Ben Franklin Technology Partners has launched the 2023 round of its TechCelerator program, and for the first time, the food and beverage industry is in the spotlight. This year’s group of participating startup founders is focused on the science and innovation of food and drink.
"This program has challenged me to get uncomfortable and develop a level of confidence in myself I’ve never had to work on before.”
The TechCelerator program is a free, 10-week program that helps businesses bring their ideas to reality. It offers weekly sessions with experts in marketing, sales, finance and more. Within the program, startups explore their business ideas, gain mentoring and business coaching and develop their pitches. Here’s what the current startup founders are up to.
Hannah Carney, Unbaked Flour Co, with signature donuts. Photo: Provided.
Unbaked Flour Co. is a small startup in State College. Hannah Carney, one of the startup’s four founding gut microbiome research graduate students from Penn State University, said, “We create unbaked snacks for unmatched gut health by providing a research-backed two-in-one solution for individuals struggling with digestive disorders or chronic disease.”
Carney is honored to be a part of the TechCelerator Program. “I don’t have any prior business education or experience. Thinking about supply chain logistics, business strategy, pitching our concept to potential investors and managing a team are all out of my comfort zone,” she said.
She shared one of the most profound takeaways from the program so far: “Successful entrepreneurs have a deep sense of self-trust to take the next steps, even if they may not feel ready to do so. This program has challenged me to get uncomfortable and develop a level of confidence in myself I’ve never had to work on before.”
Developers, Zee Elhaj and Michael Emerick. Photos: Provided.
On Time Delivery
Co-founders Zahi (Zee) Elhaj and Michael Emerick have developed a solution to assist restaurants in their food delivery operations. On Time Delivery is a software solution that will give managers a bird’s-eye view of their entire operation.
“This will allow them to make more informed decisions. Drivers use a mobile app to streamline their operation on the road, and customers receive more accurate ETA, status updates and the ability to track their order once it's on the way,” Elhaj said.
The duo has operated their State College restaurant, Are U Hungry, for the last two years.
“So far, we've built a solution and have been testing it from our restaurant, processing over 50,000 orders,” Elhaj shared.
“We hope to learn more about taking the solution to market with the TechCelerator Program,” he said.
Cancer Recovery Drink
Pete Bordi worked in product development at Penn State University for over 30 years. He created Dr. Pete’s Recovery Drink for athletes during his time there. However, he discovered that cancer patients could not tolerate the formula used for this drink.
“In collaboration with health care systems, I began researching how to formulate a recovery drink that could help those patients,” he said. “I got a grant and was about to create an all-organic recovery drink specifically for cancer patients.”
"You can’t get this level of engagement and passion anywhere else.”
Since the TechCelerator program began, Bordi says he’s been impressed by the passion of the team and the resources provided to participants.
“It is a holistic approach. There are five to six Ben Franklin staff members in the classes and one-on-one calls,” he shared. “I had a call today [that] challenged me and made me think. You can’t get this level of engagement and passion anywhere else.”
“You can see that the passion for supporting and developing entrepreneurs is genuine,” he concluded.
Of course, the TechCelerator also welcomes other startup founders from around the state. These include…
8fronds Pineapple Eddie Jerk Sauce (Karen Thomas and Adrienne Paul, Erie County). This team has created a sauce product that is plant-based, allergen-free, sugar-free and free of chemical preservatives that can be used as a marinade or sauce to give meals prepared at home great flavor and interest while saving time.
Honey Bear Kitchen (Natalie Wallace, Dauphin County) produces super-premium non-dairy ice cream free from six of the eight major food allergens using a proprietary mix of 14% plant-based fat churned with a low overrun, giving it the mouthfeel and creaminess of dairy-based ice cream. As of December 2022, Honey Bear's ice cream roster included 20 flavors.
KEVO (Paul McMahon & Ryan Maloney, Erie County) is leveraging growing trends in cold brew consumption and single-serve coffee. KEVO has developed a patented, innovative device to make a single cup of cold brew using coffee pods (also known as K-cups) or regular grounds. The device can also use an immersion method with K-cups, producing a fuller-bodied flavor.
MP for Erie (Matthew Gacura, Erie County) is commercializing a process to grow mushrooms from agricultural/plant waste generated from farms, wineries, breweries and other food producers. This win-win process will utilize otherwise hard to dispose of waste while producing nutritious, low-cost food that could benefit impoverished communities.
Sarah’s Gourmet Pretzels (Heidi Lushko, Cambria County) specializes in wholesaling and delivering fine, decadent chocolate gourmet pretzels for the benefit of children rescued from sex trafficking and in need of safety and restoration.
For more information about how Ben Franklin Technology Partners fuels startups in Pennsylvania, go to https://cnp.benfranklin.org/.