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Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA

For nearly 40 years, Ben Franklin Technology Partners/CNP has been focused on revolutionary technological developments that improve the human condition and address critical challenges. This year, our efforts, in conjunction with our clients, have been focused on innovating against the pandemic. Almost from the very first days of COVID-19, many of Ben Franklin’s portfolio companies pivoted from their normal activities and began offering products and services that addressed the realities of the virus head on.

For example, Actuated Medical is a 20-person company which normally develops medical devices that integrate electronically controlled motion technologies. This year, they switched their focus and started manufacturing face shields for first responders and medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic.

Several other innovators emerged with inspiring responses to the pandemic. WaveClear is a medical device and design company that is developing ultrasonic therapeutic devices for the treatment of blood clots, a common side effect of the COVID virus. OhanaLink Technologies developed a mobile communication tool that creates a virtual hospital waiting room for friends and families of patients who are unable to visit in person because of COVID restrictions.

Acoustic Sheep has been selling comfortable headphones designed to be worn while sleeping for the past 10 years. In March 2020, in response to COVID-19 mask mandates, Dr. Wei-Shin Lai and her team shifted their focus to a DIY mask solution that utilizes a downloadable template targeting those who wear glasses or have beards.

These few examples represent dozens of Ben Franklin clients whose ability to adjust, respond and drive community-benefitting innovation has been inspiring. Investing in innovation has always made good sense – but perhaps never as much as it did in 2020.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA

Ben Franklin companies in southeastern Pennsylvania are developing innovation that provides for the safety and wellness for Pennsylvanians and beyond.

Biomeme’s revolutionary mobile diagnostic platform gained approval to distribute its COVID-19 testing materials in spring 2020. Biomeme created the world’s first mobile end-to-end molecular diagnostic platform, transforming a smartphone into a mobile lab for advanced DNA diagnostics and real-time disease surveillance. Biomeme expanded to a staff of 250 full-time employees and will move to a new 40,000-square-foot headquarters in Philadelphia this year to expand manufacturing of its products, now used in both frontline applications and leading research institutions across the country.

Roundtrip created the first digital healthcare transportation marketplace that enables healthcare professionals to schedule, dispatch and monitor non-emergency transportation for patients. Using existing ridesharing and transportation platforms and systems, Roundtrip ensures that patients get their scheduled care when they need it --- from basic rideshares and medical sedans to wheelchair vans and stretcher vehicles --- avoiding the compounded consequences and costs of missed appointments. The NIH, Jefferson Health, and Johns Hopkins Medicine are among its clients.

Biotech firm Navrogen is focused on the immuno-based treatment of cancer by removing defense mechanisms that tumor cells employ to inhibit cancer-fighting effects of therapeutically administered and patient immune-generated tumor attacking antibodies. Based at Cheyney University, Navrogen is engaged with the university’s mission of exposing students to emerging concepts in translational medicine and hands-on biopharmaceutical lab training through coordination with faculty in order to provide students experiential learning as they pursue careers in biomedicine.

Innovation Works

Innovation Works has provided invaluable resources and funding to help transform the southwestern Pennsylvania region into a center for innovative startups and tech investors from around the country. From the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, clients have been working on the front lines to keep the community safe.

ALung Technologies received the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), permitting the company to use its Hemolung device on patients with severe COVID-19. The Hemolung removes carbon dioxide directly from the blood in patients with acute respiratory failure. This technology allows individuals with breathing problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to avoid or minimize the need for intubation.

CytoAgents is innovating on a drug therapy that could treat COVID-19. CytoAgents' lead drug candidate modulates the body's immune response to reduce tissue damage caused by an excessive immune reaction. This approach would decrease the tissue damage resulting from the excessive release of pro-inflammatory cytokines induced by influenza and other viral infections like COVID-19.

Flexable Care’s all-female team is acutely aware of the simultaneous pull of working while parenting, particularly as it affects the millions of women who have left the workforce due to childcare issues. Flexable, which used to provide on-site childcare only, has revolutionized work-from-home for parents with their “Always There Childcare” events. The company launched Virtual MiniCamps to engage kids age 3 to 10 with online modules that keep them connected with fun content, peers, and caring adults so parents or caregivers can concentrate on work, meetings or take a needed reprieve to attend to other kids.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA

Several clients throughout BFTP/NEP’s 21-county service area provide products or services that are directly applicable in the fight against COVID-19; others have pivoted their technologies. The ability to adapt quickly to changing needs is emblematic of Ben Franklin clients.

The proprietary and transformational air purification systems originally developed for highly sensitive In Vitro Fertilization facilities by LifeAire Systems, LLC, Allentown, are capable of killing infectious airborne pathogens including COVID-19. In addition to placing the technology in hospitals and senior living facilities to reduce infections, illness, and length of stay, LifeAire has applied its proven kill technology to help during the COVID-19 pandemic in protecting dental practices, offices, and transportation and school facilities. The company has also developed a portable, rapid decontamination unit for N95 masks that kills COVID-19 and other pathogens within all layers of the mask. More than 1,650 masks can be safely decontaminated in a day, helping with the PPE shortage, and reducing costs by $297,000 per month.

The pandemic has forced health system leadership to address disparities in remote care capabilities. Signallamp Health, Scranton, provides a turnkey platform for remote clinical services, white-labeled to a patient’s chosen provider. Signallamp extends the reach and clinical capacity of healthcare providers to manage vulnerable patients, including those affected by COVID-19, outside of the traditional clinical setting. With more than 100 employees, the company was recognized on the prestigious Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., ranking No. 240 overall, No. 18 in the health industry, and No. 1 in Pennsylvania, with a three-year growth rate of 1,844%.

US Specialty Formulations LLC, Allentown, and VaxForm LLC, Bethlehem, recently announced first successes in their joint development program to bring oral and injectable COVID-19 and other vaccines to market. With funding through the Governor’s Action Team, USSF will expand its 41,000-square-foot production facility. Both USSF and VaxForm started in Ben Franklin TechVentures. Starting with three staff members, USSF now employs 14 in high-value jobs, and VaxForm employs five.