WYOMISSING, PA – Two teams of entrepreneurs from Penn State Berks were recognized with awards during the 2020 Business Plan Competition Challenge sponsored by the Berks Alliance and the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance. Verde Mantis, LP, a manufacturer of 3D printers, received a $20,000 investment, and Traduki Technologies, LLC, a language interpretation service, received a $5,000 investment. The competition was open to students currently enrolled at any of the five colleges in Berks County, including students who have graduated from one of these institutions within the last three years.
The business pitch, which was held virtually on Aug. 10, included three aspiring businesses. Each of the competing teams made a seven-minute pitch to a panel of judges in front of a live audience. Judges then asked each team questions.
Rainbow Fish Café, an initiative by a group of Albright College students, finished in third place.
Verde Mantis, revolutionizing 3D printing
Verde Mantis, LP received the top prize in the competition. The company’s mission is to bring 3D printing to the masses with the easiest to use 3D printer, the Mantis. The co-working business emerges from the Penn State Berks LaunchBox, located within the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading.
For Penn State Berks alumnus Joe Sinclair, his introduction to 3D printing at the Penn State Berks Flemming Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Development (CEED) Center more than 10 years ago was a life-changing moment.
Today, he is the founder of Verde Mantis. “We’ve designed and built the Mantis, the world’s easiest-to-use 3D printer. The Mantis makes 3D printing as simple as just pressing print; this enables students and professionals to embrace their creativity in an expedited and intuitive manner.” he explained. “The Mantis also allows users to access thousands of copyright-free printable designs that are readily available on the Internet for download.”
Sinclair graduated from Penn State in 2015 with undergraduate degrees in both mechanical engineering from Penn State Berks and nuclear engineering from Penn State University Park, completing his studies simultaneously. He is the first graduate of the Master of Engineering in Additive Manufacturing and Design (AMD) program offered through the Penn State World Campus.
Verde Mantis is Sinclair’s third 3D-printing startup. He also holds a full-time director position for a high-tech advanced manufacturing company’s metal additive manufacturing division.
Sinclair is proud to say the Mantis is designed and built in the City of Reading. “It is no mistake we’ve decided to set up shop here: Reading’s rich manufacturing legacy is a worthy foundation from which the Mantis can grow and prosper. With the help of the Penn State Berks LaunchBox, we’ve created a product that the Reading community can rally around to continue making manufacturing history,” explained Sinclair.
Sinclair credited Verde Mantis general manager Mandy Heard and Andrew O’Donohue, a Widener University engineering student who served as lead design engineer, along with the faculty and staff at the Penn State Berks LaunchBox, the Fleming CEED Center and others in helping the team prepare for the presentation. SCORE, a nonprofit organization that provides business counseling and mentoring services to entrepreneurs starting or growing a small business, was also very helpful, Sinclair said.
When asked what the next step is for Verde Mantis, Sinclair said that they will be launching full-scale production of Mantis printers through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. The Kickstarter will be an opportunity for donors to receive a substantial discount on the Mantis and support Reading’s first 3D printer manufacturer. To learn more about this opportunity, visit www.mantis3dprinter.com/kickstarter. You can also follow the Mantis journey on social media @mantis3dprinter.
Traduki makes connections through language interpretation technology
Traduki Technologies, LLC is a tech startup that provides real-time language interpretation services through certified interpreters via over-the-phone interpreting (OPI), video remote interpreting (VRI) and face-to-face scheduling service. It uses real-time technology to reduce language barriers and allow people to make the connections they need. Their focus is providing a platform for service industries, such as health care networks.
It was founded in 2017 by Ryan Morris, Penn State Class of 2019, a business major with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation, who was developing an idea for a real-time language interpretation app as part of an Entrepreneurial Mindset course. Morris invited Tristan.
Morales, who had a double major in information sciences and technology and security and risk analysis, to join the team. After the course ended, Morris and Morales were encouraged by their professor, Dr. Abdullah Konak, to pursue the project as a startup business.
They continued to collaborate on the project, working through the Flemming CEED Center on campus. Soon the idea gained traction and they formed valuable connections to mentors and business leaders in the community.
Morris explained, “The CEED Center was a crucial part of empowering my team to form Traduki. It offered countless resources and really helped us perform the necessary customer discovery needed to verify the Traduki concept. There is also a vast network associated with the CEED Center that allowed us to tap into mentors like John Gatto, our advisory board chair. Kulturel-Konak led an IdeaTest lab at the CEED Center that formed our entire sales strategy.”
Morris, chief executive officer, and Morales, chief technology officer, were invited to make a presentation on their startup to Penn State President Eric J. Barron during the president’s annual football tailgate event.
In 2019, Morris graduated and received a prestigious Schwarzman Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. While he remained actively involved, Morales continued to work on defining customer markets along with Ryan Morris’ sister, Caitlin Morris ’20, a business major who has joined the team as a customer discovery officer.
As the company continued to evolve, its founders used co-working space at the Berks LaunchBox. “The Berks LaunchBox is such a blessing to the community because it offers so many great resources for young entrepreneurs like myself,” comments Morris. “For example, they let us use their co-working space free of charge, which is great for connecting with other entrepreneurs. The LaunchBox staff are always coming up with new ways to engage the wider entrepreneurial community. I recently attended a very helpful social media workshop hosted by the LaunchBox which pointed us at Traduki in the right direction when establishing our digital presence.”
“The entire team has been working very hard to get where we are, and we simply showcased our hard work with enthusiasm during the competition. There is still a lot of work to do and we hope that our performance in this competition will help build our reputation in the Greater Reading area.”
Entrepreneurship at Penn State Berks
Penn State Berks has not one, but two centers for entrepreneurship: the Flemming Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) Center on campus and the Penn State Berks LaunchBox in downtown Reading.
The Flemming CEED Center was established in the fall of 2011 as part of the new Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building. Its mission is to inspire an entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking in the Penn State Berks community and to foster economic growth and development in the Greater Reading area.
The Penn State Berks LaunchBox is located within the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading. An incubation hub with the mission of supporting economic development and entrepreneurship, the Berks LaunchBox offers a makerspace with 3D printers for prototyping; entrepreneurship workshops; coworking space for startups and Meetups focused on topics related to business development and technology. The Berks LaunchBox is supported by Invent Penn State — a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student success, launched by Penn State President Eric J. Barron in 2016. Today, there are 21 innovation hubs across the state.
About the 2020 Business Plan Competition Challenge
The 2020 Business Plan Competition Challenge was sponsored by the Berks Alliance and the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA). It was open to students currently enrolled at any of the five colleges in Berks County: Albright College, Alvernia University, Kutztown University, Penn State Berks and Reading Area Community College, including students who have graduated from one of these institutions within the last three years.
The five institutions assigned campus coordinators who facilitated the process for the internal selection of teams and worked with the teams throughout the application process. Thirteen teams applied for the Penn State Berks on-campus competition, and after a rigorous internal competition process, six of those teams were nominated. Each of the nominated teams was invited to enroll in an Entrepreneur Academy, which offered help in developing a “pitch video” as well as assistance creating a detailed business plan, identifying marketing strategies, and providing financial and legal advice.
Dr. Sadan Kulturel-Konak, professor of management information systems and the director of the Flemming CEED Center at Penn State Berks, served as the campus coordinator for the business plan competition. She stated, “I was very fortunate to lead Penn State Berks’ effort in this competition by forming and chairing steering and selection committees (faculty, staff, members of the Entrepreneurship Advisory Board) on campus and raising student awareness for this competition. Working with the competition committee to finalize the competition guidelines was very rewarding. As always, it was a delight to very closely work with student teams and vet their final pitches by reminding them where to focus. As COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our lives, this competition went through challenges, but I am so glad that the competition organizers did not give up and the competition was successfully finalized.”
“I strongly believe that students’ participation in external competitions helps them cultivate an innovation mindset, gain greater self-awareness about their capabilities in innovation, and become more open-minded. Moreover, these kinds of co-curricular activities expand the University’s strong emphasis on entrepreneurship programs,” Kulturel-Konak added.
The judges for the competition included Scot Case, a local consultant and entrepreneur; Gail Landis, former senior vice president for government and community relations, Greater Reading Chamber Alliance; June Clougher a local entrepreneur and former head of the Jump Start Incubator; Connie Faylor, regional manager for Ben Franklin Technology Partners; and Chenna Chakka, a business leader who is also a member of the Pennsylvania Minority Business Development Fund.