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Snowboard Manufacturer Wins Ben Franklin Venture Idol Competition

By Colin McEvoy on November 16, 2015

About 250 people attended the 12th Annual Ben Franklin Venture Idol.

About 250 people attended the 12th Annual Ben Franklin Venture Idol. (photo by Ryan Hulvat)

A snowboard manufacturer emerged as the winner of 12th Annual Venture Idol competition, a cross between American Idol and Shark Tank hosted by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

About 250 people attended the sold-out Venture Idol at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem, where audience members heard presentations from three finalist entrepreneurs, then “funded” the companies, crowdfunding-style, by distributing $100 of “Ben Bucks” investment dollars.

“Ben Franklin Venture Idol was a great success and sold out for the second straight year,” said Wayne Barz, Manager of Entrepreneurial Services for BFTP/NEP. “One of our major roles is helping our clients raise follow-on funding. All of our eight competitors had an opportunity to pitch to 30 investors.”

Nick Gilson, founder and CEO of Gilson Boards, which won the Ben Franklin Venture Idol.

Nick Gilson, founder and CEO of Gilson Boards, which won the Ben Franklin Venture Idol. (photo by Ryan Hulvat)

Gilson Boards, which designs snowboard bases in three dimensions for an enhanced and unique “feel” on the mountain, was named the winner. Ben Franklin awarded $15,000 in real dollars to the winning companies based on the audience vote.

“We’ve had a track record of success, sales growth have been tremendous over the last couple years of our existence, and we’re having a blast,” said Nick Gilson, company founder and CEO. “We’re having the time of our lives doing this and it’s contagious. We’ve been watching those sales figures and revenues skyrocket.”

Applying aeronautical engineering concepts, Gilson snowboards have a three-dimensional base that is faster, stronger, and more flexible than traditional products, storing more energy for the “pop” that is sought by snowboarders, Gilson, said.

“Gilson Boards represents Ben Franklin’s support of the innovative application of technology to an existing product,” said Larry Seibert, BFTP/NEP Regional Manager, Upper Susquehanna. “In his pitch to investors, CEO Nick Gilson demonstrated an understanding of the market, production, and how to launch a business – all with great passion for his company and the sport.”

Orbweaver Sourcing LLC, a Bethlehem-based data exchange company, placed second in the Venture Idol competition, and third place went to CDC Software LLC of Bloomsburg, which has developed an integration solution for customer service systems.

All three companies made eight-minute pitches to the standing-room-only crowd and a slate of four investor panelists, who gave feedback after each presentation. They included Clark DeHaven of Soundboard Angel Fund, Mike Gausling of Originate Ventures, Bruce Luehrs of Rittenhouse Ventures, and Stephanie Olexa of Lehigh Valley Angel Investors.

“Passion sells, and people invest because they get excited about what you do,” Gausling said. “One entrepreneur I met used the term ‘radical sabbatical,’ and yours is a radical sabbatical for everybody in the room, because we all want to be you and go down this road with you.”

Eight start-up technology companies competed in Venture Idol, from which the three finalists were selected. Other competing entrepreneurs included the ChannelApe, MindMe, Inc., Precision POS, LLC, US Specialty Formulations, LLC, and viihealth, Inc.

Katy Worrilow, founder of the Upper Macungie Township-based LifeAire Systems, delivered Venture Idol’s keynote speech. The company designs and builds comprehensive air purification systems to protect the human embryo in In Vitro Fertilization and other medical settings.

As a scientist, Worrilow spent more than a decade researching the best environment to support the growth of the human embryo, but she founds the world of entrepeneurship was completely foreign to her when she started her business. She has since won the LVEDC Award for Entrepreneur of the Year, and a product innovation award from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

“We all know there are numerous bumps, roadblocks, and countless course corrections in this process,” Worrilow said. “Having been a scientist working in healthcare my entire career, I now have the utmost respect for anyone choosing an entrepreneurial path in business. It’s quite a rollercoaster, but it can be the ride of your life.”

Held at the business incubator on Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus, Venture Idol illustrated how early-state entrepreneurs seek and obtain seed capital. The event also included networking opportunities, and Fred Beste, CEO of the General Partners for Mid-Atlantic Venture Funds, served as emcee.

Lehigh Valley Boasts Impressive History of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in Lehigh Valley Business on November 16, 2015. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous c[...]

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