Entrepreneurs Pitch Innovative Ideas at Startup Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on November 20, 2020

Factory CEO Richard Thompson (left) speaks to WoodGoods Lacrosse founder Justin Gelwicks (center) and the competition judges during Startup Lehigh Valley.

Lehigh Valley entrepreneurs were rewarded for their innovative ideas this week at Startup Lehigh Valley, an annual event that seeks to position the region as the innovation hub of the East Coast.

Held virtually this year, the second annual Startup Lehigh Valley was hosted on Nov. 18 by the Factory LLC, a Bethlehem-based investor and operator for food, beverage, and pet health companies in Lehigh Valley.

“People ask me all the time what it means to be an entrepreneur,” Richard Thompson, CEO of the Factory and the former CEO of Freshpet, said during the introduction of the event.

“I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, so it kind of takes one to know one,” Thompson said. “And I know you too probably have a little bit of entrepreneur in you, because everybody has a good idea, a good thought. … So you all have good ideas, it’s about executing those ideas.”

Startup Lehigh Valley brings together angel investors, industry experts, and local leaders in industry and education with emerging entrepreneurs and start-up founders to foster the innovation ecosystem of the Lehigh Valley, Thompson said.

The event included an innovation pitch competition, in which Lehigh Valley entrepreneurs and startup founders presented business ideas during a virtual rapid two-minute pitch to a panel of judges and the virtual audience for the opportunity to win cash prizes from Penn State Lehigh Valley Launchbox. The audience judged the pitches via a smartphone application.

WoodGoods Lacrosse won the $4,500 grand prize following the competition. In contrast to low-quality lacrosse sticks that often breaks, WoodGoods seeks to make durable and stronger wooden sticks that flex like carbon but are only slightly heavier than normal equipment.

“Manufacturers refuse to use anything but the cheapest carbon to produce sticks and increasingly demanding weight requirements lead to thinner and weaker shafts,” said company founder Justin Gelwicks.

“However, by sourcing our wood from the same trade-secret location as Lousiville Slugger, and an improved manufacturing process that improves consistency and strength, we were not only about to create a higher-quality product,” Gelwicks said.

WoodGoods Innovative received more than 200 votes from the virtual audience. Gelwicks also previously won a similar award during the Innovate! Celebrate! Awards Dinner in April, hosted by Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation.

Other winners at Startup Lehigh Valley include JTJ Tech, LLC, which created a product to improve fire protection systems, and Verde Mantis, LP, which creates easy-to-use 3-D printers. Those companies were awarded $2,500 and $1,500, respectively.

LaunchBox Boost Awards of $500 each were also awarded to Aeria Pro, which creates window cleaning tools; Cliquify Inc., a tool that converts text-heavy job descriptions into attractive bite-size content; and Quarbon, an environmental and social impact scorecard.

Located in a converted former Bethlehem Steel mill, the Factory LLC is an innovation center for startup food, beverage, and pet health companies. The site underwent a $12 million renovation in 2018.

The Factory includes a team of experienced operators with investable capital who acquire meaningful equity stakes in client companies and partner with them to grow. The 40,000 square-foot laboratory offers services in everything from food safety, product development, supply chain, and social media marketing.

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