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Lehigh Valley Business Owners Discuss Innovating Amid COVID-19

By Kat Schneider on May 26, 2020

Panelists participating in a Lehigh Valley Launchbox online web program entitled “Lehigh Valley Companies Innovating Amid COVID-19.”

Like most everyone in first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chad Butters was astounded by the rising costs of cleaning materials. As founder and CEO of Eight Oaks Farm Distillery, the growing cost of hand sanitizer particularly disturbed him – it was a topic that hit close to home and was something about which he and the distillery’s leadership knew they could do something.

‘We had a team meeting with some leadership here to discuss what it was we could do for the community in this environment,” Butters said. “Understanding that hand sanitizer is made mostly of high-proof alcohol, which we had gotten to be pretty good at making, we referred back to our purpose, mission, vision, and values and applied it to this environment.”

Butters was one of three panelists who spoke on May 20 in the second of a series of four web programs offered by Penn State Lehigh Valley’s Launchbox program, in collaboration with campus Community Outreach and Education, the Arts Project and Virtual Education.

This program, entitled “Lehigh Valley Companies Innovating Amid COVID-19,” showcased Lehigh Valley businesses who are innovating and contributing to their communities during this time of crisis.

Featured speakers also included Rolf Schlake, President & CEO of Applied Separations; and Ron Belknap, Co-founder, President & CEO of ProtoCAM. The web program was hosted by Liz Keptner, a Penn State Lehigh Valley instructor who teaches in intercultural communication, public speaking and mass communication. She is also the director of the institution’s Multimedia Innovation Center (MIC).

“At a time when so many businesses were unable to operate, our three panelists went to work using innovative ways to continue their business and transform their enterprise,” said Penn State Lehigh Valley Chancellor Dr. Tina Richardson. “They found ways to match their evolution of their business to a community need. They are truly aiding the fight against COVID-19 in significant ways.”

At Applied Separations, the protective personal equipment (PPE) so needed by those on the front lines in the fight against the virus was nothing new. A manufacturer of DNA-clinical kits among other equipment, Applied Separations must maintain high levels of cleanliness which requires staff utilize PPE suits and equipment, Schlake said. When they are no longer needed, however, the suits are typically discarded.

Given the current environment and demand for such equipment, it seemed like a waste, Schlake said. The suits are now sterilized in the facility’s ovens and can be safely distributed to first responders, custodial workers and medical staff.

As a 3-D manufacturer, ProtoCam was able to step into the fight by printing protective facemasks for frontline workers. While printing the masks came easy to the printer, a weak supply chain raised some challenges, said Belknap.

“We had to dig down deep,” he said, “Everyone around facility used their resources. We were amazed at the challenge of getting something so simple.”

According to Belknap, this experience has allowed for increased visibility for 3-D printers which he hopes will carry the company into a successful Post-COVID-19 business environment.

Wednesday’s web presentation is part of a series of virtual educational events series showcasing how various business segments are pivoting and adapting in response to COVID-19. Other topics that will be covered over the course of the series include professional services, health care and wellness, and higher education

Lehigh Valley LaunchBox is an early-stage business accelerator program for entrepreneurs. As a signature program of Invent Penn State, LVLB partners with a network of community and diversity partners to offer continuing support to small business owners and guides them through every step of their startup journey.

George Lewis, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), serves on the LaunchBox Advisory Board.

For more information on LaunchBox Ladies, email [email protected] or call 610-285-5208.

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