by Dave Gardner
Entrepreneurs based in NEPA are making new types of “noise” as they capitalize upon technologies within the 21st Century “information and technology” economy.
A common thread among these successful entrepreneurs, according to Rodney Ridley, Ph.D., director of the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Wilkes University, includes a vision for where society is going without a fixation upon the past. These visionaries stay ahead of the economic curve, can almost see the future before it becomes real, and then successfully describe it to others.
“This process today is no different than Andrew Carnegie envisioning the possibility of the steel bridge,” said Dr. Ridley. “People must believe in the entrepreneur to ‘see’ their idea.”
He added that a true innovator does not wait for the sole evolution of science to make an idea attainable. As a part of this process, a genuine liberal arts education may help foster a disconnect to put seemingly-random pieces together in a fashion that is creative.
Failure is also a common partner of even the brightest people. They occasionally bungle but remain unstoppable.
“Entrepreneurs must have resilience,” said Dr. Ridley. “No one knows if this is a born or created trait, but is must be inside the person to persevere.”
Technology and the human appetite for images have come together for Pittston native Gerard Durling, founder of a marketing agency known as Coal Creative. Durling is a retired professional wrestler who became attracted to the world of marketing during his wrestling days when he saw T-shirts being sold at events.
After retiring from wrestling at age 25, Durling began to fulfill this appetite by unleashing Coal, and hired his first employee during 2015. This staff has now grown to eight individuals.
According to Durling, what sets his company apart from many other regional marketing agencies is a specialization in video production and image delivery. This includes Internet video within in-house networks, plus live video to private networks for payment.
“The wrestling shows I once did on camera were great experience for me,” said Durling. “Then, we started live streaming of wrestling matches during 2016 as our first video client.
He explained the fundamental approach chosen for a video production depends on the delivery platform. Facebook delivers a constant scroll making competition for user attention a reality, so visual attention must be grabbed with movement versus static images within 30 to 60 seconds.
“YouTube is quite different. It has a much broader attention span,” Durling said.
In addition, Coal Creative preaches decisions about video content versus production again depend on the delivery platform. Durling believes that Instagram is primarily about making a connection, while presentations that will appear on television must employ big-value productions.
He added that his video delivery models, despite being complex, must be cost effective. Market conditions also continue to change rapidly, with telephones now offering excellent cameras and are efficient.
“I expect in the future we will see more and more do it yourself videos being offered, despite the fact that the creation of an effective professional video requires special skills,” said Durling. “As for us, we consistently interact with exciting companies and are a young and fun group to work with.”
The entrepreneur team of Rachel Hodgins and Anthony Prato, recent graduates of Wilkes University, took America’s concern about waste plastics piling up and co-founded the company Xenoil. Their latest product is a specialized substance called XenoWax, composed of a combination of recycled plastic grocery bags and paraffin with the density of a baseball.
The innovative product can be used for building engineering prototypes, within machine shops, for modeling in jewelry making, plus assorted hobby and craft uses. During 2017 Hodgins and Prato landed among the top five finalists in the NEPA TecBridge Business Plan Competition, and triumphed in a similar Bucks Community College competition where they grabbed a first-place award resulting in $3,000 cash plus $10,000 of in-kind prizes.
Both Hodgins and Prato are engineering graduates, and Hodgins can clearly trace her passion about the environment and waste plastic profusion to high school.
“These plastic bags are now everywhere, and it’s vital we create some sort of solution to this mess,” said Hodgins.
In the case of Prato, he conducted a plastic melt down and reuse project during high school.
“The question we faced involved how to use these complex molecules in the plastic bags, and we learned about chemistry that made possible using the plastic bags for wax,” said Prato.
Xenoil is now up and running within the CAN BE manufacturing incubator in West Hazleton. One pound of XenoWax can cost as little as $3.25, and Prato said that this is well below the costs charged by competitors manufacturing a conventional product with similar uses.
Predictably, the engineering and entrepreneur team at Xenoil is facing challenges. A reliable and high-volume supplier for the paraffin used in the XenoWax must be located. Intellectual property concerns also exist.
“Unfortunately, our formula is not patentable, and therefore XenoWax van only be registered as a trade secret,” Prato said.
The creation of detailed and accurate virtual realities for business and industry are the products of a relatively new company known as Precise Visual Technologies (PVT), a descendant of Borton-Lawson architecture/engineering.
Frank Joanlanne, president and incoming-CEO, explained that PVT was launched during January of 2017 with the mission of creating a platform for changing visual technologies. Central to this is the use of portable, 3-D laser scanning and 3-D visualization.
With this process, data at an industrial or commercial location is acquired using state-of-the-art scanners set up at a variety of collection points. It is then processed and turned into a user-friendly and accurate 3-D model for architects and engineers.
“In particular, because modern industrial environments have grown very complex, recognition of obstacles to addition or equipment upgrades are always important, and an ultra-precise 3-D picture can therefore detect clashes that might occur within design,” Joanlanne said.
Time Schoen, PVT senior marketing director, also commented that in past decades designers would take conventional photos of a job location plus physical measurements and bring the information to the project engineers. Now, PVT can send a scan team to the location, gather data, and offer the information to designers who will insure the new designs will fit and tie in with existing equipment.
“This adds up to less industrial downtime, which is vital,” Schoen said.
Joanlanne added that the creation of PVT has required substantial financial investment over time, including equipment, software, and personnel training. The data captured also must be channeled through servers that have been upgraded to handle the mass information.
“It also is essential to hire the right people with the needed skill sets,” said Joanlanne. “These folks may not fit into legacy engineering, but they allow us to take a look at new technologies and incorporate these as client needs change.”
Book ‘em instantly
A new process for business acquisition within the entertainment industry was launched by Kris Jones and Damon Willams Jr., co-founders and CEO’s of Special Guest App. This is iOS system allows anyone to hire live entertainment on demand with the push of a button for their home, backyard, or similar non-traditional venue.
Wayans recognized a desire to create a platform for entertainers that would make it easier for them to book gigs. He made contact with Jones through a mutual friend, and the team began building the app, raising investment capital, and designing their business plan and marketing strategy.
Midway through building the app the team was contacted by a casting director for Apple’s first original TV program, “Planet of the Apps.”
“We have been successful in raising over $1.5 million during the show, so now we’re just out there taking it forward,” said Jones.
He added that unlike agents and managers, Special Guest App does not grab any part of the entertainer’s performance fee, which is a huge change from the traditional way entertainment agents operate. The entertainer receives the full payment, while Special Guest App is paid by the person booking the talent.
“This is the game changer,” said Jones. “We are striving to democratize the experience of live entertainment and the way that talented people get paid. With Special Guest App the performer does not have to have an agent to get booked.”