Happy Valley startup presents ag breakthrough and wins BIG time


Ben Franklin Technology Partners recently announced the winners of its 2022 BIG IDEA contest. The 2022 contest focused specifically on agriculture, food and beverage industries. Eight finalists from across Pennsylvania had the opportunity to present their pitches to a panel of judges and one of those BIG IDEAs is based right here in Happy Valley.

Fire blight breakthrough brings cash prize to Happy Valley

Happy Valley’s Tim McNellis’ ground-breaking research has resulted in the discovery of a novel ingredient to treat fire blight, which destroys trees and fruit. His related product and pitch earned him a cash prize of $10,000 in the Ben Franklin BIG IDEA contest.

“Our product, Blightavast, offers a non-antibiotic alternative that is environmentally friendly and sustainable. This is particularly of interest in Pennsylvania, as apples are a big crop here,” McNellis said.

McNellis is a member of the faculty at Penn State. “I perform research on plant pathology and microbiology in my lab at Penn State. We found a novel active ingredient in our research which helped us develop our product,” he said.

Demonstration of how Blightavast would be dispensed in the field. Photo: Kari A. Peter.

Ben Franklin and the Happy Valley ecosystem as a whole have been instrumental in fueling McNellis and his team. “It’s been great! I took the TechCelerator course in the spring. In that course, I was able to gain experience preparing my pitch. It also helped create connections with folks over at the Happy Valley LaunchBox and other related platforms. It was important that we get connected with business-savvy people to help us in creating the business,” McNellis explained.

The Ben Franklin BIG IDEA prize money will help take McNellis and his team to the next step in their entrepreneurial journey. McNellis said, “We need to have approval from the EPA for our product to be sold and used in the field. The award money from the BIG IDEA contest will be used to pay for those required tests.”

The ground-breaking research McNellis is doing could change the ag future in Pennsylvania and beyond. As for others who may be currently tapping into their inner entrepreneur, he offered this advice: “If you have an idea, pursue it and don’t give up too easily. If you don’t have experience in the business world, work to develop those contacts. This area offers valuable resources for those starting a business.”

Cash prizes awarded throughout the Commonwealth

McNellis wasn’t the only BIG IDEA prize winner, though.

Erie County was home to the first-place winner, receiving a cash prize of $15,000. Marva Morris represented Premier Manufacturing and Zenedge Energy Drink. This product is a new take on energy drinks, offering a better-for-you alternative with less caffeine and less sugar.

The People’s Choice Award with a cash prize of $2,500 was awarded to PennPoa, a Clinton County company represented by David Huff. PennPoa created a novel seed harvesting technology used to produce Poa Annua turfgrass. This turfgrass provides a high-quality and cost-effective option for golf courses.

Since its inception, the BIG IDEA contest has awarded more than $2 million in cash prizes throughout Ben Franklin’s 32-county reach. The contest provides business training, pitch experience and contacts in addition to the prize money. Ben Franklin Technology Partners is the largest early-stage investor and supporter in the area. For more information about how Ben Franklin Technology Partners fuels startups in Pennsylvania, go to https://cnp.benfranklin.org/.


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