Josue Osorto, a son of El Salvadoran immigrants and the founder of Bespoke Vending, won the $6,000 grand prize in a pitch competition held June 21 to culminate the second annual Capital Region Multicultural Small Business Lab sponsored by M&T Bank.
A 34-year-old Hummelstown resident and former hospitality industry employee, Osorto started his vending machine company that sells popular, trending, nostalgic and hard-to-find snacks from around the world in September 2022. He plans to use the prize money to buy new vending machines and launch a Bespoke Vending website.
Corey Dupree, owner of Men Raising Black Boys, earned the pitch competition’s second-place prize of $4,000. BreAna Blount, owner of Bre’s Eats-n-Sweets, won the third-place prize of $2,000.
The pitch competition capped the seven-week business accelerator program that began May 10 in partnership with the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
The Capital Region Multicultural Small Business Lab focused on business planning, establishing credit, accessing capital, marketing, branding and networking. It was offered to entrepreneurs who met the following eligibility requirements:
· Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx or Asian American;
· In business no more than three years;
· Annual business revenue of $350,000 or less; and
· A resident of the Greater Harrisburg area.
Nearly 40 entrepreneurs participated in this year’s program – the sixth in a series of programs launched by M&T Bank in Buffalo in 2021 to help multicultural small businesses access resources and expand their knowledge.
“The Capital Region Multicultural Small Business Lab empowers Greater Harrisburg’s entrepreneurs and provides their small businesses with the resources to grow,” Nora Habig, M&T’s regional president for Central and Western Pennsylvania, said in a release. “Supporting small businesses remains at the core of M&T, and we’re proud to invest in diverse small businesses within the Harrisburg community.”
Grants through the Manufacturing PA initiative have been awarded to 31 student research projects to help advance innovation in several sectors of manufacturing.
Department of Community and Economic Development Acting Secretary Rick Singer said Friday that Lehigh University, Millersville University, Penn State University – Harrisburg, and York College of Pennsylvania are among the 19 universities that will share in the $2.1 million in grants.
The approved projects are part of Manufacturing PA’s fellowship program, which embeds graduate and undergraduate students with local manufacturers, Singer said in a press release. Once paired, the students develop new technologies and advance innovation statewide.
Universities that have partnered with a manufacturer can apply for and receive between $25,000 and $70,000 in funding for specific student research projects.
Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal would invest an additional $1 million in the Manufacturing PA Innovation Program which serves as a collaboration between Pennsylvania colleges and universities, manufacturers, and DCED.
The program is open to any accredited Pennsylvania college or university. The Governor’s proposed increase would allow 14 more manufacturers to partner with universities in adopting new technologies and advancing new products and processes, according to DCED.
“The Shapiro Administration understands the importance of investing in Pennsylvania manufacturing to help spur the economy and generate continued growth and innovation,” Singer said. “The work of the students and companies honored today is impressive and is a great indication of the future success of this historic and vital industry in the Commonwealth.”
The fellowship was developed through collaboration with Pennsylvania’s seven research institutions, manufacturers, and industrial resource centers (IRCs) across the commonwealth and is administered by DCED and Carnegie Mellon University.
Since its inception in 2018, the fellowship has granted $11.9 million to 475 students across the commonwealth, and 142 Pennsylvania companies have benefited from these partnerships.
Pennsylvania has awarded $246.8 million in American Rescue Plan funding, through the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), to local economic development partners to make direct equity investments and loans to small businesses.
Gov. Tom Wolf today said the funding is to spur success and job creation opportunities across the state.
“The dollars awarded today will help businesses that are small, socially and economically disadvantaged, and those in the innovation and technology sector grow and thrive,” Wolf said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) is responsible for distributing the funds to eligible economic development partners who will administer the funding to qualifying businesses.
Funding was distributed equitably across the commonwealth, taking population data and the organizations serving each county into consideration to ensure that eligible businesses in all 67 counties will have access to either loans or equity investments, Wolf said.
The Direct Venture Investment program provides funding to economic development organizations in the commonwealth to provide seed and later-stage capital for existing and emerging companies involved in the development and commercialization of technologically advanced products and processes. Included in the nearly $123 million in Direct Venture Investment funding are the following:
Ben Franklin Technology Partners Central & Northern Pennsylvania – $19,678,479
Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania – $19,678,479
Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania – $19,678,479
Innovation Works, Inc. – $19,678,479
BioAdvance (Biotechnology Greenhouse Corporation of Southeastern Pennsylvania) – $14,758,859
LifeX Greenhouses, Inc. – $14,758,859
The Revolving Loan Fund program provides funding to economic development organizations to create or recapitalize revolving loan funds to support financing for Pennsylvania small businesses. Included in the more than $123.8 million in Revolving Loan Funds are:
Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation – $211,650
EDC Finance Corporation – $5,071,000
Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority – $2,000,000
Pennsylvania CDFI Network – $45,000,000
SEDA – Council of Governments – $6,000,000
Women’s Opportunities Resource Center – $1,020,000
York County Economic Development Corporation – $5,000,000
Capital programs administered by economic development partners are scheduled to be open by Oct. 17. Small businesses will apply for funding through their economic development organizations.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday the approval of $14 million in 2021 Keystone Innovation Zone tax credits for 197 early-stage technology companies, including 10 in central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.
In the Northwest Lancaster City KIZ, tax credits went to Triode Media Group Ltd., $100,000; Creative Coding Group Inc., $9,074; and VIZpin Inc., $95,826, while ReturnLogic Inc. in the York County KIZ got $100,000 in tax credits.
In Southside Bethlehem KIZ, Soltech Solutions LLC, $100,000 and $50,326; Almas Foods International, $88,569; Paro AI Inc., $100,000; UBMe Inc., $2,824; Seven Sirens Brewing Co., $100,000; and Optamo LLC, $14,895, received tax credits.
The Keystone Innovation Zone program provides tax credits for companies that have been operating for less than eight years, have increased gross revenue over the previous year, are located in a KIZ, and are within a targeted industry sector such as information technology or advanced manufacturing/diversified materials, a release explained.
The program provides young companies with working capital to meet critical needs, whether that’s capital expenditures, workforce expansion, operational expenses or making these businesses more attractive to investors.
The “Shark Tank” – style competition showcasing student business ideas at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is going international in its third year.
The U Start-up Challenge + Showcase hosted by the university’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE) offers students a chance to bring business ideas to life with the help of a network of entrepreneurs, the university said.
Eight finalists will showcase their ideas virtually on May 12.
What started three years ago as an experiment involving a few HU students has grown into a full-fledged international competition for high school students sponsored by The Hershey Company, Merit and Cargas Systems, Inc.
Three winning teams will be selected by a formal judging committee and awarded cash prizes during the event. The grand prize winner will have the opportunity to incubate their business idea via Harrisburg University’s Innovation Lab.
This year’s finalists are:
HIVE – Trinity High School – Bella Brida, Emerson Hoover
Hive allows people with dietary restrictions, food allergies, and other personal preferences to find items on menus that meet their requirements while dining out.
REC Table – Spring Grove High School – Elijah Reineberg, Dylan Tichy
REC Table solves the problem of slow growth in recreational table gaming industry due to large bulky gaming environments that are difficult to assemble. The team’s solution is to produce a hybrid gaming environment by combining two or more games that will cut the associated per game cost and decrease the bulkiness of individuals recreational games in half.
ParkingPal – Lower Dauphin High School – Grant Tredinnick, Natie Davis
ParkingPal is an app that allows users to see how many spots are open in parking garages and lots before they get there. It also compares local prices as well as filtering by duration of stay. The app updates in live time.
Vector Gear – Jose Marti Mast 6-12 Academy (Florida) – Herman Remy
Vector Gear addresses the problem within Virtual Reality Headsets where a device will have at most two of the three functionalities: high performance, a lightweight build, or a high field of vision. The Vector Gear is a Virtual Reality headset made to look like a pair of glasses with the Viewer System being a pair of glasses created by Enmesi.
. Holo-at-Home – William Penn Senior High School – Ivy Dieujuste, Angelina Kebreau, Anayah Brantley, Elyzabeth Valentin
The Holo-at-Home! is an app that allows the user to take a 3D scan of their body and try on clothing virtually before ordering it.
Score Wire – Lower Dauphin High School – Mathew Mosco, Wyatt Yeakel, Cody Rosati, Ethan Miller, Danny Kenny
Score Wire, a tracker chip put inside a sports ball and sensor lines along goal lines and sidelines, eliminates incorrect calls from officials.
Traffic-free eliminates delays by emergency response teams due to traffic delays. The device calculates the speed of the vehicle and sends data to traffic lights telling them to turn green before the vehicle gets to it. After the vehicle has passed, the system will switch to its previous state.
Suministros Alemar – San Martin University Foundation (Colombia) – Alex Rocha Fadul
Suministros Alemar transforms recycled plastic into raw material for the manufacture of low-density polyethylene bags. The plan also calls for the manufacture of bags for sanitary use according to the colors of the national regulation of hospital waste.
M&T Bank and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology are partnering to create the Capital Region Multicultural Small Business Innovation Lab.
The free, six-week program aims to provide multicultural business owners “with the guidance and skills needed to build strong businesses, spur economic growth for Harrisburg’s Capital Region and help build generational wealth for their families,” according to a release.
With weekly courses May 5 to June 9 at the university, the Innovation Lab will focus on business planning, establishing credit, accessing capital, marketing, branding and networking. It will conclude with a pitch competition and opportunity to win grants of up to $5,000 funded by M&T. Interested entrepreneurs must complete an online application by April 25 and meet the following eligibility requirements:
· Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx or Asian American;
· In business no more than three years;
· Annual business revenue of $350,000 or less.
Qualified applicants will be enrolled on a first-come, first-served basis.
Of the 60 businesses started in Harrisburg since the beginning of the year, nearly half are owned by Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx or Middle Eastern entrepreneurs, according to city officials.
“Since our administration has taken office, we have seen a boom in multicultural small businesses across the city,” Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams said in the release. “… The City of Harrisburg is beyond excited to partner with M&T Bank and Harrisburg University to usher in a new era of minority-owned businesses throughout the Capital City.”
Added Nora Habig, M&T Bank’s regional president for Central and Western Pennsylvania:
“The program’s curriculum was intentionally developed to create an environment that helps multicultural small businesses overcome obstacles to success, and we look forward to partnering with Harrisburg University to offer it in the Capital Region.”
In 2020, M&T created its Multicultural Banking & Diverse Market Strategy segment to prioritize the needs of multicultural communities, businesses and individuals
The Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, powered by the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, will be opening a location this summer in Strawberry Square.
It will be housed on the first floor, in the 4,000-square-foot former Hallmark store.
“We’re excited to welcome the CIE to … Strawberry Square,” Brad Jones, president and CEO of Harristown, the owner of Strawberry Square, said in a release. “Harrisburg University has been an incredible driver for economic development in the downtown and this new lease for CIE is another fantastic example of their positive impact here in downtown Harrisburg.”
The CIE works to assist innovators – including Harrisburg University students and faculty, as well as entrepreneurs in the community – to build successful ventures. It also provides opportunities for partners to invest in scientific discoveries, technological innovations and academic research.
Its director, Jay Jayamohan, explained in the release, “The CIE is a multipronged hub that aligns entrepreneurial activities across the campus and business disciplines that feature active learning laboratories, technological suites and a makerspace.”
Harrisburg University is a private, nonprofit institution offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in the fields of science, technology and math.
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology will host two events that celebrate Innovation, Diversity, and Inclusion from 12-5 p.m. on Sept. 21.
The Celebration of Innovation, Diversity, and Inclusion! hosted by HU’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship is part of the University’s Tech & Town Week to celebrate the small business growth throughout Harrisburg Saturday, Sept. 18 through Saturday, Sept. 25.
The Celebration of Innovation, Diversity, and Inclusion will include:
Conversations in Innovation – The program will start with a conversation about Innovation, Diversity & Inclusion moderated by Jay Jayamohan, CIE executive director. The discussion will feature Harrisburg native Marques Colston, founder of Marques Colston Enterprises, executive performance coach, speaker and XLIV Super Bowl Champion, who is an entrepreneur and financial advisor. Colston will join Jodi Woleslagle, senior vice president and chief human resource officer at Capital BlueCross, to discuss how more women and people of color drive innovation in large organizations, according to a Harrisburg University press release.
Building a community of entrepreneurs who share their knowledge and encourage diverse & inclusive innovators to explore, and grow is at the heart of Harrisburg University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. CIE’s is part of a broader national movement of innovation incubators, hackerspaces, maker spaces, and other entrepreneurial ecosystems that seek to provide tools, knowledge, and opportunity for all people to develop their creative potential, the release said.
Hacking 4 Recovery – Led by The Hershey Company, a design sprint-like event in which innovators and others including domain experts, technologists, project managers, and others collaborate on creating solutions for businesses most impacted by Covid-19.
Tech & Town Week, with support from the Law Firm of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, a weeklong collaboration of small business support throughout Harrisburg. Featuring concerts, conferences, student events, and more, Tech & Town will entertain, educate, and enlighten throughout Pennsylvania’s capital city.
To view the full slate of Tech & Town events, visit https://www.harrisburgu.edu/tech-n-town-week/.
Veritas Academy in Upper Leacock Township, Lancaster County has not only managed to get its classes up and running online for its 300 students, but is looking to offer a selection of video classes to students outside of the academy.
When the closures of schools statewide caused Veritas Academy to send its K through 12 students home, the Christian school’s headmaster sought help from an economic development program focused on small tech startups.
Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pa. is part of a network of Ben Franklin Technology Partners across the state that offer funds and assistance to growing technology firms. The organization’s director of business development, Andrew Long, is an advisor to Veritas’ school board and agreed to offer the school guidance with help from his staff at Ben Franklin.
“The school needed advice and wanted to reach out to us for help to get up and running as a community partner,” Long said. “Ben Franklin was able to help them run down their resources in the same way we would do with a company we were investing in.”
With help from Ben Franklin, Veritas was able to go from its brick-and-mortar school to completely online classes within a week. Headmaster Ty Fischer said that the difference between Veritas and other schools is that through Zoom conferencing, the school’s faculty have been able to resume their classes while other schools are using online resources but may not be moving forward on their curriculum.
Fischer said that during his conversations with Ben Franklin, Long and his team gave the school advice on technology and entrepreneurial issues and gave Fischer guidance on taking opportunities in a disrupted market.
Finding innovative ways to keep Veritas’ parents in the loop was also a source of conversation. Long said his team suggested adding video components to newsletters or releasing informal fireside chats.
Because Veritas’ classes are continuing as normally as they can in the current situation, Fischer said he can now turn his focus to using the opportunity to grow Veritas’ name in the currently disrupted private education market.
The school plans to do this by releasing videos of their classes for free online.
“It’s a great opportunity to be better known,” he said. “We are going to take some of our classes of every grade and put them out into the community.”
Fischer said that the school is in talks with area school districts to try to get students credit for the classes, particularly in preparation for AP exams that aren’t changing their testing dates.
Lancaster’s private education market is competitive and the offering of free classes could be what the 24-year-old school needs to stand out.
“We are still a young school and it’s hard to get everyone to know you,” Fischer said. “Giving these classes away is how we want people to get to know us.”
A Mechanicsburg real estate photography firm is offering real estate companies a way to continue touring houses despite the state-wide lockdown.
360 Tour Designs has taken 3D photography of houses on the market for real estate companies for five years but previously offered the service as a way for potential buyers to see a house before they toured it.
Real estate firms across the state are currently unable to take their clients on tours of homes in compliance with Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent order for all non-life sustaining businesses to close their doors.
Because 360 Tour Designs already offers 3D tours to its clients, it was a no-brainer to offer the service as an alternative to live tours, said Greg Drake, the company’s co-owner.
“We’ve had this 3D imaging capability for a while and it allows you to virtually walk through a home by five to eight feet at a time,” he said. “This new service is a modification of that. Now you can sit down in front of it and over the phone, the realtor can walk you through the address.”
The change to the service is the simple addition of a phone call but a guided tour by a realtor offers much more than what a potential buyer can see from the 3D tour without a guide, said Drake.
360 Tour Designs is a franchisor with 18 franchisees in 15 states. The company primarily works with realtors, offering basic photography, 3D imaging and home staging.
If real estate agencies continue to be unable to show homes to buyers into April, 360 Tour Designs will be looking at other alternatives like getting cardboard virtual headsets into the hands of buyers.
Buyers could place their phones into the virtual headsets and use a virtual reality app that would let them see the 3D images as if they were standing in the house.
The Arctic fascinated Jonathan Weber, so he was excited when he was chosen from a competitive field for a position with the United States Antarctic Program in 2016.
But, while the South Pole excited him from a distance, he learned even more when he felt how cold the freezing, desolate continent could be.
“At the South Pole, the summer season ranges from -60F to about -10F on warm days,” he said. “During the winter it can go down below -100F. So, your gear needs to be able to handle these intense temperature ranges.”
To cope with the extreme weather, the men and women stationed there need specialized clothing and gear, including “Big Red” Canada Goose USAP-exclusive parkas that are rated to keep you warm down to 40 below.
Little did he know it would end up leading to a lucrative side gig; one he plans to grow.
Knowing other cold-weather science and adventure enthusiasts, Weber believed there was a demand for high quality outerwear, not just for their function, but for their rarity and unique style.
“I became very familiar with the Antarctic Program’s specialized clothing and gear while I was deployed,” he said. “Like military surplus, most government agencies sell or auction off surplus gear. I made some connections, and was able to participate in this process after I came back from my first season in Antarctica. This led to purchasing my first few pallets of used gear.”
He set up a warehouse in East Stroudsburg and started selling the surplus gear through the website www.AntarcticSurplus.com. He was joined by Pat McGee, who became the co-manager of Antarctic Surplus. McGee helped organize the gear that Weber was buying.
They knew little about the items since they were bought in bulk, she said. They needed to sort through them to rate them by size, age and quality, and repairs older gear damaged or showing signs of wear.
There was variety, but the traditional “Big Red” parkas were their signature item, and the hardest to get.
“Some of this gear you can’t even find unless you’re from the Antarctic program,” McGee explained. “You really need to be on the lookout for this gear.”
The learning curve
They weren’t sure what to expect when they started selling in 2017. The parkas are not cheap, Weber said. Depending on the style, vintage and condition they can sell for up to $1,000.
“While I knew that there was demand for cold weather gear, I did not know if it would be profitable after the costs, shipping, repairs, etc.,” he said. “Luckily, our first experience was positive. We had a smaller amount of parkas and were able to completely sell out relatively quickly.”
Weber said he grossed about $40,000 in sales in just the first 24 hours of sales. But, there was a problem blocking the growth of his new business; he had to rely on the surplus auctions of the Antarctic program to gather new inventory, and those only come around when the program has extra gear to sell.
That next auction occurred earlier this year, and with their first experience giving them the confidence to go bigger, Antarctic Surplus bought even more parkas in a larger variety of styles. The also bought boots, ice picks and Antarctic-weather rated tents.
They learned from the customers who bought their batch that there was a market for a variety of items, McGee said. Their customers were mostly Antarctic explorers themselves, or just cold-weather sports enthusiasts.
“We hit a very niche demand,” she said.
A cool trend
The downy parkas caught the eye of the trendy crowd. Many Hollywood celebrities and trend setters wear the commercially available Canada Goose parkas. To own a vintage, exclusively made Antarctic program parka was a step up.
There were simple, practical buyers, too. Stacey Jones of New York City never owned a parka, so when he decided to buy only one, he wanted one that would last. So, he decided to go for the best. He wanted one super-warm layer that would protect him from the cold, but be easy to slip off inside.
He always had an interest in the cold continent, and his research led him to Weber’s site, and the Big Red parkas. For Jones, they were the perfect solution.
“Living in New York City the idea of layering isn’t practical. You go from one heated building to the next,” Jones said.
Learning who their customers are and what they want is an ongoing process, McGee said.
“It’s a trial by fire with the new items, but last time was pretty successful for us,” she said. So she and Weber are keeping an open mind about how to grow the business with their new inventory and the goods they hope to obtain in the future.
“The biggest limitations are obviously around inventory,” Weber said. “But now that we have been able to build up a good customer base we are considering different options for offering ongoing inventory; for instance, new products, or military surplus cold weather gear with regular availability.”
And as McGee minds the store, Weber is heading back to the place where it all began.
“I am about to deploy to a different area of Antarctica, Union Glacier, with a private operator within the next few days,” he said. “I’ll be working in communications and I’ll be bringing a good bit of ex-USAP gear back to Antarctica with me.
It’s an opportunity for him “to get back on the ice,“ he said, and maybe find some additions for his inventory while he’s down there.
Two Midwest companies were the big winners at the inaugural Pet Innovation Challenge held in Bethlehem this month.
Shameless Pets, a Chicago-based company that turns unused food from grocery stores and other food operations into pet food, and Teef, a Minneapolis-based company whose product, when added to water, can improve the dental health of pets, were named the winners during the conference hosted by Factory LLC on Oct. 2 and 3.
Shameless earned the top prize at in the “Pitch Slam” competition that evaluated participants on their ability to pitch ideas effectively. It took home a cash prize of $1,000, six months of entrepreneur services from Factory LLC and a free booth, valued at about $6,000, at Natural Products Expo East 2020 to be held in Philadelphia next September.
Teef, which claimed the top prize in the overall innovation challenge, earned a $5,000 cash prize, 60 hours of services from Factory LLC and a free booth at the Natural Products Expo East.
The Pet Innovation Challenge, sponsored by New Hope Network, was a showcase for innovative and emerging pet health brands hoping to break into the nearly $100 billion U.S. pet products market.
The “entre-pet-neurs,” as they were called, participated in a Shark Tank-like competition in which they pitched their business model to potential investors and other pet product experts.
In addition to forming potential relationships with investors, the entrepreneurs got valuable feedback on their overall business plans from the assembled experts. More than 100 pet product companies applied to participate in the event, but only 10 were selected.
Shameless Pets pitched the idea that its products are “a different way to enable concerned pet owners to do their part for the planet.”
Shameless was started by James Bello, an ex-corporate food buyer who was shocked to learn that some 63 million tons of food from grocery stores and other food supply chain locations gets tossed out every year.
With a Puggle and treat-tester named Mina at his side, Bello linked up with Boston-based food scientist Alex Waite who shared his passion for the environment and had the know-how to formulate treats made from unused food. In October 2018, Bello and Waite co-founded and launched Shameless Pets.
Several other companies took home prizes for their unique products. Philadelphia-based company Because Animals, which specializes in cultured meat grown using biotechnology and without raising or slaughtering animals, was the first runner-up in the innovation challenge.
Chippin, a Takoma Park, Md.-based company that produces pet treats out of cricket protein, was chosen as second runner-up. Both companies took home a $1,000 cash prize and 10 hours of services from Factory LLC.
Factory LLC, which opened earlier this year, is based in a former Bethlehem Steel mill on Columbia Street in south Bethlehem. It’s a business innovation specialist working with, and supplies space for, emerging companies between $2 million and $20 million to help them grow. It was founded by Richard Thompson, a former pet food company executive who wants to put Bethlehem on the business innovation map of the U.S.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.