Allentown Economic Development Corporation

Monthly Archives: January 2015

Future Appears Bright For Entrepreneur’s New Bridgeworks Enterprise

Novelist Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again,” but don’t tell that to Mike Grather.

One of the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center’s most successful graduates is back at the business incubator to build his second business with plans to tackle a technology that was just coming into its own when he sold Luminaire Testing Laboratories in 2010. Working again with business partner Tracy Silvert, Grather is getting underway with LightLab International Allentown, which will provide a testing and research resource for manufacturers of LED bulbs and fixtures.

“The main reason we are getting back into light-testing is because we feel we have a lot of expertise in the area,” Grather said. “We want to start working with the LED manufacturers to help them distinguish their products from their competitors.”

Luminiare Testing Labs (LTL) was founded in 1988 and was the first client in the Bridgeworks program. Grather, a Salisbury Township native now living in Slatington, joined the company in 1995 after graduating from Penn State and purchased LTL in 1998. Silvert, of Weisenberg Township, joined the team in 1999. By the time LTL was sold it had grown into a $2 million per year annual revenue organization employing nine people.

“This is the story every business incubator looks for,” said Anthony Durante, program manager for Allentown Economic Development Corporation. “We are bringing back an entrepreneur who had successfully grown and exited a company that originated in our program. The team is back because they know firsthand the benefits of being part of a program like ours.”

“We were there at the onset of the LED movement. They were expensive and there was a lot of flash involved in the debut,” he said. “Now, almost every manufacturer has multiple LED products. We are comparing why this LED is better than that LED…”

“And helping them refine it,” Silvert says, finishing the sentence. “We can serve as the research and development lab – an outsource testing lab – for many of these companies.”

The testing will provide the base that will allow manufacturers to accurately portray their Energy Star and LED Lighting Facts labeling, the brother-and-sister business partners say. “There are others out there but we feel we are different because of the years of expertise we bring to the industry,” Grather said.

Although LTL worked extensively in the LED market during its introduction, its original focus was incandescent and compact and linear fluorescent lighting.

“The regular incandescent bulbs used a lot of energy, had a short life and generated a lot of heat. Compact fluorescents had a longer life and lower heat, but people didn’t like them in homes because they produced a cold light, they would flicker and they were not as long-lasting as had been advertised,” Grather explains. “People wanted to go with something more energy efficient but didn’t see that as an alternative.

“LEDs have the better energy efficiency, better flexibility and good color. They can be made very warm and can look just like an incandescent light,” he continues. “But the manufacturers need the numbers behind them to back that up. It speaks to an industry where people say ‘If I am going to spend the extra money, I want to know that it is worth it.’ For that, you need testing.”

Grather and Silvert are assembling their new lab now and expect to be operational by April 1st. But both say they are happy to be back at Bridgeworks, where revitalization has brought in several new business tenants over the past year.

“There are a lot of resources here that you wouldn’t otherwise have as a small business,” Grather said, as he and Silvert noted the assistance they have received with the lab fit-out, the conference room and meeting space and a variety of business resources available to startups at the incubator. “Plus, there is a big change in the collaborative atmosphere here. There is an extra, renewed vibe about the place.”

PRESS RELEASE: LightLab International to Brighten Allentown’s Startup Scene

AEDC Business Incubation Program Welcomes Back Its First Entrepreneur

Allentown, Pennsylvania – The Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), following its December 18th Board of Directors meeting, announced that LightLab International Allentown will join the business incubation program, housed at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, in early 2015.

LightLab International Allentown founders Mike Grather and Tracy Silvert are no strangers to the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center. The duo managed Luminaire Testing Labs (LTL), the very first client recruited into the business incubation program when it was launched in 1989.

“This is the story every business incubator looks for,” said Anthony Durante, program manager for AEDC. “We are bringing back an entrepreneur who had successfully grown and exited a company that originated in our program. The team is back because they know firsthand the benefits of being part of a program like ours.”

Grather joined LTL as one of its first employees and purchased the company from its founder just three years later. By the time LTL was sold, 12 years later, it had grown into a $2.0M per year annual revenue organization employing nine people. Along the way, Grather hired Silvert who managed the operations of the company before it was sold. Now the two are back together and ready to take advantage of a rapidly growing market.

“As we were growing LTL, we were able to fuel it by taking advantage of the expanding use of compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and the subsequent introduction of LED lamps,” explains Grather. “Because of their energy efficiency, we are seeing that LED bulbs are proliferating in the market much like CFL bulbs did. It’s a market that we know well and are very excited to re-enter.”

“All of the energy efficiency certifications that you see on the packaging, such as Energy Star and LED Lighting Facts labeling, require testing and verification by a certified testing laboratory,” continued Silvert. “Our history of providing to notch customer service, accurate testing services and easy to understand reports are all things that we will ensure that LightLab International Allentown provides to its customers.”

The acceptance of LightLab International Allentown is the icing on the cake for what has been a very productive year and a half for AEDC in regards to the business incubation program.

“We have been able to invest $1.0M in State and Federal funds, along with $300,000 of our own money, to make long overdue improvements to the Center, including installing an energy efficient roof,” said AEDC executive director Scott Unger. “We have also made very strategic changes in the types of companies we are recruiting into the business incubation program. All of this has resulted in significant positive activity happening in and around the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center and is another important chapter in Allentown’s renaissance.”

Over the course of its 25-year existence, the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, founded in the refurbished Mack Trucks Plant 4A in 1989, has helped launch more than 50 companies in Allentown that have created more than 300 jobs. It is a member of the Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network. Today, the Center is home to ColdEdge Technologies, The Colony Meadery, County Seat Spirits, Gonzo Pockets, HiJinx Brewing Company, JH Plastics, MTS Ventures, Polymer Contours and Zzyzx Polymers.

About the LightLab International Allentown

LightLab International Allentown will join the family of LightLab International laboratories. LightLab International provides testing and calibration services, equipment manufacturing, and software distribution internationally. There are currently offices in Brisbane, Australia, Phoenix, AZ, and the new location in Allentown, PA.

LightLab International Allentown will be an ISO-accredited photometric testing laboratory that provides testing services for the lighting industry primarily for the North American market. Typical products for testing would include bulbs (replacement lamps) and lighting fixtures (luminaires) for use in interior, outdoor, parking area, roadway, and floodlighting applications.

About the Allentown Economic Development Corporation

AEDC is an independent 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. Its 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.

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