FLX Solutions Wins 2022 Ben Franklin Venture Idol
By Colin McEvoy on November 16, 2022
FLX Solutions, a Bethlehem-based startup that 3-D printed snake-robots for use by home inspectors, commercial contractors, and utility field technicians to go through and see behind walls and tight spaces, was the winner of this year’s Ben Franklin Venture Idol,
The 19th annual crowdfunded-format competition hosted by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania was held Nov. 15 at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem. Audience members heard presentations from three finalist entrepreneurs, then “funded” the companies by distributing “Ben Bucks” investment dollars.
“For nearly 40 years, Ben Franklin Northeast has been building an ecosystem that fosters innovation and drives entrepreneurial success by providing investment capital and business support services to technology startups and established manufacturers,” said Angelo Valletta, Ben Franklin Northeast President & CEO.
The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) was a sponsor of the event.
Earlier in the afternoon, entrepreneurs from seven Ben Franklin portfolio companies delivered pitches to institutional angel investors, Valetta said. Those investors voted to select the three finalists who presented their companies during Venture Idol.
Those finalists, which competed for a total of $20,000 in cash prizes, included FLX Solutions; the Bethlehem-based Cliquify, an artificial intelligence-assisted enterprise branding platform; and VZR Scada, of Berwick, Pa., which offers software and managed services for water and wastewater treatment operations
The winner, FLX Solutions, creates low-cost snake robots that can be used to see behind walls, above ceiling tiles, and into other tight areas that might otherwise be inaccessible or difficult to access.
FLX Solutions, and its Founder and CEO Matthew Bilsky, also previously won the StartUp Lehigh Valley pitch competition at the Factory LLC in Bethlehem in 2019. The company was also included on Pepperdine Graziadio Business School’s prestigious Most Fundable Companies List last year.
“Our one-inch diameter allows us to enter tight spaces and go through a small hole rather than having to rip out a whole wall,” Blisky said. “That’s what we’re really passionate about here at FLX Solutions: offering cutting edge robotics at power tool prices that that increase worker safety while decreasing downtime.”
The other participating companies were BettorFantasy, a Bethlehem-based group sports betting platform; GUIDE, of Scranton, a digital micro-learning practices platform; Heudia Health, a East Stroudsburg-based technology-driven health care company; and Unison Workforce, of Scranton, a cloud-based mobile technology platform.
In addition to the company pitches, Venture Idol included a panel discussion called “Anatomy of the Prefect Deal.” Moderated by Mark Mithcell of Delaware Crossing Investor Group, it featured Karen LaRochelle of Advent Life Sciences, Sylvester Mobley of Osage Venture Partners, and Sue Yee of Broad Street Angels.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect pitch,” LaRochelle said. “It’s about risk, knowing the odds are already going to be stacked against you just because of the industry. It’s about getting it to a point where you’re comfortable with the science and the due diligence, that the concept is something that, even though you’re looking 10 years into your crystal ball, you know is going to be able to carry weight and be competitive.”
Yee emphasized the give-and-take nature of the relationship between an investor and entrepreneur. As an investor, she looks to ensure her money will be invested in a smart and straightforward way, with no guesswork as to when the next milestone will be reached.
“On the other hand, the entrepreneur is probably like, ‘I don’t know what will happen, I’m making assumptions, I can’t say there is no risk,” she said. “So the entrepreneur and investor have to understand each other and have trust in each other. That’s the most important thing.”
The company pitches took place before a panel of investors, who asked questions and provided feedback. They included Jeffrey A. Davison, General Partners with Activate Venture Partners; Tiara Durham, EcoSystem Builder with Founders First Capital Partners; Veronica Fey, Operations and Analysis Manager with Soundboard Venture Fund; and Brett Topche, Managing Director with Red & Blue Ventures.
Ben Franklin Northeast 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.
Valletta was interviewed last year by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham as part of the organization’s executive video interview series with new corporate leaders with some of Lehigh Valley’s leading companies and largest employers. The interview can be found on LVEDC’s YouTube channel or below:
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