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Ben Franklin Technology Partners Holds 18th Annual Venture Idol

By Colin McEvoy on November 12, 2021

Ben Franklin Technology Partners operates the Ben Franklin TechVentures business incubator in Bethlehem. It’s a key resource for life sciences research. (photo courtesy BFTP/NEP)

Mussel Polymers, a startup company behind adhesives and systems that enable underwater and wet bonding, was declared the winner of this year’s Ben Franklin Venture Idol, a competition described as a cross between Shark Tank and American Idol.

More than 200 people viewed the virtual event on Nov. 9, a competition between eight contestants that were selected competitively from among the top early-stage clients of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP).

BFTP/NEP President & CEO Angelo Valletta

“Whether together in person, or virtually across the miles, the community of entrepreneurs, investors, and supporters that are continually building tomorrow’s economy does not stop,” said Angelo Valletta, President & CEO of BFTP/NEP.

The 18th annual Venture Idol illustrates a significant way in which early-stage entrepreneurs seek and obtain seed capital. BFTP/NEP awarded a total of $15,000 to the companies, prorated based on the “crowd-funded” audience vote following the contestants’ presentations.

Mussel Polymers is commercializing a new wet adhesive developed at Purdue University with $8 million in U.S. Navy funding, according to company founder and CEO George Boyajian.

The company’s first products include superior adhesives for dentistry for fillings, caps, and orthodontia; an adhesive for the saltwater aquarium and coral restoration markets; and an adhesive for a mission-critical problem faced by the U.S. Navy.

The technology mimics the chemistry used by mussels to attach to marine substrates. Merging this natural adhesion with industrial techniques creates strong “biomimetic” adhesives that are effective in wet and dry conditions and non-toxic, while being cost competitive.

“Our team has decades of experience in entrepreneurship, technology development, and strategic partnerships, each with successful exits,” Boyajian said. “Our scientific advisory team has a collective century of experience in polymer chemistry and the adhesives industry.”

Eight contestants were chosen BFTP/NEP’s clients, and three of them earned their way through the selection process just prior to the Venture Idol event. In addition to Mussel Polymers, they included Cliquify Inc. and Paro AI, Inc.

The Macungie-based Cliquify is an artificial intelligence-assisted platform that helps businesses scale organic social recruitment through recruiters, hiring leaders, and employees. Paro AI is an early-stage AI-platform that helps sales teams with increased workflow efficiency and insights that leads to stronger sales growth and territory impact.

The other competitors from this year’s Venture Idol include Build My Team, Coexist Build LLC, IntelliGreen, Planguru, and Precision POS.

The finalists pitched their start-up companies to attendees and investors including Clark DeHaven of SoundBoard Venture Fund; Wes Jamison of Lehigh Valley Angel Investors; Holly Flanagan of Gabriel Investments; and Susan Yee of Broad Street Angels, in a session moderated by Don Yount of Activate Ventures.

Ben Franklin Venture Idol started with a keynote panel discussion, “The Changing Face of Investing in Technology Companies,” moderated by Elizabeth D. Sigety of Fox Rothschild and Delaware Crossing Investor Group.

The all-female panel discussion included expert panelists  Jennifer Ciarimboli of studio BE, Gerri Henwood of Baudax Bio, Gina Tedesco of Golden Seeds, and Deborah Zajac of Touchdown Ventures.

The panel shared insights from both investors’ and entrepreneurs’ perspectives. Panelists encouraged young firms that are pitching to investors to address what problems their product is solving, how it is better than what other companies are currently offering, and why investors should invest and why now.

Entrepreneurs were also advised to embrace curiosity as a skill set, and not let themselves get too high or too low as they ride the rollercoaster of launching a company, according to BFTP/NEP. Team dynamics are key, the panelists said, and founders need to know their team’s strengths and weaknesses. 

BFTP/NEP creates and retains highly paid, sustainable jobs by investing in and linking companies with experts, universities, follow-on funding, and other resources to help them prosper through innovation.

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