Allentown Economic Development Corporation
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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Press Release: New Year – New Manufacturing Startups Calling Allentown Home

Three Early Stage Businesses to Join Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in 2014

Allentown, Pennsylvania – The Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), following its December 19th Board of Directors meeting, announced that three early stage manufacturing companies will join the business incubation program, housed at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, in early 2014.

“We are very excited to bring these companies into our business incubation program as we kick-off our 25th Silver Anniversary year,” said Scott Unger, Executive Director of AEDC. “These three diverse ventures have very promising business plans and represent the next generation of manufacturing for Allentown and the Lehigh Valley.”

The companies represent a wide range of manufacturing specialties.

Gonzo MeshGonzo Pockets manufactures specialized mesh for lacrosse stick heads using a proprietary rubberized coating. Brothers Lou and Desi Gonzalez, both highly successful and recognized collegiate lacrosse players, founded the company after being frustrated by products that were currently on the market. They teamed up with Naval Academy graduate and proven entrepreneur Tom Schmitt, who already had startup experience of his own, to get the Gonzo Mesh prototype finalized and distributed into more than 100 specialty lacrosse stores across the U.S. and Canada in just nine months. Gonzo Pockets will move into the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in January.

Tom explains, “Lacrosse players are passionate about getting any edge they can. Our mesh is one of those advantages. The lacrosse community has embraced us and we look forward to our local community sharing in our success as we expand. Collaborating with other entrepreneurs and having the wealth of manufacturing and business knowledge Bridgeworks provides at our fingertips is such a great opportunity for us. We are proud to be invited to join the Bridgeworks business community.”

Curt Keck Brewing HiJinx Brewing Company, currently based in South Whitehall Township, was literally started in a garage. By carefully complying with the township’s home-based business laws, founders Curt Keck and Chris Becker have been able to launch the nano-brewery and get their beers into more than a dozen Lehigh Valley bars and restaurants. In just over one year, Keck and Becker have squeezed everything they can out of their equipment and are unable to keep up with the demand for their beers. A new 10-barrel brewing system will be purchased and installed at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, fulfilling the founders’ lifelong dream of owning their own production brewery.

“We chose the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center because we feel that the resources provided, along with the access to professional guidance, will help us grow our business,” explained Keck. “The wisdom of seasoned business professionals will help us to avoid common pitfalls and unforeseen problems.

Zzyzx Polymers (pronounced ziz-icks), the third company to be joining the incubator, has secured exclusive rights to nearly 20 patents revolving around new technology to create plastic compounds. The founders have applied for funding from  Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania to further develop their revolutionary processes. The company’s goal is to commercialize its novel mixing technology to create plastics with unique properties that no one else can make. The company also hopes to disrupt the recycling industry by reusing plastics that today get sent to landfills by other waste management companies.

“When we started our company, we had a founder in Silicon Valley, one in Chicago and one in Pennsylvania,” explained Mike Janse, CEO of Zzyzx Polymers. “There were good reasons to establish manufacturing in any of those locations, but the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center and Ben Franklin Technology Partners program made Allentown an easy choice.”

“AEDC will spend the next several years providing mentorship and training to these companies in a concentrated effort to have them grow rapidly into profitable and self-sustaining organizations that are creating jobs for Lehigh Valley residents,” explained Anthony Durante, Economic Development Specialist at AEDC, who is responsible for the business incubation program.

“Our job is to recruit new ventures, help to grow them and then launch them back into the Lehigh Valley over a span of four to seven years so that we can do it again with another batch of startups,” said Durante. “If we, as a business incubator, do our jobs well, the incubator should be creating a steady stream of successful companies for the community.”

Over the course of its 25-year existence, the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center has done just that. Founded in the refurbished Mack Trucks Plant 4A in 1989, the business incubator has helped launch 44 companies in Allentown that have created more than 285 jobs. It is a member of the Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network. Today, some of its current incubator clients include ColdEdge Technologies, MTS Ventures and The Colony Meadery, its most recent addition.

About the Allentown Economic Development Corporation

AEDC is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to a mission of identifying, encouraging, developing and managing strategic business opportunities for the benefit of Allentown, its citizens, and the Lehigh Valley.

Our goal is to improve vacant and underutilized properties by assisting manufacturers, business owners and entrepreneurs in obtaining the resources and opportunities they require for success in the City of Allentown. AEDC offers access to financing and incentives, assistance with brownfield remediation, and support for growing businesses within the City.

Colony_Greg w tank

Colony Meadery Looks To Build On Craft Beer Popularity

Here’s a tip for budding entrepreneurs: If you are looking for space at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, it might help to ply management with some great-tasting adult beverages. Just ask Greg Heller-LaBelle, co-founder and CEO of The Colony Meadery.

He likes to joke that it was a sample of his company’s “Mo-Me-Doh” lime-and-mint flavored mead that convinced AEDC Economic Development Specialist Anthony Durante that he and partner Mike Manning had a legitimate startup with a strong chance for success.

We probably should clarify that he is joking, at least regarding his entrée to the Bridgeworks.

“As a craft beer drinker and a bit of a wine snob, I have had the opportunity to taste a few meads at various festivals. Most of what I had tried to that point was horrible,” explains Durante. “So, when Mike and Greg first came to me with the idea, I thought they were crazy. But after tasting a few of their test batches, I was thoroughly impressed. I gave Greg’s business plan a good read through and decided they were really onto something.”

The growing popularity of mead – an ancient alcoholic beverage most commonly associated with the Viking raiders of the Middle Ages – is no joke. As American consumers continue to develop a stronger and more educated palate for craft beers and wines, Heller-LaBelle and Manning are looking to capture a part of that market with a tasty treat that is quite different from most beverages already on the market.

“All of our marketing up front has to be education,” said Heller-LaBelle, who has spent several years watching and writing about the craft beer and homebrewing trends. “Most people don’t know what mead is, and if they have had it, chances are it was bad. The reality is that it doesn’t taste like anything you had before. It really is new. It’s only like 5,000 or 6,000 years old.”

Mead is fermented much like beer and wine, but it is a honey-based – and gluten-free — beverage and archeologists have actually found recipes and samples that are thousands of years old. Like beer and wine, it is fermented with hops, grains, spices and fruits to add varying tastes, and The Colony Meadery is specializing in bringing various blends to market.
Because of his background as a beer blogger, Heller-LaBelle initially eyed the Lehigh Valley as a great place for another craft beer brewery.

With more than a million people, nine major colleges or universities and only two real craft breweries at the time he considered the region underserved. After a bit more thought, he realized that a meadery would open a whole new market and approached Manning, a fellow member of the Lehigh Valley Beer Society.

“Mike is the virtuoso,” says Heller-LaBelle, explaining that Manning brings the fermenting skill and experience. “Mike and I are an excellent team. We both have our areas of expertise, but ultimately it’s just a matter of putting in the hours.”

Making a labor-intensive process even more intense has allowed the partners to dramatically shorten the typical 18- to 24-month fermenting process for mead. “On a chemical basis, yeast doesn’t particularly like honey,” he explained. “That’s probably why, as we industrialized, mead didn’t get made as often as beer or wine. It’s just not that easy.”

The Colony Meadery uses a controlled fermentation process, and constant adjustments have helped the partners reduce the fermentation and conditioning time to weeks instead of months.

They began planning and seeking the permits and licenses – The Colony Meadery is actually licensed as a winery by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board – and moved into the Bridgeworks this fall. They now have a retail front on Harrison Street where they can sell their product but they are also targeting craft beer bars as the primary points of sale and their opening celebration is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 29 from 6:30 to 9:30 at Strange Brew Tavern at S 5th Street and Emaus Avenue in Allentown.

“The Colony Meadery is a great example of how wide the spectrum of manufacturing really is,” says Durante. “With more than 8,000 wineries and 2,500 craft breweries in the U.S. – and both industries forecasted to grow over the next five years – these types of ventures are solid prospects for our business incubation program.”

“The craft beer market tends to be adventurous. They want new things and they will go out of their way to find them,” Heller-LaBelle says. “There is good wine, good beer everywhere. What people want is the experience.”