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Landfill Gas Systems Company Wins 2019 Ben Franklin Venture Idol

By Colin McEvoy on November 7, 2019

Greg Chrin, founder of Apis Innovation, presenting at the 2019 Ben Franklin Venture Idol. (photo courtesy BFTP/NEP)

The developer of a control system for landfill gas systems won the 2019 Ben Franklin Venture Idol, a cross between American Idol and Shark Tank hosted annually by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP).

About 300 people attended the event at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem, where audience members heard presentations from three finalist entrepreneurs, then “funded” the companies, crowdfunding-style, to determine a winner.

This year’s winner, Apis Innovation, develops a device that enables landfills to capture 20% more methane from decomposing waste, while also increasing a typical customer’s biogas-to-energy revenue by more than $400,000, and reducing operation costs by $25,000.

The event illustrates a significant way in which early-stage entrepreneurs seek and obtain seed capital. R. Chadwick Paul, Jr., President and CEO of BFTP/NEP, said many new companies generate no revenue in their first few years, and that angel groups and small venture capital funds generally start to become interested only after they do so.

About 300 people attended the event at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem.

“Raising capital for a startup technology company is complicated, time consuming, and often emotionally challenging,” Paul said. “One of Ben Franklin’s most important jobs is to provide just enough gasoline in the startup’s tank to help them move from the pre-seed to the seed stage.”

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) was a sponsor for Venture Idol.

A total of $15,000 in prize money was allocated among the finalists based on the audience vote. The other two finalist companies – which were narrowed from an original pool of seven companies – were American Paper Bag LLC and Ophidion.

American Paper Bag LLC is a manufacturer that produces a fully customizable, more environmentally-acceptable paper bag that reduces operational costs while offering unique design features. The company anticipates generating about $500,000 in revenue in 2019.

Ophidion is a biotechnology company with a platform technology that exploits an endogenous receptor-mediated transport system to deliver various therapeutic cargos, including biologics, into the brain for the treatment of various CNS disorders and brain malignancies.

The event also included a panel discussion with founders of startups that have won past Venture Idol competitions, including Phil Williams of Game Face Grooming, Nick Gilson of Gilson Snow, Katy Worrilow of LifeAire Systems, and Andy Goldberg of Signallamp Health.

The panelists offered advice about advancing from the pre-seed to seed stage. Worrilow said it is important to provide detailed communications and full transparency to investors so they know exactly how their investment dollars are being spent.

Gilson said to remember that engaging investors is “all about the people.”

“Early on, when you get caught up in the need for cash flow, a capital infusion almost becomes like a blood transfusion, an ability to transfer oxygen to the organs that so desperately need it,” he said. “It’s easy to lose track of the fact that you’re talking to another human being. You need to take a deep breath, step back, and think, ‘What would YOU need to hear to be comfortable with that investment?’”

A total of seven startups competed in Venture Idol this year, all of which are part of the BFTP/NEP portfolio of companies. In addition to the three finalists, they included Build My Team, PrintElements Corp., Skillion Inc., and studio BE Mindfulness LLC.

Several of the Venture Idol companies and judges were featured before the event on the Made Possible in Lehigh Valley Instagram account. Check them out below, and be sure to follow the account for future posts.

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Leading up to Wednesday’s Venture Idol competition at Ben Franklin TechVentures, we’ll be featuring two of the companies competing and one of the judges, looking at their companies, the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, and why they decided to build their ventures in Lehigh Valley. First up, Ophidion Technologies. Ophidion is commercializing a new technology that enables the delivery of therapeutics, including large molecules, to the brain following systemic administration. The company is leveraging its proprietary blood-brain barrier transport technology to advance a systemically delivered gene-silencing siRNA product for the treatment of Huntington’s disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disease with no current cure. Facing the grim news that a neurodegenerative disease ran in his family, entrepreneur Yacoub Habib began looking for a solution. “I spent a few years looking for the right technology that can help me in delivering a solution to these patients, including my family members.” Eventually, Mr. Habib discovered Lehigh University Professor Julie Miwa’s research through her start-up company, Ophidion. Huntington’s Disease is the first target. “This is the lowest-hanging fruit of the degenerative diseases because it's a monogenic disease, single-gene aberration, and we know how to treat it. There's a biomarker for it. We will know in nine months if we will succeed or not before spending millions of dollars, and tens and hundreds of millions in Alzheimer's research.” Why he chose Lehigh Valley to develop this novel technology: “It's the business incubation that is available at Ben Franklin TechVentures; it's affordable. You have Ben Franklin Technology Partners to invest, you have Lehigh University. There is the capital and infrastructure to support start-ups in Lehigh Valley.” #lvmadepossible #lehighvalley #startup #entrepreneur #ventureidol #sharktank #benfranklin #techventures #vc #ophidion #findyourpossible #healthcare #medicine

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Next up in our #VentureIdol preview, Pete Cooper, CEO & Founder, Skillion, Inc.. Skillion provides a mobile app and Internet of Things (IoT) device for remotely monitoring and controlling micro-mobility products such as electronic bikes (e-bikes) to provide safety, prevent theft, and/or manage rentals. Both the American and European micro-mobility markets are expected to grow significantly over the next five years, particularly in urban centers, creating the need for technology to support the sector. Although Skillion started in Australia, coming to the United States was a goal of founder Pete Cooper’s for years, due to the greater market size and potential for developing technologies. Ben Franklin TechVentures provided an opportunity for space and entrepreneurial support, and Skillion made the move across the globe, choosing Lehigh Valley for its next home. “Lehigh Valley was very attractive to me and my wife. When we came here, we loved the scene here. Lehigh University was a draw for us, and the cost to live here is substantially less than other markets we were looking at.” They quickly made friends with their fellow South Bethlehem neighbors at 510 Flats, enjoy going to SteelStacks for concerts and festivals, and the South Bethlehem Greenway for a walk each morning. Next steps for Skillion involve raising capital and scaling up. Check out Skillion’s story and more following Wednesday’s Ben Franklin Venture Idol event! #lvmadepossible #lehighvalley #startup #entrepreneur #mobility #iot #internetofthings #ventureidol #sharktank #benfranklin #fleetmanagement #techventures #vc #skillion #findyourpossible

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Meet one of the judges for today’s #VentureIdol19 competition, Paul Martino, Founder & Managing Partner at Bullpen Capital. Paul’s early online gaming innovations in multi-player user experience from almost 20 years ago are the inspiration for several of the modern social gaming offerings. He is the holder of more than a dozen core patents covering social networking and big data, and he is a @LehighU alum. . “We've probably invested in 20 of the 50 states at this point, and Ben Franklin Technology Partners is one of the absolute best state-sponsored incubator/investment programs there is. If you're doing a start-up in the Lehigh Valley or the Philadelphia region and you don't have Ben Franklin as a partner, people ask why you don't.” . Paul lived in Silicon Valley from 1997 until 2010 and moved back here to start his venture fund. “I wanted to be the East Coast partner, and a lot of my friends said, ‘Paul, you're going to regret your decision to move back there. You're going to be out of the flow of stuff.’ And you know, starting about a year or two ago, once Silicon Valley became so ‘jump the shark’, everyone calls me up and says, ‘Paul, where do you live again?’ These are the same people who said it was a career ending and limiting move to relocate back here. Yeah. sure, I still go out to Silicon Valley one week a month, but you know what, I like where I live a lot better than when I lived out there.” . When Paul came back east to start his venture fund, the first meeting he sought was with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP), and it supported his venture fund. His relationship with BFTP began back when he was a high school kid, programming computer games from his bedroom , then grew when he was at Lehigh University in college, and now he’s on the other side of the fence as a venture capitalist and Ben Franklin is a limited partner in his fund. #lvmadepossible #ventureidol #startup #entrepreneur #lehighvalley #iglehighvalley #igbethlehem #benfranklin #vc #venturecapital #findyourpossible #bullpencapital

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