Winners of Big Idea Contest

Winners of the Big Idea Contest are: David Conklin of Wilds Sonshine Factory, of Kane, fourth from left, with his family, from left, Tosha, Serrena and Sienna; and first-place winner Joe Lanich of Laughing Owl Press, of Kane, with his wife and co-owner, Andrea.

DuBOIS — Two of the eight entrepreneurs, who made their final pitch Thursday in front of a team of local judges as part of Ben Franklin’s $50,000 Big Idea Contest, walked away as winners.

Joe Lanich, of Laughing Owl Press in Kane, who is developing software that brings digital convenience to high-end letterpress printed products took first place and received $30,000 to move forward with his business.

Second place winner was David Conklin, of Wilds Sonshine Factory in Kane, who is distilling a new spirit derived from the sunflower plant grown solely in the PA Wilds Region. He was awarded $20,000 to develop his business idea.

“Thank you so much, this is really going to help with our vision,” Lanich said.

“We were encouraged by the PA Wilds and other organizations to enter the Big Idea Contest,” Lanich said. “And I thought, ‘We’re a company that runs 120-year-old printing presses. What can we possibly do that’s innovative?’ But just starting that thought process has changed the whole direction of our business from here on out. It’s really quite amazing how things have changed just in the past couple months.”

“Thank you all for letting us participate in this event, and thank you judges,” Conklin said. “This is such an important project, not only for us, but more importantly for the state of Pennsylvania. I truly believe that, and I’m confident and in my speech that this will put Pennsylvania not only on a regional or national map, but in an international map, and we greatly appreciate your support. We’re going to use the money to help us keep pursuing forward as well as we’re going to recognize Ben Franklin in our interpretation area, which I think’s pretty important. And I think that we’re looking for millions of visitors, not thousands.”

An audience of approximately 100 attended the event held at the North Central PA LaunchBox in downtown DuBois. Ben Franklin Technology Partners and the North Central PA LaunchBox Powered by Penn State DuBois teamed up to organize this contest for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“This way exceeded our expectations,” said Ben Franklin Technology Partners Chief Executive Officer Steve Brawley prior to the announcement of the winners. “I absolutely don’t envy the judges. What a decision to make. These were some incredible opportunities, incredible ideas, all of which deserve to have legs. They deserve to be supported, they deserve to have the entire community behind them.”

In addition to the money, the winners receive:

  • Access to seminars offered by Ben Franklin’s eMarketing Learning Center and the Clarion Small Business Development Center;
  • A free consult on applying for federal R&D grant money from the Innovation Partnership; and
  • Executive business and technology growth services assistance offered by the Northwest Industrial Resource Center.

The Big Idea Contest opened in mid-July for early stage companies and prospective entrepreneurs with innovative ideas and manufacturing and technology, said Jill Edwards, executive director of the Ben Franklin Venture Investment Forum and Innovation Transfer Network. The application period ended on Sept. 24.

“We were really pleased to receive quite a number of submissions from all over the North Central region, which included the counties of Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, McKean and Potter,” Edwards said.

Other finalists who presented at the event included:

  • Jeff Billett from Billett Electric, of Punxsutawney, who is developing an equipotential grounding system for mobile operation to protect personnel and equipment from static and stray electricity.
  • Keith Billotte from Doing Time LLC, of Clearfield, who has developed an innovation in the process of distilling bourbon.
  • Peter Schramm from Lattus Inc., of Brookville, who developed a platform that facilitates personal conversations about specific professional and personal topics to share insights, perspectives and experiences.
  • Daniel Meier from Lightdrop Harvest LLC, St. Marys, who uses neural networks (artificial intelligence) in vision systems to inspect parts produced by the powdered metal industry.
  • Royce Novosel-Johnson from NoJo Forest Creations, Kane, who is establishing alternative and creative uses for wood and wood-related products within the PA Wilds and Allegheny National Forest.
  • Harb Nayar from TAT Technologies, St. Marys, who is developing a process that reduces thermal process cost and energy consumed.

Judges were: Jennifer L. Reynolds-Hamilton, CFP R, of Reynolds Financial Advisors, DuBois; Joseph P. Kelly Jr., senior vice president/commercial market executive, Clearfield; Professor Chad Smith, College of Business Administration & Information Sciences, Clarion; Craig Stout, of Drucker Diagnostics, Port Matilda; and Eddie Jenkins of Gasbarre Products Inc., DuBois.

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