed-use incubator," Vermeulen said. "We are a comprehensive college, so it is important for us to have a good mix."
The clients not only can benefit from student interns applying their skills in a real-world setting and the knowledge of professors but also can benefit from each other, Vermeulen said.
vParadox LLC, for example, has discussed working with three-dimensional printing company and fellow incubator client 3Delivered Inc. for prototyping, said Eva Osborne, vParadox vice president of research and development.
vParadox started in 2009 and is working to bring a technologically advanced bra to the market this fall under the Helixia name through an online storefront and guerilla marketing, she said.
The product uses an advanced weaving process that started as an idea for military application, said Osborne, who has spent her career in the garment business.
She said she had been working for a firm providing load-carrying systems used by personnel in the military and decided there had to be a better system to avoid the equipment bouncing around on a person's frame.
If it could be drawn in close to the body and the weight could ride with the up-and-down motion of the body, it wouldn't push and pull on a person the way traditional carrying systems do, Osborne said.
Because of the amount of time it takes to get a military product picked up and because of advice from a supplier, they decided to bring a bra to market using the same principles, she said.
The company benefits in several ways from being at the incubator, Osborne said. For one, it provides a formal space for meeting with large-company executives rather than having to do that out of someone's home.
Then, there's the ability to work with the other firms there.
Also, Michael Barley with the college's Council of Entrepreneurs has become an adviser to vParadox, Osborne said.
She and her partners are technical people, so a person who can offer advice from the business side of the equation is essential, she said.
Dataforma Inc. became the incubator's first client after it decided to move out of another Keystone Innovation Zone property in York County, CEO Paul Velencia said. It had outgrown its space in Jacobus.
Its Web-based business-management solutions for the construction industry were a tough sell in the beginning because the concept of "the cloud" was so new, Velencia said.
Now, the biggest companies in the world are promoting it, he said.
"Sometimes the wind is at your back and sometimes it is hitting you in the face," Velencia said.
Dataforma began with three people in 2004 and now has 18 employees, including four it hired from York College, Velencia said.
Opportunities with his firm are not just for programmers.
"Because we are a business and we are growing, we are going to need all kinds of hires," Velencia said.
Computer science students already had interned with Dataforma before the company came to the incubator, said David Babcock, associate professor and coordinator of the computer science program.
Having Dataforma and other firms at the incubator is great, he said, because it is accessible to students who might not have cars and would have to make arrangements to get to off-campus internships or work experiences.
Smaller companies can be a great resource because a student can interact at the top levels with many different facets of business, he said.
"You are working with the lead programmers and even the owners of the company directly," Babcock said.
Help down the hallway
Synergies are part of the building strength of the entrepreneur community within the business incubator at the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship at York College.
For example, advanced fabrics firm vParadox LLC has had issues sourcing components for its products and has talked with the three-dimensional printing company just down the hall, 3Delivered Inc., about the two working together.
3Delivered President and founder Chris Rodak said the idea for the business began with his hobby of scale modeling of items such as model boats, tanks or airplanes.
He said he read about the three-dimensional printing process and began applying it about two and a half years ago to make scale model parts.
When he discovered there was an opportunity in the marketplace to scale up the process for an integrated business that included full manufacturing services, he decided to pursue it.
In traditional manufacturing, even small design changes to a product require retooling the factory line making it.
“With us, it’s a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse, and everything after that has the improvement,” he said.
Three-dimensional printing is a term that describes about a half-dozen distinct technologies that build up parts by layering thin layers of materials. One such process uses resin layers that are then cured with ultraviolet light, while another uses a laser, Rodak said.
Today, the business is getting a lot of prototyping work from all over the world and is working on parlaying it into mass manufacturing, which is the firm’s main focus, Rodak said.
vParadox would absolutely consider 3Delivered as a manufacturing partner down the road, especially considering the relative difficulty in attaching items to its products because of their complexity, said Eva Osborne, vice president of research and development.
Using three-dimensional printing to attach zippers, for example, is one of the ideas the firm has had, she said.
On the prototyping end, it can be difficult to source components for products under development because so much of the industry has moved out of the country, Osborne said.
Just to get a component shipped in, the company might have to order thousands of them in order to get the much smaller amount needed, she said.